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.
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: