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An article by William Zucker.
We are all familiar with the fact that different arrangers, when they endeavor to create a setting for a well known song or ballad, can produce results sufficiently different from one another as to properly be considered as individual and distinct compositions. These bear virtually no comparison with one another, and forming a preference is a matter of individual taste, although, as sometimes will occur, one might be sufficiently impressed with such multiple settings as to be unable to form a preference and properly say which one considers better.
But what happens when the same setting or composition is taken over, in a rerecording by the same artist or even by different artists? This becomes an interesting situation and in some but not all cases will approach that of individual interpretation in a serious musical selection. where in a sense everything is already set in place.
Composers may additionally revise their own work. and may record such in alternate versions. Opinions will of necessity differ as to whether the composer, by revision, has actually improved on the work or not. The same might happen with established arrangers and conductors of light music, rerecording selections that they previously released, similarly engendering sharply divided opinions.
In all forms of music, it will always be a matter of how we might receive an individual work, what implicit images are formed, and what may occur when we receive further insights into the process, and because of the impressions initially received, which tend to be lasting as they in a sense are what introduced us to the music to begin with, such further insights I refer to may or may not be taken as welcome. Each instance must be approached individually.
What I am attempting to cover and thus outline in this essay may be seen to encompass a wide area for some, but I think that the subject for all who have made a specialty of this genre should be at the very least absorbing. And as a final preliminary note, I must point out that all opinions expressed are of necessity subjective, but the whole idea of posting such is to invite others to comment, even with diametrically opposed views.
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As my original introduction to the field of light music in 1950-1, and my acquisitions of recordings of such beginning the following year started with Leroy Anderson (on whom I've already written a number of essays), this would be the logical place to begin my survey on the sort of differing versions of the same work that I'm attempting to cover.
As is generally known, Leroy Anderson was engaged as a staff arranger for the Boston Pops Orchestra by its director at the time, Arthur Fiedler, and served as such through the late 1940's and early 1950's.. The orchestra in turn was the first to introduce many of Mr. Anderson's original short selections, but at the same time, they featured a whole bunch of his arrangements which were virtually unparalleled in their day, with many approaching the level of serious music in their individual musical insights.
Some of the Pops earliest recorded selections were namely "Jalousie" and "The Continental." They were rerecorded many years later as part of an album released that was entitled "In the Latin Flavor." In this latter recording, they had received many enhancements which by listening, one could easily credit Mr. Anderson for, even though he in turn never received credit for this work. And in this opinion, these enhanced versions are quite superior in musical qualities and insights to their earlier counterparts from the 1930's.
Mr. Anderson's individual selections have been recorded many times over the years, essentially in the form they were written, but with some subtle differences amongst them.
My own preferences in general are for Mr. Anderson's first recordings with his own orchestra, with the exception of certain selections where I would give the palm to the Fielder/Boston Pops recordings ("Serenata," "Sleigh Ride," "Fiddle Faddle," "Irish Suite").
The individual selections were revised in the matter of touchings up of the orchestration, mostly in the matter of sound effects and novel instruments, presumably for purposes of illustrating the alleged inspiration of the music for listeners in the hope of stimulating them. What was unfortunate in these cases, at least in my own opinion, was that these instrumental intrusions did not lie comfortably alongside an idiom of music essentially refined in its nature. Thus I refer to the barking dog effect at the end of "The Waltzing Cat," the crack of the whip preceding the more animated sections in "Horse and Buggy," (neither of which was evident in their original recordings) and finally the ringing alarm clock in the middle section of "The Syncopated Clock."
Others I have spoken to expressed an objection to this last intrusion, but I'm happy to say that for those who would like a "clean and no-frills" version of this piece, I can recommend the one by Percy Faith which treats the piece very respectfully even though not the same as the original version.
And with Mr. Anderson's "A Christmas Festival," it is to be noted that the effect at the very end (in this opinion very tacky) of the sustained organ against the final detached chords is very much restrained and unintrusive in his original recording (it is really not necessary at this point), so that most listeners would not be aware of it unless they specially listen for it, which I feel is as it should be; in later recorded versions I refer to it is quite overwhelming and something I would gladly dispense with.
