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William Zagorski
Fanfare, February 2012

In the days of the silent cinema, pianists, and later pit bands, were recruited to provide improvised accompaniments to the action on the screen. As a boy, Dmitri Shostakovich shivered in a Leningrad movie house as he improvised on a rickety piano sonic enhancements beneath the silver screen to, among others, Charlie Chaplin films. According to statements Shostakovich later made to Semyon Volkov in his controversial book Testimony , he hated the experience on the grounds that the movie house was unheated and that the owner was in the habit of reneging on paying him. Nonetheless, some of those spiky improvisations later made their way into his formal concert music. Who cannot listen to his First Symphony and not hear that theater piano rattling away in its scherzo movement? Thus there is a parallel to be drawn between his and William Perry’s careers.

I have long known William Perry (b.1930) without really knowing him. More than 20 years ago I reviewed an omnibus disc of flute-and-orchestra pieces for Fanfare featuring flutist Keith Bryan. It contained Ibert’s and Nielsen’s flute concerti, Griffes’ Poem for Flute and Orchestra , and Perry’s Summer Nocturne . I had issues with some of the performances, but found that brief Perry track alone worth the price of admission. As a radio host of a dinner-hour program called Divertimento , I featured that track many times, and it always garnered favorable listener responses. Up until this moment, that was the only music by William Perry I had ever heard. Rummaging via the Internet through the Fanfare Archive, I found a review of that disc by Robert McColley published in 14:3, but not mine (oh well…).

Perry has long been associated with Broadway and PBS both as a producer and composer. His musical, Wind in the Willows , was nominated for three Tony awards, and the more than 70 programs he produced for PBS have earned him, among other awards, an Emmy. For 12 years, Perry was the music director and composer-in-residence at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he composed and performed as a pianist more than 200 scores for the museum’s silent film collection. This world premiere disc is the result of that part of his multifaceted career. By the evidence once again given here, he is a supreme melodist with the gift for making just the right harmonic gesture at crucial moments to catapult an already attractive tune into the affective stratosphere. His integration of popular idioms and apt quotations from other composers is Ivesian in its scope. In sum, Perry has an uncanny ability to evoke bygone times and places with the most simple and direct of musical gestures.

Here Perry’s piano scores have been clothed in handsome orchestrations by Robert Nowak, and sumptuously performed and recorded by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (Ireland) conducted by Paul Phillips. I won’t go into explicating the pieces here. I suggest that you acquire this release post-haste, listen to it, and read Douglas Bruce’s and Jane Iredale’s informative liner notes.

This offering is strongly recommended to all film (silent and otherwise) buffs, but even more so to those of you who think that film music is, per se, a less than first-class musical genre. © 2012 Fanfare

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, November 2011

This Naxos CD is a celebration of Perry’s work.

William Perry’s Gemini Concerto draws cleverly on themes created for films of the 1920s; for example the ‘New York: Broadway and Finale’ quotes music written from: Show People (1928), Fine Manners (1928) starring Gloria Swanson and from King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece, The Crowd. The Gemini Concerto was written for the Swiss identical twin sisters, Fiona and Ambra Albeck, featured on this recording. It was premiered in Greenfield Massachusetts in May 2010.

The Gemini Concerto begins with an ‘Introduction and Travel Music’ that is a fizzy, exuberant mix of styles beginning with a ‘we’re off’ train whistle sparking material evocative of accelerating train wheels; this sparkling Introduction has colourful harmonies and imaginative orchestrations and ensembles—piano and violin solos, chamber and orchestral segments—all in pursuit of adventure, discovery and revelling in nostalgia. The sense of the train proceeding continues with ‘Dublin, Celtic Air and Runaway Reel’ which is the Concerto’s second movement that has a typically Irish tune with a prominent violin solo. The third movement takes us to Berlin for a ‘Cabaret March and Berliner Lied’, beautifully evocative, reminiscent of that city between the wars. It has an exquisite poignant melody for piano and violin—the Berliner Lied—that speaks of sadness of parting. This movement is worth the price of the CD alone. On to Moscow for a ‘Twilight Troika and Romance’ horses trotting through a snowy landscape; sleigh bells a-ringing before bells of a different kind introduce a sweet Romance for piano and violin à la Rachmaninov. In Vienna there is a sparkling and gaily romantic ‘Polytonal Polka and Waltz ‘Wiener Wein’ that sends champagne corks a-poppin’. Finally we land in New York for the Concerto’s glittering, jazzy ‘Broadway Ballet and Finale’.

