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Herbert: Works For Cello & Piano / Jerry Grossman, William Hicks

Release Date: 12/13/2011 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80721  
Composer:  Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry GrossmanWilliam Hicks
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HERBERT Légende. 1 Pensée amoureuse. 1 Berceuse. 1 Petite Valse. 1 Liebes-Scene. 1 Canzonetta 1. Unpublished Nos. 1, 2 1. The Little Red Lark. 1 Romance. Read more class="SUPER12">1 Under the Elms. Indian Summer. Scherzo . Estellita. Devotion. 6 Piano Pieces. The American Rose. Fleurette. Al Fresco. Ocean Breezes. Pan-Americana William Hicks (pn); 1 Jerry Grossman (vc) NEW WORLD 80721 (2 CDs: 87:30)

It used to be said that you were an intellectual if you could listen to Rossini’s William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. I’d venture that many folks of a certain age, upon hearing the name Victor Herbert, would immediately think of Babes in Toyland or Naughty Marietta . But the true music intellectual knows that Herbert (1859–1924) was a gifted composer of serious orchestral works, a very accomplished concert cellist who made many appearances with major American orchestras—with violinist Max Bendix, he gave the first American performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto—and a conductor of some repute who led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1898 to 1904.

Then, too, there was the Herbert-Dvo?ák mutual admiration society. Herbert was principal cellist in the New York Philharmonic when the orchestra premiered Dvo?ák’s “New World” Symphony in 1893. That event is alleged to have inspired Herbert to compose his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E Minor, the same key as Dvo?ák’s symphony. When Herbert completed and premiered his concerto in New York in March of 1894, Dvo?ák was in the audience and is said to have been inspired by Herbert’s work to compose his own, now famous, Cello Concerto in B Minor, the key of the second movement of Herbert’s concerto.

The works on these two discs represent a Herbert somewhere in between the composer of music for the concert hall and the composer of operettas and scores for musical theater. All of the pieces heard here fall loosely into the category of lighter fare generally referred to as salon music, or, as Drew Massey’s booklet note prefers, “parlor” music—a term meant to distinguish it from music performed by polished professionals and sometimes celebrated virtuosos like Paganini and Liszt for an assembled audience, versus music intended to be played by members of small gatherings of amateurs. As Massey puts it, these are works that “reflect the genteel sensibilities of those who purchased this music and performed it with their family and friends.” As such, the pieces are written in the popular genres of the day—waltzes, ragtime, character sketches—and designed to be within the technical grasp of casual players.

This says nothing, of course, of their quality. Herbert could be, and was in many of these unpretentious pieces, a master miniaturist, creating music of elegant craftsmanship and beguiling content. One of the most delightful, and famous, is the Petite Valse , which, despite what Massey says about ease of playability, cannot possibly be easy with its tricky rhythms, high-lying tracery way up on the instrument’s A string, numerous harmonics, and topping it off, a passage in rapid, broken octaves. It’s a virtuoso showpiece that puts the cello through its paces in just over a minute and a half. Herbert obviously thought highly enough of the piece and considered it challenging enough to dedicate it to Pablo Casals. Herbert himself recorded it for Victor in 1912, a recording that has been transferred to CD and that can be heard in a three-disc collection on Pearl.

This was my first encounter with cellist Jerry Grossman, though I note that he is the featured cellist on James Levine’s recording of Strauss’s Don Quixote with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, of which Grossman was—and still is—principal cellist. That release received a nod of approval from Bernard Jacobson in Fanfare 20:3, an endorsement that was definitely merited. Grossman captures the tang and twang of Petite Valse , the sweet nostalgia of Légende and The Little Red Lark , the repose of Berceuse , and the sly wink of Canzonetta to perfection. Every piece comes across with its own unique personality, and through it all shines Grossman’s glowing tone and solid technique.

He is, of course, ably accompanied by William Hicks, whose individual talents are showcased in the pieces for solo piano. Considering that Herbert’s instrument was the cello, it’s remarkable how idiomatic his keyboard writing is. Formally and content-wise the piano pieces cover the same territory as the cello pieces, ranging from the dreamy and nostalgic Indian Summer to the high-hat and baton, Chevalier-like soft-shoe of the Scherzo. The Mountain Brook , on the other hand, hints very strongly at a Debussy influence.

Pianist Hicks gives ample evidence of being as sensitive and attuned to Herbert’s wit and wistfulness as Grossmann is. You may not have the time or inclination to listen to two full discs of these pieces in a single sitting, but I guarantee there’s not one of these little gems you won’t want to come back to and hear repeatedly. This is great stuff, superbly played and recorded, and strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Pieces (3) for Cello and Piano: no 3, Petite valse by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900-1906 
Pieces (3) for Cello and Piano: no 2, Pensée amoureuse by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900-1906 
Pieces (3) for Cello and Piano: no 1, Romance by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1900-1906 
Panamerica by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901; USA 
Fleurette by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1903; USA 
Canzonetta by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
Al Fresco by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1903; USA 
Estellita by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)
Devotion by Victor Herbert
Performer:  Jerry Grossman (Cello), William Hicks (Piano)

Sound Samples

Pensée Amoureuse
Petite Valse
Unpublished #2
The Little Red Lark
Unpublished #1
Under the Elms
Indian Summer
Estellita (Valse Pathetique)
Devotion (a Love Sonnet)
Six Piano Pieces: I. Yesterthoughts
Six Piano Pieces: II. Punchinello
Six Piano Pieces: III. Ghazel
Six Piano Pieces: IV. La Coquette
Six Piano Pieces: V. On the Promenade
Six Piano Pieces: VI. The Mountain Brook
The American Rose
Al Fresco (Intermezzo)
Ocean Breezes
Pan-Amercan (Morceau Characteristique)

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