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Reuben Musiker, in his excellent book, "Conductors and Composers of Popular Orchestral Music," frequently expressed his disappointment with many of the top notch arrangers for having cheapened the essence of their style in the interest of commercialization. Nowhere can this be more readily seen than in the rerecordings and recastings of popular settings as well as original compositions produced by many of these hitherto first rank figures.
During the 1940's and extending into the early 1950's, Morton Gould produced a series of albums featuring many popular standards of the time, offering many engaging settings of these ballads, notably individual in their manner. Some of the albums of this series that were produced later featured Mr. Gould himself at the piano, providing an added touch to these various and varied arrangements.
Around 1955, Mr. Gould, who had hitherto recorded for the Columbia label, switched his allegiance to RCA Victor, and thereupon rerecorded virtually his entire repertoire of the popular standards he had presented years before on Columbia. These newer RCA Victor releases in the main were less assured in their general manner, in addition to which some of these settings had certain additions to them, such as in "Tropical," aside from a flaccid tempo (compared to the snappiness of approach in the earlier version), special sound effects were added ostensibly to illustrate the title, not to the musical benefit of the piece in this opinion, and in "Stardust," where in the middle, more animated section, a few bars were added which structurally provided nothing of substance to this piece.
(Mr. Gould himself advised me, upon my questioning him about this disparity and expressing my preference for the earlier, Columbia versions, that there had been a bit of finagling in the production of the later, RCA Victor recordings. I never did find out just what he had in mind when he gave me this response to my query.)
A word about the "Pavanne," which had been recorded by numerous groups in addition to his own. With this piece, I have always preferred the recording by the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler, rather drier and more matter-of-fact in its approach, but avoiding the rather saccharine and sticky aspect that Mr. Gould's own rendition evinces. Additionally, there is a very interesting band arrangement by one Paul Yoder, which contains numerous harmonic enhancements that are worth noting; the only problem as I see it is that he did not include the background pulsating accompaniment in these changes, resulting in some unintended dissonances that can be picked up if one listens carefully, although the necessary adjustments to take care of these can be easily implemented.
David Rose similarly went through various phases in his recording career, making a few cuts for RCA Victor before finally settling with MGM for the remainder of those years.
A direct comparison may be made between the two series with three selections: "Holiday for Strings," "Our Waltz," and "Dance of the Spanish Onion." Aside from the generally emaciated sound of these pieces in the earlier series, the last named piece is missing a bar or two at the very end, as though Mr. Rose had revised this ending during the interim period. But by all odds, his best work and results may be heard in his earliest MGM recordings, covering a period extending to about the late 1950's.
"Holiday for Strings" and "Our Waltz" were recorded on myriad occasions by numerous artists, including Mr.Fiedler and the Boston Pops (which versions I find far too fast for my taste), but one may safely stick with Mr. Rose's original MGM presentations which present these pieces in the best possible manner so that one need look no farther in this instance.
Another Rose specialty that enjoyed some esteem when it came out: Jean-Jean's "Fiddlin' For Fun" similarly received a degree of competition from a Boston Pops Fiedler recording. Once again, the latter is a bit too fast for me, but on that recording one can better pick up some salient features that need to be heard, as opposed to the Rose version where they were somewhat obscured in the recording process.
In the late 1950's, Mr. Rose presented revised versions of two of his original selections: "Holiday for Strings" and "Gay Spirits." These had extensive changes structurally, making for quite different compositions in essence, and might not be readily accepted by those who found the original versions so engaging - what I mean to say is accepted under the same title as a replacement rather than as an entirely separate piece. I myself vastly prefer the original versions of these pieces. There may be other instances where he made revisions like this, with other pieces - one possible one would be the "Manhattan Square Dance" where in the piano version, the bassoon episode before the reprise is omitted, though it is perfectly playable on the piano.
When I think of Reuben Musiker's comment in his excellent book that many of the top notch arrangers in the field of light music allowed their styles to cheapen over the years in the interest of commercialization, nowhere is this point driven home for me more vividly than with the case of Percy Faith.
Percy Faith, in his earlier years, made recordings on the RCA Victor and (American) Decca labels, before joining Columbia records, remaining with that label for the remainder of his career. Virtually everything that he came out with in those first 20 years he was producing recordings was of exemplary quality and bore comparison, with very few exceptions, with competing versions by other artists.
