May 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /May01/

Various Composers
"Fascinating Rhythm"
Fred Astaire complete recordings Volume 1 - 1923-1930
Naxos Nostalgia 8.120501 * [51:20]
Crotchet  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

The Whichness of What, Oh Gee, Oh Gosh!, Hang On to Me, Fascinating Rhythm, The Half of it Dearie Blues, I'd Rather Charleston, Swiss Maid (Yodel Song), So Am I, Funny Face, The Babbitt and the Bromide, 'S Wonderful, High Hat, He Loves and She Loves, My One and Only, Not My Girl, Louisiana, Puttin' on the Ritz, Crazy Feet

Here are 18 tracks from what is promised to be the complete recordings of Fred Astaire, though whether this will encompass recordings made for film soundtracks as well as 78s is not made clear. Everything on this release bar the first two numbers originate from Columbia releases recorded April 1926 to March 1930. Those first two tracks 'The Whichness of Which' and 'Oh Gee Oh Gosh!' date from an HMV recording (18th October 1923) from the show Stop Flirting.

The booklet by David Lennick, also the producer of the album, gives some brief but useful background. We all know Fred Astaire, but much less famous is his older sister, Adele. Together the pair appeared in many musicals from their first Broadway success in 1917 (in a show called Over the Top) when Fred was just 18, though until their final appearance together in The Bandwagon (1931). At this point Adele married Lord Cavendish and retired from the stage, while Fred went onto international fame as one of Hollywood's greatest stars. Lennick tells us that Adele was generally considered more talented than Fred, and presumably this was as a dancer, for her singing is enthusiastic but lacking the polish of a stage professional. Indeed, by current standards she might uncharitably be characterised as 'squeaky', or more kindly, as having a sort of kooky charm. That said, Fred gets better as the album progresses, but has not yet reached the distinction of his Hollywood years.

Where the original discs included several numbers from a show the current album includes for the sake of continuity and completeness those songs featuring Adele without Fred, though not those numbers on which neither of the Astaire's feature. What makes the disc interesting even for those not beguiled by Fred and Adele is that brother and sister had a life-long friendship with the Gershwin brothers; 12 of the 18 numbers here are Gershwin tunes, six from Lady Be Good, six from Funny Face, with four of the former featuring George Gershwin at the piano. The album therefore makes a useful companion for Gershwin aficionados to Gershwin Plays Gershwin (Naxos Nostalgia 8.120510). We also hear Fred dancing on 'The Half of it Dearie Blues' (Gershwin), 'Puttin' on the Ritz' (Berlin) and 'Crazy Feet' (Conrad - Mitchell - Gottler).

The sound is of course rather restricted and in places distorted, but the noise reduction has done a splendid job of cleaning up the snap, crackle and pop. A treat for Astaire and Gershwin fans, and at a bargain price that can't be argued with.

Gary S Dalkin

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