Perry has drawn together music from three of his scores to form the somewhat less original, less inspired The Silent Years: Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra. The first of these Rhapsodies is on music for the 1927 John Barrymore swashbuckler, The Beloved Rogue which was a film based on the adventures of 15th century rogue and poet, François Villon. Fanfares announce a swaggering devil-my-care theme for Villon. The suite includes music for court pomp and majesty and the requisite love music—material that Korngold would not have sniffed at—Blood and Sand famously starred Rudolph Valentino and Perry’s score is suitably exotically Latin, including flashing flamenco rhythms and music reminiscent of de Falla, for this Andalucian-based torrid melodrama about the fortunes of bullfighters. The evocative score follows this story of bravery in the bull ring, passion and betrayal and ultimate tragedy. Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush inspired Perry to pen music suggesting labouring with pick and hammer, comic and poignant adventures of prospector Charlie, a New Year’s party dance, Charlie’s shy romancing and his big gold strike.

Perry explains that he sometimes conceives themes that could be used to score film assignments he might yet receive. Accordingly, from such a store of themes, he has drawn together another brilliantly coloured suite of music entitled, Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie. Number one is a Dance Overture for an imaginary film that might conceivably be entitled ‘Wild Nights in Toronto’. It’s wild alright, bright and breezy and jazzy redolent of the roaring twenties with gangsters and their molls. Next we travel to France for a typically Gallic waltz that could grace such a film called ‘Raincoats of Dijon’; the obligatory accordion is featured prominently. Then it is south to Italy for a Serenade for a projected film ‘Angelus for an Angel’. The orchestration calls for wistful use of tubular bells. The fourth theme carries us off to South America and another Perry dream film, ‘The Bridge on the River Plate’. This time he uses stirring quick march music that he had actually composed for a silent film about World War I, What Price Glory; the soldiers must be in a happy mood judging by their whistling! Now comes a Nocturne in jazz blues mode for a film that might be entitled, ‘The Black Marigold’—possibly a film noire set in a Manhattan night club? The final theme is for an imaginary science fiction film called ‘Voyage to the Dog Star’. This is a glamorous score that reminds one more of those Ziegfeld musicals and Bette Davis tear-jerkers than a sci-fi epic. The music might remind one of the grand Late Romantic piano concertos and there is a grandiloquent solo Siren Song from Irish soprano Helen Kearns as the space craft nears the fiery surface of Sirius. A wonderful way-over-the-top finale.

The RTÉ Orchestra and Paul Phillips play these colourful and melodic works with great enthusiasm and panache and mention must be made of Robert Nowak’s brilliant orchestrations.

Naxos have really gone to town with the documentation for this release. The 16-page booklet includes colour pictures of the composer and all the artists, plus full notes and even musical examples. ’Pity then that the dates of composition and films are not always given.

A glorious, joyous, tuneful celebration of the days of Silent Cinema.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

Somewhere among his busy life as composer and pianist, William Perry has found time to write over a hundred scores to accompany silent films. Born in 1930, and a pupil of Hindemith, Piston and Thompson, he entered into the music world slanted towards light classics and film music. The present disc is a distillation of themes from his major scores for the silent era films given the full orchestral treatment by Robert Nowak. Opening with a ‘concerto’ written for the violin and piano playing sisters, Ambra and Fiona Albek, it is Perry’s view of five locations on an Albek concert tour—Dublin, Berlin, Moscow, Vienna and New York—using material from five silent film scores. It is also choreographed for the soloists, which, of course, we miss here. The result is decidedly ‘show’ music for those who like easy listening, and very well played by the soloists, Ambra having to move to viola for two movements. The Silent Years uses piano and orchestra in three film scores for 1920’s films, The Beloved Rogue, Blood and Sand and The Gold Rush, the last one a crazy farce for Charlie Chaplin. The solo part is very much cast in the mould of the many hard-working pianist who played in cinema’s around the world. Lastly a group of works speculative composed for possible assignments that never happened, but now serve as the Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie, including a haunting Sirius with a soprano voice. The ever adaptive Irish Radio and Television orchestra play to the manner born with the quality that spells out total familiarity with the music that in reality they have never seen before. In a familiar recording location for Naxos, the sound quality is punchy and detailed.