Some time in the late 1960's, he began to produce "updated" (for want of a better word) versions of some of the standards that he had come out with years before, versions that in this considered opinion were quite inferior to his originals. The newer versions were rougher and less refined in sound - probably a concession to the demands of the time which very much cheapened his overall style. Worst of all, in many of these later conceptions, he left his work in a sense incomplete, as these versions lacked the musical closure that the originals afforded the listener. The selections I specifically have in mind - and there may be others I have not as yet discovered - are "My Shawl," "Ba-Tu-Ca-Da," "Bim-Bam-Bum," "Amorada," "Tropic Holiday," "Enlloro," and "I Got Rhythm."
His "Brazilian Sleigh Bells" was picked up by many groups and has been recorded and even performed many times; however, I think that Mr. Faith's own original version gives us the best presentation of this very vibrant and lively piece.
One of Mr. Faith's best albums featured a collaboration with Mitch Miller, that was entitled, "Music Until Midnight," a notably superlative collection of mood pieces of absolutely top quality, of a stature such that many serious music lovers expressed their admiration of it at the time it first appeared. Mitch's oboe and cor anglais solos gave these pieces a certain textural focus, so that one could seriously question Mr. Faith's enterprise in rerecording many of the selections from this album without the woodwind solos, with the orchestra left to play all those by itself, which was clearly far less effective.
However, in the earlier part of his career he was supreme and second to almost no one, especially when it came to Latin American music, and many comparison recordings of the same selection could be cited to illustrate this point. I have indicated a few exceptions with a comment I made in a recent issue of the JIM magazine. These were, namely: "Delicado" (Fiedler/Boston Pops), "Jamaican Rhumba" (Newman/Hollywood Symphony), "Petit Bolero" (Dolf van der Linden), and would like to add here "Enlloro" (Carmen Cavallaro - double length version). In all others, he had no peer in this genre.
Around 1953, he released his own adaptation of Alfven's "Swedish Rhapsody" which was so successful that Hansen Music Publishers, which put out the works of Alfven along with other notable Scandinavian composers, decided to publish Percy Faith's version as well. With its success, other light music conductors such as Mantovani and Hugo Winterhalter made recordings of the piece. These were nowhere as successful in the sense of being musically viable, but as a side comment, I would imagine that neither of these latter two would have ever admitted that if not for Mr. Faith's amazingly successful conception, they would not even be recording the piece!
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The situation in the UK gets rather complicated, when one considers all the alternate versions of pieces that came out of the Chappell Mood Library, most performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra under various conductors such as Charles Williams, Robert Farnon, Sidney Torch, and perhaps others. In many instances, compositions by the above named and by others such as Felton Rapley and Peter Yorke were performed both by the Queen's Hall group and by the composers themselves leading their own orchestras. In many cases, the differences if any are so slight as to cause one to wonder if it is the same recording being heard.
With Robert Farnon, many of his original compositions, exactly as was the case with Leroy Anderson, have knocked around by being recorded by many other conductors of light music, and similarly, Mr. Farnon himself made alternate and later versions of many of his selections. The choice is perhaps not as clear cut as was the case with Leroy Anderson, but in general, I would similarly recommend the earlier versions by his own orchestra, with a few exceptions I note for the Queen's Hall recordings (which obviously originated in the Mood Library). Those exceptions I would cite are "Journey into Melody" (for its expanded opening portion), "How Beautiful is Night" (for superior execution of the all-important flute solo), "A Star is Born" (for the sumptuousness of the fuller sized ensemble), and "Lake of the Woods" (which I quite prefer in the abbreviated form offering only the dissonant main section by itself, feeling that the middle portion, while beautiful individually, does not properly relate to the other part). It is different with "Pictures in the Fire," one of Mr. Farnon's best pieces, where in the Queen's Hall recording, a few bars may be heard to be lacking. Very conceivably, the composer noted this and revised it by the time he made his own recording.
