Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wilder is too important, and enjoyable, a composer to be ignored. Miss him at your peril...
It was unfair of Newport Classics to (mis)quote Whitney Balliett on the cover of the booklet of this CD. There we see Orchestral Works by America’s Master of the “Derrière Garde”, In fact Balliett actually dubbed Wilder "The President of the Derrière Garde" - a much better epithet. If he was one thing, this wonderfully enjoyable composer was streets ahead of the opposition, and he was a true American original. Wilder’s music is tuneful, well-crafted, never outstays its welcome and always leaves you wanting more. If only those things could be said of so many others. If that wasn’t enough, he was the author of the definitive book on American Popular Song (The Great Innovators 1900-1950) (OUP New York, 1972).
Perhaps because he was almost entirely self-taught Wilder easily moved from the popular to classical fields and back again, creating hits for the Mills Brothers (I'll Be Around), Miss Peggy Lee (While We're Young) and many others, pieces for chamber ensemble and suites and sonatas for his many friends.
Mitch Miller organised Wilder’s first recordings in 1939 and after the war Frank Sinatra, on hearing some of Wilder’s concert pieces in a radio broadcast, contacted the composer telling him that the music should be better known and persuading CBS to record the album known as Frank Sinatra conducts Alec Wilder - an object lesson in exactly how these delightful pieces should be performed. The 1945 works on this disk are also on Sinatra’s LP and although they’re well played here, they lack the ease of expression found in abundance on that earlier recording. Compare the Theme and Variations on both recordings. Clark has clear lines and a fine sense of purpose. Sinatra lets well alone, allows the music to almost play itself and when the band suddenly slips into some swing it seems the most natural thing for it to do. With Clark I feel the players to be somewhat self-conscious at this, and other similar, points.
The other three pieces, however, are much better served, being larger-scaled works, requiring a different approach.
The Carl Sandburg Suite is a four movement affair, weaving together eleven songs from Sandburg’s 1927 publication “The American Songbag” - a collection of folksongs the poet gathered in the first quarter of the 20th century during his travels round the country. They played a huge role in the folksong revival that was sweeping America at the time of the Wilder composition. It‘s outgoing and unbridled - a kind of slightly impolite Copland.
Gary Louie’s playing of the Suite is lovely, and the string orchestra support is just right. This is a real winner, five movements written in Wilder’s most laid-back style: easy-going and amiable. The six movement Serenade is a much different proposition. Written for the renowned Eastman Wind Ensemble, this is serious music with a serious purpose.
As far as the music goes this is a splendid collection of Wilder’s music. There’s something for everyone and I hope many will be tempted to investigate this composer further. There are many CDs currently available of his many different pieces. I particularly enjoyed one which collected together all his Suites for various instruments with strings (the Suite recorded here is included on that disk).
Clark’s orchestra and soloists play very well indeed, but, as already noted, with perhaps a little too much reverence and not enough freedom. It‘s hard for classical musicians to allow themselves to be sufficiently laid back to play this music. The recording is clean and clear but the recorded sound gives the impression of a large hall with the orchestra perhaps a little too far away from the microphones, allowing too much of the ambience of the hall to get between the listener and the players.
Wilder is too important, and enjoyable, a composer to be ignored. Miss him at your peril.
-- Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International