Analysed by Robert Walton
I first encountered Hal Mooney’s Orchestra on an MGM 78 of Helen Forrest singing I Wish I didn’t Love You So. Strings and voice dominated this 1947 Frank Loesser song, spoilt slightly by the shrillness which was sometimes a problem with early MGM discs. Mooney was first noticed in the business by two of his swing tunes Swamp Fire and Rigmarole, which played the rounds of the dance bands in the mid-30s. Joining another Hal, (Kemp), Mooney became his arranger-pianist in 1937. After settling in California he scored for Bing Crosby, Haymes, Lee, Starr, Garland, Sinatra and Vaughan.
But to give you a more detailed idea of his ability for string writing, I strongly advise you to take a listen to Gemini. It’s one of the fastest light orchestral pieces I’ve ever heard, but more than that, it’s played with a perfection that only a group of the finest fiddlers could produce. No room for “dead wood” or hangers-on in this recording session! In fact it’s as if they were all chosen from the same symphony orchestra. Hence the outstanding result.
A brilliant solo flute with pizzicato strings introduces this attempt at “breaking” the world record. While muted brass interject, the strings immediately switch to arco in readiness for one of the greatest sprints in musical history. There’s no way any tortoises could violate the start but the rest all leave their blocks together! Woodwind and brass provide the necessary fills.
Then taking a leaf out of the David Rose format, suddenly and very sensibly, the orchestra takes a well-earned break. The brass play three solid chords before the strings resting on their laurels spin a gorgeous slow tune based on the frantic theme, interspersed with the oboe and flute.
We’re soon back up to speed with the main melody but this time the horn and brass echo what the strings have just been playing. It’s a staggering performance of a brilliant arrangement which I doubt could ever be achieved again. A sort of “one off” job you might say. Even the listeners are out of breath, let alone the players. It’s the kind of composition/orchestration that the British were famous for. Clearly the Americans had caught up!
Guild Light Music GLCD 5153. (Gemini is from the 1957 LP “Musical Horoscope”)
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