Ferde Grofe, GROFE: Grand Canyon Suite / Mississippi Suite / Niagara Falls

Gavin Borchert

By Gavin Borchert

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
Splashy, crowd-pleasing suites attempt to encapsulate some of America’s greatest landmarks.

Ferde Grofe's career was typically varied for an American trying to make a living as a professional musician early in the 20th century: he played in symphony orchestras, for films, in vaudeville theater pits and dance bands. After he joined Paul Whiteman's big band, he soon became its chief arranger, and to him was entrusted the job of orchestrating Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for its premiere. Of Grofe's own works, all are picturesque and programmatic, and many evoke American landscapes: Death Valley, the Hudson River, San Francisco, Yellowstone, Hawaii, and the three locales on this disc all inspired him. His best-known work is the Grand Canyon Suite with its vivid and thrilling storm sequence; the Mississippi Suite is subtitled “A Journey in Tones,” and Niagara Falls is one of Grofe's final works, from 1961. All three splashy, crowd-pleasing suites are played brilliantly by William Stromberg and the Bournemouth Symphony.