The Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, formed in 1945 by Dolf van der Linden, was inspired by and patterned after bandleader Paul Whiteman's seminal Concert Jazz Orchestra, for which Ferde Grofé served as chief arranger from 1919-33. It was Grofé who orchestrated George Gershwin's groundbreaking "Rhapsody in Blue" in 1924 and his Concerto in F for piano and orchestra the following year, and who wrote a number of picturesque tone poems for Whiteman's ensemble including the Madison Square Garden Suite, Ode to Freedom, Symphony in Steel
and perhaps his best-known work, the epic Grand Canyon Suite,
immediately recognizable thanks to its memorable third movement, "On the Trail."
This exemplary two-disc set by the Metropole includes the Grand Canyon Suite (1931), the lesser-known (but thoroughly engaging) four-movement Tabloid Suite: Four Pictures of a Modern Newspaper (1932), and Gershwin's visionary (for its time) Concerto in F (1925) with Jan Willem Nelleke at the piano. This is the first recording in more than seventy years of the Grand Canyon Suite as written for the Whiteman Orchestra (Grofé later re-scored the work for symphony orchestra). For this (and the other masterworks presented here) we must thank Gert-Jan Blom, a longtime admirer of Whiteman and Grofé who is dedicated to documenting the musical treasures of the past, especially those (like the Tabloid Suite ) that have inadvertently eluded history's dragnet. In doing so, he takes every conceivable step to preserve their integrity, relying not on transcriptions but going directly to the original handwritten scores whenever possible to reconstruct the pieces as accurately as one can.
Grofé's evocative Tabloid Suite depicts the hustle and bustle of a busy metropolitan newspaper, using such special effects as a typewriter in the first movement and a siren in the last, while the breathtaking five-movement Grand Canyon Suite was inspired by his visit as a young man to the Arizona desert. Some may recall brief excerpts from the opening and closing movements of Gershwin's powerful Concerto in F as having been used as theme music in the television series Perry Mason.
Although it's ironic that such glorious American music should be safeguarded by an orchestra from the Netherlands, there's certainly no better ensemble than the Metropole to carry out the task, as it not only includes a world-class jazz component and large string section but numbers in its ranks many of the country's leading jazz and classical musicians. Is the music jazz? Well, certainly not as the genre has evolved since these compositions were introduced, but there are elements of syncopation, if not improvisation, that are at least distantly related to jazz as we know it. Of greater importance is the overall quality of the music, which is outstanding, and the performance, also quite admirable, as one would expect from the Metropole Orchestra. Even though the Concerto in F is less than 31 minutes long, and there are no fillers on Disc 2, the set is recommended for what it is, a bright and welcome arrangement of three exquisite American musical treasures, one of which had all but vanished from our collective memory until reclaimed by Blom and the Metropole.