To those of us who grew up in the '40s and '50s the music of Leroy Anderson is an inextricable part of our childhood. He enjoyed enormous popularity during that time and on into the '60s. But his popularity primarily came from a handful of well-known and frequently played 'hits': Blue Tango, The Typewriter (do you young'uns even know what a typewriter is?), Sleigh Ride, Plink Plank Plunk, The Syncopated Clock, Trumpeter's Lullaby and a few others. This series of recordings vastly expands our knowledge of his works. Anderson was immensely talented -- not just in music: he served in the US Army during World War II as a translator of Scandinavian languages -- and his music was meticulously crafted, but he always considered himself a composer of 'concert music with a popular touch'. It's hard imagine even the most classical-music averse listener not being charmed by his music.
This CD, the fourth in Leonard Slatkin's and the BBC Concert Orchestra's series which apparently is going to include all of Anderson's music, is filled primarily with arrangements of well-known tunes (The Irish Suite, The Scottish Suite, MacDowell's 'To a Wild Rose') that are not only melodious but impeccably crafted. 'To a Wild Rose', originally a piano miniature, is orchestrated for strings and harp and it is gorgeously done. The 'Irish Suite' includes such tunes as 'The Girl I Left Behind Me', 'The Last Rose of Summer' (arranged as a miniature violin concerto), and an infectious 'Irish Washerwoman' whose amazingly assured counterpoint will probably only be noticed on second hearing.
The disc also includes versions of two favorites that had lyrics added by Mitchell Parish: 'Blue Tango' and 'Belle of the Ball.' The latter features baritone William Dazeley singing the words as Kim Criswell (as the Belle) sings a wordless vocalise. There is also a vocal version of a piece unfamiliar to me, 'Forgotten Dreams'. (Unfortunately, these unfamiliar lyrics are not included in the CD booklet.)
The CD concludes with two orchestral suites: 'Alma Mater', which depicts the student (and alum) hijinks at Anderson's old college, Harvard, and a marvelous collection of Christmas carols called 'A Christmas Festival.'
Slatkin, who had recorded a lot of Anderson over the years well before this series began a couple of years ago, tends to have a genial rather than a crisply energetic manner with these pieces and I am finding that to be an entirely valid approach, and the BBC Concert Orchestra play this music as if they've been playing it all their lives.