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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Strings in Swingtime




Jerome KERN (1885-1945)

Six Melodies arranged by Charles Miller [24:53]

All the Things You Are (Very Warm for May) [4:19]

The Way You Look Tonight (Swing Time) [4:25]

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Roberta) [4:04]

Once in a Blue Moon (The Stepping Stones) [3:27]

The Song is You (Music in the Air) [4:34]

Bill (Show Boat) [3:43]

Eight Popular Songs for String Quartet arranged by Wladimir Selinsky [23:13]

Solitude (Duke Ellington) [2:49]

So Rare (Jerry Herst) [2:22]

Mood Indigo (Duke Ellington) [3:09]

Apple Blossoms (Joe Venuti) [2:18]

Blues Serenade (Frank Signorelli) [3:20]

Honeysuckle Rose (Fats Waller) [1:51]

Sophisticated Lady (Duke Ellington) [3:28]

Sweet Sue (Victor Young) [3:25]

Encore: Long Ago and Far Away, arranged by Paul Schwartz from the film Cover Girl [4:15]

Philharmonic Chamber Soloists

rec. June 2014 (Charles Miller arrangements) and November 2014 (Wladimir Selinsky arrangements, and Long Ago and Far Away) [52:30]

The stars of this disc are two arrangers, Charles Miller and Wladimir Selinsky. Miller was born in 1899 in Russia and emigrated to America with his family two years later. A career as a staff arranger saw him rise to a position where he was entrusted the responsibility of arranging and editing Jerome Kern’s scores. Well-known as a Broadway arranger he was also a violinist – he studied with Carl Flesch and Leopold Auer, no less – and later studied conducting with Alfredo Casella. But he continued his close work with Kern and in the 1940s Miller crafted a splendid series of song arrangements for string quartet, heard here. An indication of the march of time is that he was to forsake this work for the greater stability of life as an orchestral violinist, spending twenty years in the ranks of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

I first heard these six song arrangements in the 1942 recording made by the Gordon Quartet, which has been reissued by the French label Forgotten Records. Very unusually this is an example of a contemporary group taking these arrangements faster than a quartet performing them at the time of their composition. And for me this works very well, vesting the music with a fine level of eagerness and energy. The Philharmonic Chamber Soloists are all drawn from the ranks of the New York Philharmonic and they’ve clearly cultivated the right sound for the project. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is especially fine in this reading – though the leaner tonal sound of the old Gordon Quartet’s 78s is always an indelible memory. Miller’s through-composed pieces triumphantly stand the test of time.

Selinksy was another Russian-born musician; Kiev, in 1910, but he was raised in Berlin and was also a fine violinist studying with Willy Hess, Adolf Busch and – like Miller – Auer. He took early jobs as a fiddler and conductor in pit orchestras on Broadway and gravitated to radio shows where he had his own NBC programme in the 1940s. He made a number of solo 78s for Columbia, either with pianist or his salon orchestra. The Eight Popular Songs are Jazz or near-Jazz pieces. Ellington’s Solitude is especially beautifully crafted and So Rare with subtle vibraphone use is a find. There’s more than a hint of the supper club about the arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose but the tempo-doubling of Sophisticated Lady with its opportunity for a bluesy violin solo is apt. The encore is Long Ago and Far Away from the film Cover Girl, full of colour and sway and arranged by Paul Schwartz, son of the film’s famous producer, Arthur.

These are faithful, warm and excellently recorded performances. If some of the fiddle solos in the Selinsky arrangements lack the kind of magic that New York orchestra and session players such as David Nadien and Harry Lookofsky might have brought, it doesn’t diminish the merits of this attractive disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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