I also note that David Rose, of all conductors, made a recording of "Portrait of a Flirt," which for me is strictly a curiosity. The presentation is unacceptably rough for my taste, and worst of all, the final downswoop at the end is completely cut off in its course, depriving us of the last held chords which one would think would perfectly seal off the original conception. One could not say whether this was an engineering accident or actually intended so by Mr. Rose, but I feel that all I describe of this recording would rule it out of any serious consideration.
Very interestingly, Sidney Torch led two different versions of his piece "Meandering," which bear virtually no resemblance to one another. They are almost like two conceptions of the same song by two totally different arrangers. Which one prefers is a matter of personal preference; I myself lean more toward the one offered in the Queen's Hall recording.
Sidney Torch's own "Samba Sud" was also recorded in the USA by Ray Bloch, in addition to Mr. Torch's own recording. It is here a matter of individual preference as to which a listener would find better.
I have to mention Haydn Wood in regard to two of his pieces: "Soliloquy" and "Wellington Barracks." I may have noted that Mr. Wood's level of light music creation is very strongly akin to serious music in the same sense as Albert W. Ketelbey, Eric Coates, and Edward German.
His "Soliloquy" always impressed me on such a basis, having acquainted myself with it originally as the fittingly final number (as an epilogue) in an album by the Queen's Hall group entitled "Concert of Popular Music." It always seemed to me altogether perfect as I was hearing it on this recording, but very recently I encountered a version of it on YouTube played by I don't know which orchestra, and in this version there is additional material at the very outset, which to me gives the sensation of beginning in the middle of nowhere, as well as an expanded reprise section toward the end which seems similarly unneeded.
With "Wellington Barracks," I refer to the very end of the piece, where in the Queen's Hall version, the last two chords are taken strictly in tempo with the rest of the piece, but in a version I've just discovered conducted by Sidney Torch (did he record this piece with this group more than once?), those last two chords are broadened out , with a momentary halt in the beat. I myself vastly prefer it strictly in tempo, but others may feel differently about it.
Changing the focus somewhat, I note that Mantovani, especially in his earlier years, tended to share light music repertoire with Charles Williams, George Melachrino, Ronald Binge, and later on, with Percy Faith. I could provide a number of examples here, but in two cases, I feel that some comments might be made.
In the case of Addinsell's "Festival," the Melachrino version gives us a double run through of the piece, with varied instrumentation and with transitions to provide for the second presentation. Mantovani's version is somewhat abridged but by no means to be dismissed on that account; additionally, it has that sharp punctuation gesture at the very end (which is in the piano version) that Melachrino's unaccountably and disappointingly lacks, for that gesture really helps to give proper closure to the piece.
"Madrugado" is one of the most beautiful pieces that composer Ronald Binge ever wrote. However, his own version of it sounds pallid by comparison with Mantovani's, which latter provides a marvelous effect by clever manipulation of the instrumentation, sounding far more vibrant and gripping as it builds to its ultimate climax.
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At this point, what essentially remains, is a grab bag of odds and ends by various composers whose work happens to exist in more than one version, and not falling readily into any category I've outlined above.
Camarata was a notably individual figure in light music, turning out some really unique compositions and arrangements before as I see it burying himself in the Walt Disney studios as a recording executive. The recordings he made dating from the late 1940's and early 1950's should amply demonstrate his true skills, which incidentally extended over at times into more serious forms of music.
"Fingerbustin'" was a swing type affair written for Jimmy Dorsey, with whose band he was briefly associated. This latter group actually made a recording of the piece which was little more than an improvisation, and this rendition did not properly finish off the piece by providing the reprise to give it full closure. I would definitely recommend Mr. Camarata's own version which sets everything out in a perfectly clear manner and makes complete formal sense.
"Rumbalero" was one of Mr. Camarata's truly great compositions, with a steady build up that almost suggests Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" by its offering of two alternating themes in its course as it proceeds to its ultimate climax. It was very much acclaimed at the time it appeared, and although I'm not aware of any recording aside from the composer's own, I claim to have heard a radio broadcast of a live concert in 1953 conducted by Paul Whiteman which offered this piece, and it sounded fully as impressive in this presentation. One would somehow wish that it might in some manner have been recorded for posterity.
