RECORDING OF THE MONTH
That’s Entertainment - A Celebration of the MGM Film Musical
Selections from Brigadoon, An American in Paris, Easter Parade, The New Moon, Singin’ in the Rain, That’s Entertainment, The Band Wagon, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers & Meet Me in St Louis
Kim Criswell; Matthew Ford; Seth MacFarlane and Curtis Stigers; Maida Vale Singers
The John Wilson Orchestra/John Wilson
rec. Abbey Road Studio 2, London, and Mix One Studios, Boston in April-May 2011
see end of review for full track details.
EMI CLASSICS 028 8452 [77:20]
When does a classic become a classic? One might well pose that question in the context of this music. At last, perhaps, the works of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin are beginning to be appreciated as such? Surely now we should consider their songs as being, in their own way, just as worthy as classical lieder or chansons and, yes, undervalued English art song. Just consider the genius of Cole Porter, for instance, such beguiling tunes and such delicious, knowing lyrics.
This re-visiting and re-evaluation of the great show music circa 1930-1960 is in no small way due to John Wilson’s energetic enthusiasm and his diligent meticulous work in reconstructing this music so that it accurately reproduces what was heard on-screen --- plus a new regime at the BBC responsible for steering London’s Albert Hall Summer Promenade Concerts programmes to allow a whole evening’s tribute to the MGM musicals. Could you imagine such an event even ten years ago?
The first Promenade Concert, devoted to MGM musicals, in 2009 was followed by another in 2010 devoted to the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein. On 29 August 2011 the John Wilson Orchestra will perform at the Proms for the third time with another tribute to Hollywood musicals, entitled Hooray for Hollywood. The original 2009 Prom concert was issued as a best-selling DVD and some of that music, with some new additions, is presented on this CD.
The John Wilson Orchestra came together over the years as some of the UK’s finest musicians who shared Wilson’s enthusiasm and recognised his skills and dedication. The Orchestra’s virtuoso playing, in all its sections, is demonstrated time and time again through these demanding numbers that include intricate harmonies and orchestrations and rapidly shifting rhythms and tempi.
The concert opens with a joyous MGM Jubilee Overture arranged by MGM’s head of Music Department, Johnny Green, to include music from Singin’ in the Rain (the title song, what else!); and evergreens like: Cole Porter’s ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ (from Born to Dance - 1936), Jerome Kern’s ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ (Lady Be Good - 1941), Sammy Cahn’s lyrics and Nicholas Brodzsky’s music for ‘Be My Love’, made famous by Mario Lanza in The Toast of New Orleans (1950), and Rudolf Friml and Otto Harbach’s ‘The Donkey Serenade’ (sung by Allan Jones inThe Firefly 1937).
‘Clang-clang went the trolley’ as the heartstrings of the ladies of the Maida Vale Singers are pulled. They are supported Kim Criswell - rather more strident than a sweeter-voiced Judy Garland - in an enthusiastic ‘Trolley Song’ from Meet Me in St Louis. Criswell’s voice is better attuned to the bracing version of Gershwin’s ‘I Got Rhythm’, the first of three numbers here from An American Paris. High spirits continue with a vengeance in Nathan Van Cleave’s blousy hot jazz arrangement Irving Berlin’s ‘Steppin’ Out With My Baby’ from Easter Parade.What amazing virtuosity Wilson’s players show in this breathtaking number. Also bright and breezy is the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers ‘Barn Dance’ complete with folksy fiddling and ‘spoon-on-pan bashing’, its accelerating rhythms so intoxicating.
More relaxing is Lerner and Lowe’s lovely number from Brigadoon ‘The Heather on the Hill’. This gorgeous arrangement is by MGM musicals stalwart Conrad Salinger recognized as the studio’s best principal orchestrator of musicals made between 1942 and 1962. Good as this track is, I can’t help remembering the 1990 Chandos MGM Musicals CD (CHAN 8781 see more about it below) and Nick Curtis’s heartfelt Gene Kelly substitution in this same number. More successful on this disc is Seth MacFarlane’s substituting for Frank Sinatra’s suave way of delivering ‘You’re Sensational’ from Cole Porter’s High Society. MacFarlane also delivers a nicely nonchalant ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.
The blazing Technicolor music continues with An American in Paris main title music that introduced all those lovely Gershwin melodies. Following straight on is Gershwin’s ‘Love is Here to Stay’ sung by Curtis Stigers. His voice, I fear, is not conducive to such tender romantic sentiments, at least to my old-fashioned ears, but the lovely fiddle solo and Conrad Salinger and Johnny Green’s arrangements more than make up for that. In ‘Well, did you evah’ again from High Society, Messrs Stigers and MacFarlane team up to make a very creditable recreation of the styles of Bing and Frank.
The programme goes right back to the era of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy for The New Moon. Alas the eager passion of those never-to-be-forgotten singers is only fleetingly suggested as Sarah Fox sings ‘One Kiss’ and Matthew Ford following with ‘Lover Come back to Me’.
