American Chamber Music: Herrmann, Gershwin, Waxman & Copland
Bernard Herrmann was not satisfied with being a film composer of genius: he wanted to conquer the concert hall too, and 40 years after his death he’s making some headway. There’s a Bernard Herrmann Society and his film music is now getting a hearing in concert versions too. Souvenirs, his last concert work, is charmingly pastoral in a style that dates back almost a century, beautifully played here. In the 18 delightful piano transcriptions forming the Gershwin Song-book, the normally impeccable Ian Brown is not dry enough and his rhythms are sometimes flaccid. Gershwin said: ‘One must guard against the tendency to make too frequent use of the sustaining pedal…The rhythms of American popular music should be made to snap, and at times to cackle.’ There was a wonderful Gershwin LP by the versatile American pianist William Bolcom (Nonesuch, 1973, fortunately now on CD). As a composer too he knew his way round these popular idioms. Then there’s Peter Donohoe (EMI) with Rhapsody in Blue on the same CD, where he and Rattle know exactly how to play it tough rather than weakly sentimental.
Franz Waxman is another award-winning composer who worked in Hollywood and with Hitchcock. His unpretentious Four Scenes from Childhood were written for the birth of Heifetz’s son in 1948. Copland arranged the two numbers from Billy the Kid himself – the Waltz is not in the Suite.