So... yeah. Along with Valley of the Sun, this is probably the most rare Grofe I'll be offering, ever, and I had wanted it forever--for decades--and I was certain I would never have it. Never. No chance. And then, a few years back, I got it on eBay for $9.99. No other bidders--just me. Still in semi-shock. Half of me is fine, but the other half is dribbling his lips, going, "A-bibbbliibblliibliblb...." Ten bucks. Plus postage. Grofe's Aviation Suite, conducted by the composer.
There was no way I could get the jacket lettering to stand out without grossly distorting the scan. It barely even shows in real life, even at the correct angle of lighting. "Guild Records," it says, and your guess is as good as mine. The following information is to the best of my knowledge, and any corrections are welcome. 1) Aviation Suite was written in 1944, and it contained more movements than the four contained here. 2) This recording was done by Grofe in 1946 for the ARA label, with whom he had just signed a contract to record his own works, and then (aieee!!!!) the label folded. So much for the follow-up works. A 78 set came out, but I don't recall the label, and then--in 1950, I believe--this 10" LP came out on the REM Hollywood label, with "Guild Records" written on the front cover (the back is blank), and I still don't know what "Guild Records" is all about. 3) Given some of the problem areas, sound-wise, I'm guessing this was dubbed from the 78s, though the sound isn't all that bad--the pressing, yes; the sound, no.
The one other Aviation Suite recording is this one, from 1984, which thrilled me to death at the time. Ferde Grofe, Jr. was involved in having that LP come out, and for some reason I have four copies of it. So, if you're in the market for one.... Anyway, the 1984 version has five movements instead of the four on this disc, with Glamour Girl the title of movement 2, instead of Hostess (Hostess seems to make more sense). On this disc, Take Off uses the beginning portion of Plane Loco, a movement otherwise missing from this, probably to keep the work within its allotted time. I'm not sure why the entire suite wouldn't have fit, especially since it's not very long, but then I don't know ARA's recording scheme--10-inch, 12-inch, three discs, four discs? So I can't make a good guess.
With my regular .7 mil LP needle, things sounded dreadful in the quiet spots, but my 1.2 stylus took the fidelity to the skies (the best I can do, pun-wise, at the moment), improving the sound so much, you would knot believe how much. The sound is good beyond anything I expected. All it took was finding the right response curve (two tries, working from scratch), VinylStudio's amazing de-clicking filter, some manual de-clicking, and slight EQ adjustment. The sound was a little bottom-heavy, so I did some careful cutting, gave the highs a slight boost, and... that sent things soaring. Okay, that was terrible.
I looked up some flight terminology for pun purposes, but, as you see, I didn't get far off the ground. Many of the terms were over my head, anyway.
This was a Grofe rush job, I'm pretty sure, with a killer start, but a weak middle, and a finale that brings everything soaring back to life... only to sort of stall out by groove's end, with a turgid, by-the-numbers theme-and-variation close. The suite is ingeniously structured, as usual, like everything Grofe did (his sense of form was superb), but there's ultimately too much technique over feeling, in my view. With the busy and unpredictable (but overly derivative of Gershwin) Plane Loco removed, there's too much repetition of material, since Hostess, while lovely and a beautiful piece of string scoring, is simply a sixteen-bar section that repeats, and Clouds--though it beautifully paints a musical picture of same--is too, well, thinly spread. Pianissimo three-chord phrases can only be repeated so many times, especially when the variations are so subtle. The movement needs something besides the fairly breathtaking full-orchestra crescendos (not far from the start) to propel the movement. (Get it? Propel?)
I'm fond of Clouds, and for the reasons stated, but if only it could have been shortened or graced with some extra... suspended liquid droplets? No--it's too suspended as it is. Anyway, a suite this short shouldn't have two slow, repetitive movements as part of its cargo. Still, a flawed Grofe suite is way better than none. Hear this for its inspired moments. And, boy, is this thing uncommon. Thank goodness that eBay listing didn't fly past my radar....
DOWNLOAD: Aviation Suite (Grofe)--Grofe/Hollywood Studio Symphony O., 1946?
Ferde Grofe and Hollywood Studio Symphony Orch. (REM Hollywood 2, 1950. Re. 1946?)