MOROSS Symphony No. 1. The Last Judgment. Variations on a Waltz for Orchestra • JoAnn Falletta, cond; London SO • ALBANY 1403 (57:47)
Jerome Moross (1913-1983) was undoubtedly a minor American composer—if you really want to rank composers in that way. Even so, he was a minor composer of interest. There have been several recordings of his ballet Frankie and Johnny, which many readers would know, and his film score for Read more style="font-style:italic">The Big Country established a Western sound so identifiable that it later became clichéd shorthand. Moross also wrote successfully for Broadway. There is no question that he has a place in the history of American musicals as an exemplar of the immediate post-World War II surge of optimism. While some of his music resembles the open prairie sound of Copland, it is more fitting to compare Moross to a figure like Morton Gould. Both were able to reference popular music styles within large-scale orchestral works.
Lynn René Bayley’s review of this disc (Fanfare 36:6) consigns Moross’s music to the scrap heap: “this trash,” “you just want the damn thing to end,” and so on. Bayley derides the composer for using dance rhythms of the time in his symphony—although it could be argued that Haydn, Dvo?ák, and many others did the same thing. She characterizes the Variations on a Waltz as “such bad music that it beggars description”—obviating the need to describe it—and concludes, “You can safely pass this one up.” Perusing Bayley’s review I wondered whether this was a new recording—she seems to imply as much when she writes, “these are all world premiere recordings”—but a cursory glance at Amazon reveals that the same performances appeared on the Koch International label 20 years back. Moreover, Paul A. Snook reviewed the disc in Fanfare on its first appearance, and both Snook and James Miller included it in their 1993 Want Lists. Here is some of what Snook had to say: “Moross’s... one and only symphony of 1942 comes as nothing less than a revelation....[A]lthough the example set by Copland’s 1930’s ballets must have spurred him on, at twenty-nine years of age Moross had already perfected his unique and very personalized amalgam of the American vernacular, containing echoes of everything from the political rally to the county fair and the vaudeville house.” Of the Variations he wrote: “(the work) displays Moross’s wittily seamless blend of the jaunty and the sentimental at its most appealing,” and, far from being a recording you can safely pass up, he maintained that “no collection of American music can afford to lack this disc.”
Twenty years ago, a new recording of rediscovered American symphonic music was something of an event. Perhaps it is less so today, but I simply had to hear the music that inspired such extremes of love and hate, so I requested a review copy. I should mention that I am already a fan of this composer, having long enjoyed the ballet Frankie and Johnny and the charming Concerto for Flute and Strings recorded by these same artists, apparently at the same sessions, on a Koch disc that has also been reissued by Albany.
The symphony announces itself with exuberance in a burst of hoe-down fiddles and brass flourishes: very much of its time, but with a freshness and joy in creation that predates the hackneyed style this was to become due to overexposure on television. (Part of that overexposure may be laid at the composer’s feet: in need of money, he went on to write music for shows like Wagon Train). The strutting second movement’s extensive piano obbligato (not a cadenza, as Bayley states) is certainly there to evoke the barrelhouse as a specific color in this colorful score, as is the whiff of a drinking song that characterizes the main theme. Moross finds darkness in parts of the following slow movement (justifying the title of symphony), where the sparsely scored thematic material has strong overtones of William Grant Still. The fourth movement returns us to the exultant style of the opening; its fugato lies as far from an academic exercise in counterpoint as one could imagine. Only here did I feel that a sharper attack was required from the orchestra.
Popular music of the 1940s is the primary basis for the ballet The Last Judgement, especially the Cuban rhumbas and sambas that formed such a major subgenre in that period. Moross does not go out of his way to deconstruct this material, nor does he take an ironic or detached attitude, but fully captures its free and easy mood, as in the infectious Eve’s Story. This score reminds me of those sophisticated ballet segments interpolated into Broadway musicals of the time, such as Bernstein’s On the Town or Jule Styne’s High Button Shoes.
While the influence of Copland may be felt in the dance rhythms of the ballet and the “Western” music of the symphony, there are stronger connections to popular music and jazz in Moross’s work. Adam’s Story (from The Last Judgement) contains David Raskin-type chords such as minor ninths and 11ths that were not part of Copland’s vocabulary (at least in his populist works, which rely heavily upon open fourths and fifths). I agree with Snook about the Variations on a Waltz of 1946 (revised in 1966). Moross’s familiar energy is here, but also fleeting moments of tenderness. Maybe no great claims can be made for this simple waltz and its nine pithy variations, but it has the virtue of being short and to the point. I suspect Arthur Fiedler would have jumped at it.
Allow me to recommend this disc with confidence. Moross writes with a boyish, Huck Finn insouciance that is either irresistible, or resistible only because of pre-existing prejudices. (We all have our blind spots of course, but no critic can afford to over-indulge them and expect to retain credibility.) Falletta does a professional job with musicians who must have been seeing these scores for the first time, and the 1993 recording is clear and bright. I am delighted that Albany has restored this disc to the catalog in the year of the composer’s centenary.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Originally released on the Koch label in 1993 and now available in 2013 from Albany Records, these splendid performances of music by Jerome Moross, conducted by Joann Falletta, are most welcomed. The Symphony No. 1, full of spunky Americana and appealing themes is an entirely satisfying and authentic symphony that deserves a place in the repertoire of today. Composed in 1941-42, it brings to mind the equally appealing Symphony No. 1 of Randall Thompson. Neo-Romantic American music that has acquired a classic appeal analogous to the better Hollywood movies of that time. Don't miss the clever and witty Scherzo movement which will likely make your day. The Last Judgement, a ballet score, and Variations on a Waltz for Orchestra, both originally world premiere recordings, round out an album of music very much of its time yet brilliant and appealing enough to impress even the more jaded listener.
- Greg La Traille, ArkivMusic.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1by Jerome Moross Conductor:
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1941-1942; USA Date of Recording: 03/1993 Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London Length: 20 Minutes 7 Secs.
The Last Judgementby Jerome Moross Conductor:
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1953; USA Date of Recording: 03/1993 Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London Length: 23 Minutes 24 Secs.
Variations on a Waltzby Jerome Moross Conductor:
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1946-1966; USA Date of Recording: 03/1993 Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London Length: 14 Minutes 16 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A little more than American light music.July 4, 2013By Ray Allen (Brighton, Brighton)See All My Reviews"I defy anyone not to enjoy this mix of lighter American music from a master tunesmith. Great performance by Falletta and LSO. Have fun!"Report Abuse