One item in his recording repertoire was "Fiddlesticks" by De Freitas. I have heard the rather dry sounding, non-committal account by the composer, along with yet another version by Roger Roger, but for me there is nothing to equal Mr. Camarata's full blooded presentation that gives me absolute pleasure.
Victor Young recorded his warmly romantic "Moonlight Serenade" at least twice; the first time playing it straight without too much in the way of rubato (which is how I personally prefer it), and the second time in a much more luscious and explicitly forward manner (perfectly feasible a conception for this music, but I prefer it just a bit more laid back).
Another selection that Mr. Young recorded, a rather odd-sounding novelty, was a very frenetic, jaunty affair entitled "Spring Madness." There is a slower, lyrical interlude, but the faster sections should really drive forward as they do in this recording. I was surprised to discover very recently in my on line travels that there is a version of this piece by Camarata (assuming that names have not become jumbled as has happened so often in recent postings). This new version is identical musically to what we hear on Mr. Young's recording but with a noticeably different instrumentation, and in a considerably slower tempo. As I feel that speed is of the essence in the main section of the piece, and in fact is the whole point of it to begin with, I cannot see myself preferring this latter version.
Mr. Young also recorded his "Twilight Nocturne" which is a notable mood piece somewhat impressionistic in its bearings, and rather nicely reflecting its title. While there are no other recordings of it that I'm aware of, I was intrigued to note that in a piano version, there is considerably more music in its latter portion, and with it the piece concludes in a far more satisfactory manner. One would hope that there might be a recording of this version in existence, or if not, that an enterprising conductor who delves extensively in light music would seek to commit this version to disc.
Bernie Wayne composed many novelty pieces reflecting the urban entertainment scene of Broadway, even giving some of these titles reflecting names of his favorite star performers. His "Vanessa" was particularly popular and was recorded by numerous light music artists - aside from himself, we have versions by Hugo Winterhalter, David Rose, with some interesting commentaries on it from the UK in the form of renderings by George Melachrino and Charles Williams. The Hugo Winterhalter version is the one that made the charts, and in its own way is quite satisfactory, but I'm on the verge of preferring the David Rose version, which would be perfect for me if not for the fact that he misses a beat in the first section, during the "break" portion of the melody.
In the field of light music originating on the European continent, the recordings of Dolf van der Linden reign supreme, when one considers competing versions of such pieces as Deltour's "Fiddles and Bows," Heyne's "Petite Valse," Luypaerts' "Whimsy," and Steggerda's "Bahama Buggy Ride," although in this last case I would give the Hugo Winterhalter version some attention, as it treats the piece very respectfully even while giving full flower to Mr. Winterhalter's own style.
Frank Chacksfield and Malcolm Lockyer both turned out twin versions of the latter's "Picnic for Strings" and "Fiddler's Boogie," musically identical even though noticeably different performances. Both are equally good in my opinion, with preference for one or the other to be a strictly individual matter. The same would apply to Ray Martin's "Dancing Bells" as presented by himself and by Woolf Philips.
With Cyril Stapleton, I find myself preferring his versions of Latin American selections over other competing versions, referring to "Carnavailto," "Eleanora," and "Signal Samba."
One of Richard Hayman's first compositions to appear on record was a snappy affair entitled "No Strings Attached." It is a very engaging piece, but his original recording sounds as from hunger, and very echoey, besides. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I could hear that piece as done by the Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler. This latter version more than does the piece justice - I could easily imagine that it may well have been another enhancement by Leroy Anderson that was never credited.
And finally, I have to mention the superb arrangement of Arthur Pryor's "The Whistler and His Dog," perhaps best known in the classic rendition by Mr. Pryor's own band. However, I mentioned in a recent issue of the JIM magazine, in response to a reader's query, an absolutely superb version of this piece by Henri Rene that I cannot praise highly enough. A perfect note on which to end this survey!
It has been an absolute pleasure for me to share my impressions of these alternate versions, at the very least to point out that many were and are given individual attention by various artists. Inevitably, some of my readers' favorites may well have been overlooked in this account; if so, then I apologize for any such omissions. Moreover, the opinions expressed here were of necessity subjective, as I stated at the outset of this essay, but for what it is worth, it should hopefully invite other comments expressing such opinions, whether in agreement or not.