The Boston Pops files: Light Classics

I got a bunch of Boston Pops records from the 1960s and 1970s. This is one in a series of blog posts about them.

I mentioned in Thursday’s post about Pops Festival, the massive 10-LP compilation that started my journey down this particular rabbit hole, that it had been compiled—er, “pleasure programmed“— from a number of other Pops LPs of the period, including today’s record, Light Classics (1961). How can I be sure? The giveaway is “In a Persian Market.”

I’ve previously said that a mainstay of the midcentury Boston Pops repertoire was lesser known classics from 19th and early 20th century European composers. “In a Persian Market,” by Albert William Ketèlbey (1875-1959), is a perfect poster child for the typical work. Romantic melodies are bookended by a faux-exotic street scene featuring “a chorus of beggars [singing] ‘baksheesh, baksheesh Allah,'” at least according to Wikipedia. On this Pops recording, the words of the beggars are sung by the orchestra, and are performed as “nyaah nyaah nyaah”s rather than distinguishable words. It’s the “nyaah nyaah nyaah”s that are the identifying feature confirming that the same recording is used for Pops Festival.

The rest of the set is, for “light classics,” amazingly solid and surprisingly varied. “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Ride of the Valkyries,” while both well-known to the point of cliché today, are briskly but convincingly performed, while Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” is a widescreen opening number featuring nearly every section of the orchestra in turn. “Hora Staccato,” while credited to Dinicu and Heifetz, is presented in a full orchestral arrangement which diminishes some of the purely virtuosic elements required of the performers, instead bringing a spotlight on the melody. The seemingly mandatory dance number, rather than a popular ballad or Viennese waltz, is by Bolzoni, and appears to have been a favorite of Fiedler’s who had previously programmed it on the 1958 Boston Tea Party record. The closing “Merry Wives of Windsor Overture” brings the record to a pleasant conclusion.

An aside about provenance: I had actually forgotten I owned this record until I went to shelve some of the newer LPs and found it waiting unplayed in its sleeve. I believe I purchased it in the late 2000s from a (now closed) used record shop at the corner of Mass Ave and Boylston, which was notable both for its proximity to the Berklee College of Music and for its immense stock of old Boston Pops and Boston Symphony records. This one was virtually unplayed, and no matter how “light” is a delight to listen to.

The recording below of “In a Persian Market” is the same one on this recording, and illustrates one of the challenges of writing about the Pops’ recorded output—with so many compilations and reissues of their recordings, it’s hard to tell what was recorded and released when. But it’s still a fun listen!

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