The most substantial item and the highlight of the programme is the brilliant 13+-minute Broadway Melody Ballet from Singin’ in the Rain. This inspired creation combined the talents of composers Nacio Herb Brown and Lennie Hayton with the lyrics of Arthur Freed, and arrangements by Hayton and Conrad Salinger. Toss in John Wilson’s meticulous reconstruction, Mathew Ford’s felicitous ‘Gene Kelly’ voice and the 1920s flapper voices of the chorus and you have a confection that sums up the spirit of the MGM musicals.
Fittingly the concert ends with ‘That’s Entertainment’ the number that concluded that other classic MGM musical The Band Wagon - and the title song of those compendiums of MGM musical numbers released in the 1970s. What a pity 20th Century Fox never got round to producing a similar compendium for all those Bette Grable, and Alice Fay and, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche musicals!
I feel EMI and John Wilson will not mind too much if I stray off pitch a moment. I mentioned above a Chandos collection of music from MGM musicals released in 1990 and reissued in 2000 as Chandos 7053. I believe it was released before its time. It should have been a sure-fire success. The Royal Philharmonic was most enthusiastically and sensitively conducted by Elmer Bernstein. Vocalists Mary Carewe and Nick Curtis were joined by The Ambrosian Singers; the concept was by that great champion of film music Christopher Palmer. Conrad Salinger’s orchestrations were used. The programme comprised: the ‘Bridal Procession’ from Kismet, ‘Dancing in the Dark’ from The Band Wagon, ‘The Trolley Song’ from Meet Me in St Louis; Gigi’s ‘Titles’ and ‘Fountain Scene’ plus the ‘Waltz-Sequence’; the title song from Singin’ the Rain; and the spectacular ‘This Heart of Mine’ number from The Ziegfield Follies. If all this was not enough a 32-page booklet comes with the CD with many pictures depicting members of the MGM Music Department. I have gone on a bit about this CD because it is one of the few discs I would want to be cast away on a desert island with. If you care about the MGM musicals, do buy this album as well John Wilson’s recording.
Fans of those spectacular MGM musicals shouldn’t hesitate. John Wilson’s Orchestra is amazing.
Fans of those spectacular MGM musicals shouldn’t hesitate.
MGM Jubilee Overture [7.43] VARIOUS
Arranged by Johnny GREEN; Reconstructed by Andrew COTTEE
The Trolley Song (from Meet me in St Louis) [3.50] - Kim Criswell & Chorus
Words & Music by Ralph BLANE & Hugh MARTIN; Arranged by Conrad Salinger; Reconstructed by John WILSON
Steppin’ Out With My Baby (from Easter Parade) [6.16] - Curtis Stigers & Chorus
Irving BERLIN; Arranged by Nathan Van Cleave; Reconstructed by John WILSON
The Heather on the Hill (from Brigadoon) [7.01] - Matthew Ford
Music by Frederick LOEWE; Lyrics by Alan Jay LERNER; Arranged by Conrad SALINGER; Reconstructed by John WILSON
Barn Dance ( from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) [5.44]
Gene DE PAUL; Arranged by Saul CHAPLIN & Adolph DEUTSCH
You’re Sensational (from High Society) [3.06] - Seth MacFarlane
Words & Music by Cole PORTER; Arranged by Nelson RIDDLE; Reconstructed by John WILSON
I Got Rhythm (from An American in Paris) [5.32] - Kim Criswell & Chorus
Music by George GERSHWIN; Lyrics by Ira GERSHWIN; Arranged by Sy OLIVER & Axel STORDAHL; Reconstructed by Andrew COTTEE
Singin’ in the Rain (from Singin’ in the Rain) [3.57] - Seth MacFarlane
Music by Nacio Herb BROWN; Lyrics by Arthur FREED; Arranged by Conrad SALINGER
An American in Paris - Main Title [2.56]
George GERSHWIN; Arranged by Conrad SALINGER & Johnny GREEN; Reconstructed by John WILSON
Love is Here to Stay (from an American in Paris) [4.02] - Curtis Stigers
Music by George GERSHWIN; Lyrics by Ira GERSHWIN; Arranged by Conrad SALINGER; Reconstructed by John WILSON
Well, did you evah? (from High Society) [3.32] - Seth MacFarlane & Curtis Stigers
Words & Music by Cole PORTER; Arranged by Nelson RIDDLE; Reconstructed by John WILSON
The New Moon - Sequence: One Kiss/Lover Come Back to Me (from The New Moon) [6.41] - Matthew Ford & Sarah Fox
Music by Sigmund ROMBERG; Words by Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II; Arranged by Hugo FREIDHOFER; Reconstructed by John WILSON
Broadway Melody Ballet (from Singin’ in the Rain) [13.16] - Matthew Ford & Chorus
Music by Nacio Herb BROWN & Lennie HAYTON; Lyrica by Arther FREED; Arranged by Lennie Hayton & Conrad SALINGER; Reconstructed by John WILSON
That’s Entertainment (from That’s Entertainment) [3.43] - Kim Criswell, Matthew Ford, Sarah Fox & Chorus
Music by Arthur SCHWARTZ; Lyrics by Howard DIETZ; Arranged by Conrad SALINGER; Reconstructed by John WILSON