Leroy Anderson: Our Band Heritage, Vol. 28 (CD review)

Ronald Demkee, the Allentown Band. AMP 2E119.

One of the nice things about reviewing music is getting to learn something new almost every day. For instance, I learned while listening to this album of music by Leroy Anderson that the Allentown Band (Allentown, Pennsylvania) is the oldest civilian concert band in the United States, the ensemble tracing its origins back to the early 1820's. On the present disc, their twenty-eighth collection of band music, Ronald Demkee, their current conductor for the past thirty-odd years, leads the players.

Anyway, you already know American composer Leroy Anderson (1908-1975). Or if you don't recognize the name, you'd recognize his tunes. He wrote practically every piece of light music you can think of, including "Sleigh Ride" (conspicuously absent from Allentown's collection), "The Syncopated Clock," "The Waltzing Cat," "The Typewriter," "Blue Tango," "China Doll," "The Girl in Satin," "Sandpaper Ballet," "Homestretch," and many more (much of which the band include here, a couple of dozen selections). John Williams described Leroy Anderson as "one of the great American masters of light orchestral music."

Anderson wrote in the creative style of other miniaturists of his day and before, people like Percy Grainger, Eric Coates, and Albert Ketelbey, who created tiny, descriptive tone poems that perfectly encapsulated a place, a moment, or an event. As you listen to the twenty-four pieces on this disc, none of them lasting more than three or four minutes, you marvel at the man's ingenuity, his creativity, and his sheer sense of fun.

The band begins the program with "Belle of the Ball" and then launches into Anderson's Irish Suite, made up of traditional Irish ballads Anderson arranged for concert band. Following these first six or eight items we find selections original to Anderson, including the numbers mentioned in the previous paragraph. The total disc time is a healthy seventy-two minutes, so one could hardly ask for more material.

Ronald Demkee
Favorites? Of course, the more-familiar music will always be favorites: "Song of the Bells" rings out delightfully; Gregory Seifert does a splendid job in "Trumpeter's Holiday"; "Blue Tango" and "The Girl in Satin" project an infectious tango spirit; "The Phantom Regiment" displays an eerie martial tone; then, the band eagerly plays the most-famous items on the program: "The Syncopated Clock," "The Waltzing Cat," "Sandpaper Ballet," and "The Typewriter." Demkee ends the program with an appropriately dashing (pun intended) rendition of "Homestretch."

Demkee and his band do a fine job with all of the tunes, even if for sheer élan they don't quite match the performances of Frederick Fennell in his old Mercury recordings from the late Fifties and early Sixties. Still, you can hear the enthusiasm Demkee and his players put into the performances. The performances. like the music, are lively and playful and, best of all, descriptive.

The only serious drawback I found with the album was its lack of documentation. The accompanying booklet lists all of the band members but says nothing about Leroy Anderson or any of the selections on the disc.

Engineer Jerry Tyson of AMP Recording and Duplicating Services, Maple Shade, New Jersey, made the album at Union Evangelical Lutheran Church, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania in 2014. The engineer miked it somewhat closely, with a resulting immediacy about the sound. Although there isn't a lot of depth present, there is a fine sense of hall resonance and bloom, plus a wide dynamic range, and these things go a long way toward creating a lifelike presentation. The impact of the band is quite realistic, too, especially with the recording's ample bass support. Midrange is not quite as transparent as I would have expected, the overall impression sounding a touch dark, but it seems in keeping with the natural sound of a wind ensemble in a real-life environment.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa