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Despite his German conservatory education in composition
and the cello with a 20-year residence in that country, the
bulk of Victor Herbert’s life was spent in America, where
he frequently celebrated his Irish roots in his music. This
“international” background served him well, as his 1894
performance of his “Cello Concerto No. 2 in E Minor,
Op. 30” with the New York Philharmonic inspired his friend,
Antonín Dvořák, to also compose his “Cello Concerto in
B Minor, Op. 104!”

Nevertheless, most of us who have heard of
Victor Herbert (1859-1924) will refer to his 46
compositions for the American musical theatre, which
include such hits as “Babes in Toyland,” and
“Naughty Marietta.” He’s actually considered to be the
“Father of the American Musical,” but it’s also
important to remember that he composed other
types of works, including several pieces of parlor music,
designed for enjoyment in the home. Recently, I heard
a two-CD set entitled, “Victor Herbert: Works for Cello and
Piano/Solo Piano Works.” This 2011 release by
New World Records featured performances by cellist
Jerry Grossman and pianist William Hicks.

Disc One has a running time of 35 minutes, which
was devoted to 10 Victor Herbert works for
Cello and Piano, while the longer, 52-minute Disc Two
contained 16 of his Solo Piano pieces. Although not
virtuosic, both discs reveal Herbert’s lyric gifts and
idiomatic writing, especially for the cello. The featured
genres (Ragtime, Waltzes and Character pieces) were
popular at the time, often derived from his musical
theatre compositions. Herbert’s native Ireland was
best represented by “The Little Red Lark,” his work
for Cello and Piano. All of these rarities are delightful,
and most of them have never been recorded before.
I’d have to say that the Solo Piano pieces are the
most “substantial,” but it was nice to also hear
music written for Herbert’s main instrument.

These were fine performances, and wasn’t it
interesting that both Victor Herbert and Jerry
Grossman have served as principal cellists for the
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra? William Hicks also
has an impeccable musical pedigree and biographies
of each musician were included in the liner notes.
Although the sound engineers did a good job of
capturing these performances, perhaps the cello
was a bit closely miked in the works for Cello and
Piano. The accompanying booklet also contained
thorough liner note essays, and a selected
discography and bibliography.

This set was allegedly the first volume in a series
of releases entitled, “The Foundations of American
Musical Theatre.” If the other entries in this series
are of the same caliber, it’s a fine collection indeed,
and I applaud the folks at New World Records for
staking out this new musical territory.