Victor Herbert, Works for Cello and Piano/Solo Piano Works New World Records 80721-2

Victor Herbert: Music for Cello and Piano/Solo Piano Works

(New World 80721-2)

 

Journal of the Society for American Music–Review by Karin Thompson (2013–Volume 7, Number 2)

 

 Karin Thompson’s review is important for a number of reasons, and we try to examine each reason:

(i)  Scholarly Research

The first thing Ms. Thompson did was to check on some of our claims with regard to the music that was recorded; was it otherwise available or stated another way, was this just another copy of music that was available to the public.  Her conclusion was:

“The titles of the compositions suggest character pieces one would associate with the late nineteenth century and turn of the twentieth, plus a couple of works without titles designated “unpublished.” Initial explorations to find other references to the works included on the recording uncover only occasional mention of just a few of them, making it apparent that the compilation on the recording truly is the result of original research.” (Emphasis Added)

(ii)  Importance of the Release

Ms. Thompson then assesses whether this recording, if unique, represents something of value to the public.  She concludes that it is:

“This recording represents an important contribution towards introducing Herbert’s short instrumental works to all audiences.

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“Victor Herbert’s role in American music brings together fascinating strands of influence from his own background as an Irish-born, German-trained cellist who moved to the United States at the age of twenty-seven.

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“Herbert’s contributions to the body of period character pieces, the centrality of the cello to his identity, and the musical accomplishments in his life prior to his theater successes rightly deserve more recognition.”

(iii)  Value of the Liner Notes

We do not get an A+ from Ms. Thompson but she finds our attempt to educate the reader to be noteworthy:

“The liner notes accompanying this recording, which are impressive in scope, successfully place these short works in their historical context. A brief discography and bibliography are also included.

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“The notes on each of the pieces provide excellent background information, particularly when specific individuals, locations, and performance contexts are described.  The comments on musical style seem unnecessary at times and more suited to a concert review than to liner notes, but they do successfully convey the scope and craft of Herbert’s compositional abilities. The notes also successfully point out the range of influences evident in Herbert’s music.” (Emphasis Added)

(iv)  Importance of Cultural Influences on Musical Composition

Ms. Thompson also alludes to cultural influences and why they are important to the study of Herbert’s work:

“Victor Herbert’s role in American music brings together fascinating strands of influence from his own background as an Irish-born, German-trained cellist who moved to the United States at the age of twenty-seven.

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“The notes also successfully point out the range of influences evident in Herbert’s music.”

(v)  Importance of Historic Recordings as Templates of Artistic Intent

Ms. Thompson reviewed the performances of Jerry Grossman (cello) and William Hicks (piano).  However, she went further.  She compared the current performances against the template of Herbert’s own performances of Petite Valse and Pensee Amoureuse.  By doing this, she validates the need for recordings that can capture the tempo and style (as well as craftsmanship) that is embedded in the score’s musical notation:

“We can listen to Herbert himself performing two of the pieces recorded by Grossman and Hicks: Petite Valse and Pens´ee Amoureuse, which he recorded for Victor Records in 1912. A century later, with the introduction of the 2011 recording by Grossman and Hicks we now have the opportunity to enjoy a segment of Herbert’s repertoire that was well known and appreciated when first introduced to the public. The artistic expertise and backgrounds of both performers on this new recording lend further parallels to Herbert, with Grossman serving as the current principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Hicks centering his professional experiences primarily on singers and the stage. The tasteful and convincing interpretations, enhanced by an exceptionally high quality recording, reveal a carefully crafted body of repertoire that deserves to be embraced once again.” (Emphasis Added)

Gramaphone–Review by Donald Rosenberg (2012)

“Hail to New World Records for initiating a series of recordings titled ‘The Foundations of the American Musical Theatre’.  The releases will explore the work of composers who made significant contributions to the field before the original 1943 production of Oklahoma! from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

“The first entry in the series, curiously, contains nothing from musical theatre.  But it does pay tribute to one of the genre’s most important composers, Victor Herbert, with a two-disc recital of his works for cello and piano.  Whether Herbert’s theatrical fare is familiar or not, these delectable miniatures–most receiving their first recordings–are bound to charm.

“Herbert was a virtuoso cellist before he was a composer or conductor (or champion of copyright issues), so it’s not surprising that he wrote so idiomatically for the instrument.  Nor is it unexpected that all of these pieces–whether for cello and piano or solo piano–are rich in melodic grace, poetry and whimsy, as well as harmonic imagination.

“The music is so appealing and varied in form and mood that it’s impossible to resist its intimate magic.  Herbert’s waltzes are especially captivating but so too are his lullabies, ballads and dance numbers.  No wonder his operettas were the toast of their time.  The performers approach these gems as if they adore every note.  Cellist Jerry Grossman wraps his voluptuous sound around Herbert’s melodies and tosses off the occasional acrobatic feat with panache.  William Hicks is a terrific partner, but he really takes off when he packs nuanced and crisp artistry into the solo piano pieces.” (Emphasis Added to demonstrate the musicological connection between early instrumental compositions and the later operettas)

International Record Review–Review by Nigel Simeone (July 2012)

“A new disc includes a selection of his [Herbert’s] original music for cello and piano including unpublished pieces, one of which is a very fine Largo.  The Petite Valse is a charming piece, dedicated to Pablo Casals, while the Pensee amoureuse is an elegant and extremely attractive work.  This is all fine music in an individual late-romantic style, very well played by Jerry Grossman and William Hicks.  It is Hicks who also plays a selection of Herbert’s solo piano music on the second disc, including the fine Indian Summer (An American Idyll), composed in 1919 and showing some influence of the modern French school.  The slightly earlier Six Piano Pieces are very engaging, as is the rather different final work on the disc:  Pan-Americana is a kind of compendium of American music styles from the time.  Sympathetic performances make a strong case for Herbert’s music and excellent booklet notes complete this release.”