Cinemusical, September 2011

William Perry served for many years as the Music Director for the Museum of Modern Art Film Department in New York City. Over a host of years, he played piano backgrounds for hundreds of silent films using period and original music. Though perhaps less known to contemporary film fans, Perry received recognition through The Silent Years (1971), an Emmy-awarded television program and has continued television work with American Public Television. His Broadway show adaptation of the Wind in the Willows garnered three Tony nominations in 1986. The present release comprises three works that include themes Perry created for the silent film scores he accompanied. As with the work of Carl Davis, Perry, along with orchestrator Robert Nowak, has found a way to recreate a period sound for his accompanying scores without ever feeling too overtly cliché in their design in these larger-scale works.

The first work featured is the Gemini Concerto. The six movement piece was written for the Albek Duo who perform it here quite beautifully. In essence a musical tour, the piece moves delightfully through accessible lighter musical material. Perry chose six thematic ideas (outlined in the accompanying booklet) drawn from music he provided for seven 1920s scores. The opening movement, “Introduction and Travel Music,” is an almost Gershwin-esque piece. The stops at Dublin and Berlin allow for a little Celtic and cabaret music respectively. “Moscow” allows for a bit more romanticism while “Vienna” finds us in a more 1920s/1930s texture first for an Ibert-like “Polytonal Polka” and then a more traditional Hollywood-like “Waltz” recalling Newman’s film music but much lighter in orchestration. “New York” makes for a fine conclusion with a Grapelli-like jazzy violin solo at its front end playing a tune that could easily have come from Irving Berlin. The themes are revisited in the movement before coming to a wonderfully jubilant conclusion. Overall, the piece is a really enjoyable half hour of engaging themes, light orchestration, and occasionally whimsical sound effects that recalls. It is definitely a piece that could be a real crowd pleaser in concert.

The central work on the disc bears the title of the aforementioned TV series, The Silent Years, but which is a series of rhapsodies that combine the music Perry wrote for three specific silent films. The first movement features music composed for Alan Crosland’s The Beloved Rogue (1927). The film, set in the Middle Ages, is given the appropriate swashbuckling musical material and opens with a brass fanfare and a strong piano line, performed by Michael Chertok. The whole is unabashedly romantic but with harmonic writing that often feels more a part of the modernist 1920s style. (It is somewhat like Rachmaninoff combined with Ibert if one can imagine that at all.) The second movement uses music intended for Fred Niblo’s Blood And Sand (1922). The narrative shifts to Spain and the music takes an appropriate turn for scenes that include a castenet dance and a bullfight. Finally, the work concludes with music Perry used to accompany Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) which shifts to an often lighter texture. Essentially, a piano concerto, The Silent Years, has much to recommend it in its engaging musical material and often wonderfully orchestrated music that manages to recall the period often quite well.

The disc concludes with Six Titles in Search of a Movie, a piece that would fit nicely in a Boston Pops-style concert. Each movement illustrates Perry’s facility at being able to create music in a variety of styles—necessary for providing film music backdrops to these films. Music from 1930s/1940s Broadway complete with several dance forms (including a little Ravel quote) informs the opening “Dance Overture.” Then it is off to “Paris” where the mood is set with a musette accordion. The “Serenade” comes from music for the film Angelus for an Angel and allows for a more religious backdrop complete with tubular bells. A military march follows adapted from music Perry wrote for the silent film What Price Glory. A film noir-like “Nocturne” follows with almost Mahlerian implications. Soprano Helen Kearns adds a little vocal interjection by way of a “Siren Song” in a march intended for an early space film which begins with an orchestral countdown.

Perry’s music has a more relaxed and light touch that draws the listener in to its many delightful tunes and orchestral colors. Fine performances by the Albeks, Chertok, Kearns, and the fine Irish orchestra make this a real find. If you are a fan of the many Carl Davis suites from that composer’s work in silent film, you will find Perry another superb musical voice worth exploring with his music firmly informed by American popular music of the early 20th Century. Regardless of where the themes here received their inspirations, the music works quite well purely on its own.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group