Classical Music Review: New Releases

Pianist Richard Glazier Salutes The Hollywood Musical.  1. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Kern/Harbach); 2. Begin The Beguine (Porter); 3. Moon River (Mancini/Mercer); 4. Body And Soul (Green/Heyman/Sour/Eyron); 5. Isn't It Romantic (Rodgers/Hart); 6. If I Only Had A Brain (Arlen/Harburg); 7.Over The Rainbow (Arlen/Harburg); 8. Medley From Meet Me In St. Louis (Martin/Blane); 9.Lullaby (Martin/ Alec Wilder); 10. It's A New World (Arlen; Gershwin); 11. The Man That Got Away (Arlen/Gershwin); 12. Orchids In The Moonlight (Youmans); 13. Indian Love Call (Friml /Harbach /Hammerstein); 14. September In The Rain (Warren/Dubin); 15. Hallelujah (Youmans/Grey/ Robin); 16. You Go To My Head (Coots/Gillespie); 17. I Cover The Waterfront (Green/Heyman); 18. An American In Paris (in miniature) (Gerhswin). Arrangers : Gregory Stone (1, 12); Cy Walter (2-5) ; Roger Kellaway (8) ; Maurice C. Whitney (13-18) ; Richard Glazier (11); all others are original  arrangements; Richard Glazier, piano. Centaur CRC  2577 (63'52).

Some music is made for day, and some for night. Though Sacramento-based pianist Richard Glazier's new Centaur CD, A Salute To The Hollywood Musical, isn't the least bit dark, it's tailor-made for romance, and dreaming. His album is also a collection of standards, and they're standards because they're perfectly made songs, with clever, even probing lyrics, beautiful melodies, and rich harmonies. And though these are piano-only versions their poetry comes through loud and clear. Or should I say elegantly? For Glazier's touch is never forced, and though he can produce powerful sounds on his Steinway, the music always comes out full of nuance, satin smooth. The recent Fred Hersch-produced AIDS benefit CD, The Richard Rodgers Centennial Jazz Piano Album, had a team of crack musicians who improvised on Rodgers' immortal tunes. Glazier's solution here is different -- he uses concert paraphrases made by some of the best arrangers in the business. Designed for intermediate to advanced pianists, these transcriptions are highly sophisticated, and often far more eleborate than the original tunes, which is exactly what you'd expect an elaborately trained classical pianist like Glazier to do. This is the same tactic French concert pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet used when he tried to crack Ellington's genius on his CD tribute to him. And guess what? It works.

Glazier has spent the last few years devoting his energies to masters of the American popular song, which is our biggest and best artistic export. Gershwin -- he knew the composer's lyricist brother Ira -- was an early inspiration, as well as an abiding influence, and the subject of two impeccably played and deeply felt Centaur albums -- RemembranceandDiscovery. His current multi-media cum piano project, which he tours the country with under the aegis of Community Concerts, is an homage to some of the classic composers and arrangers of Hollywood's glory days, and includes several of the MGM-Arthur Freed musicals, which set standards at their time, and still do. Producer Freed was also a lyricist and that sensitivity probably influenced his decision to get the top musicians available -- people like composer Johnny Green (1908-1989), to head the music department, and Roger Edens (1905-1970), who was, according to legendary composer-orchestrator Alexander Courage (1919-)  -- he worked on all the great MGM musicals of the 50's -- "in charge of the Freed unit."

Edens started out as a vocal coach to Judy Garland, and was the musical supervisor for one of her best films, Vincente Minnelli's charming and evocative Meet Me In Saint Louis (1944). Glazier plays a striking medley of tunes from its Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane score, arranged here by jazz pianist Roger Kellaway. Martin, who's now 88, was also responsible for cultivating Garland's singing style, and worked as her vocal arranger on Cukor's 1954 remake of A Star Is Born, with its Harold Arlen showstopper " The Man That Got Away".  The pianist's own arrangement returns the tune to its original roots -- a bluesy, introspective, and quite simple, lament, with softly tolling left hand chords.

Glazier also performs other music indelibly linked to Garland -- Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's immortal songs from The Wizard of Oz (1939) -- "Over The Rainbow," in a reading full of rich parallel chords, and "If I Only Had A Brain" -- gossamer light, with hints of a Chopin mazurka. His classical chops show in Cole Porter's 1933 "Begin The Beguine", which was used in Broadway Melody of 1940. The 1941 Cy Walter (1925-1968) arrangement he plays here is an elaborate stylization of the syncopated West Indian dance which gives it its name, and which oddly enough seems to call up lots of Astaire-Rogers duets, particularly their big number in George Stevens' Swing Time (1936), which had an exquisite Jerome Kern score. That composer is represented by a Gregory Stone arrangement of  "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" from the 1933 musical Roberta, which RKO filmed 2 years later, and which Glazier performs with real, and very delicate romantic feeling. The pianist gives all the other tunes their due, and he's always supremely senstive to their musical structures and emotional shapes. His reading of the Rodgers and Hart song, "Isn't It Romantic?" (1932), for example, which they wrote for Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald to sing in Love Me Tonight, lacks even the faintist hint of irony, and gets its special poetry from a left hand figure straight out of Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole (1908). And what could be more atmospheric than the rich descending chords which open Walter's 1962 arrangement of Mancini's 1961 "Moon River"? ( Thank God we're spared Audrey Hepburn strumming guitar.) And it certainly doesn't hurt that Walter's transcription is also a favorite of Glazier's famous pianist friend Michael Feinstein. In an age where every musician frantically pursues the next gig, like a cynical non-paying trick, it's nice to see an artist taking the time to find the beauty in all those standards we'd taken for granted for so long. Maybe we were all just too busy to notice. And a little too jaded to care.

Michael McDonagh