Werner Müller
Holiday In Rio






Holiday In Rio by German arranger and orchestra leader Werner Müller (1920–1998) is the spawn point of his symphonic Holiday In… series of travelogs he usually recorded under his international alias Ricardo Santos which was deemed more exotic and fiery, boosting his career all across the globe much better than the German roots of his name ever could. However, on Holiday In Rio, released in 1955 on Decca Records, Müller may have used this moniker for the first time, but still had a long way to go in terms of international success.


Featuring 12 Brazilian compositions – most of them targeting the stylistic range known as Rumba, Samba and Tango – the album is recorded in Hamburg rather than Hollywood, but you would not know this while listening to any song without being in the know about the back story. Four things make this record particularly pleasing from an aesthetic point of view: firstly, as stated, this is the start of Müller’s travelog series, with many more volumes to follow. Secondly, this is pre-Exotica material, so it is interesting to analyze how Müller approaches the theme without having a carved out blueprint. Thirdly, the answer to that musing follows in the form of strikingly exotic percussion pools complete with bongos, congas, constantly clicking claves and other devices, definitely no matter of course in symphonic works from 1955. And finally, the orchestra leader creates a string-heavy concept album that sports two concepts; not only are all songs about Brazil, Müller also sorts them stylistically by gathering all Tangos on side B! So that side features a supreme Tango overload for all you Latin lovers out there. Here is a closer look at an Exotica album that is not often considered, but since Müller’s name gained traction in recent years, my review might help to put Holiday In Rio into the spotlight, if only a tiny bit.


It is astonishing to me what Werner Müller has made of Ernesto Lecuona’s famous Siboney. In a downright polyhedric arrangement, the German orchestra shuttles from silkened brass melodies, reaches the typical lamento timbres via the same group of instruments, then carves out the overwhelmingly jungular greenery of bongos, congas and rain sticks before finally reaching show tune climes where the brass layers embrace the listener in the most benignant way. Clarinets, piano flecks and sun-dried acoustic guitars round off a rendition I would count to the most essential ones of Siboney anytime! Francesco Giordano’s and Roman Vatro’s Anna follows, that famous tune which is awash with light, muted trumpets and trombone cascades, another dose of delicately crunchy guitars as well as pointillistic flutes and their warbling legato brethren. The lacunar structure makes it possible for the splendid percussion to shimmer through the self-imposed chaparral all the time.


Rafael Hernández’s El Cumbanchero then presents a crossbreed between a martelato piano-fueled Rumba interspersed by besotted-rufescent brass layers and a flute-heavier Samba side, only outshone by the Latinized German choir who sings the title in an oily yet adamant way, whereas Barclay Allen’s, Harold Spina’s and Roc Hillman’s 1947 anthem Cumana bursts at the seams with melodramatically piercing horns, clave-centroidal rhythms and staggering piano staccatos complete with murkier undertones. The traditional La Cucaracha is more linked to Mexico than Brazil and therefore a tad de trop, but realized via sepia-tinted pianos, effervescent male chants, brass en masse and a particularly plinking percussion placenta. The muffled bongos make for a wonderful backdrop. Side A’s last track is Gerhard Wehner’s and Peter Rebhuhn’s obscure Katharina which is glorified here in the most saturated technicolor tones. The brass is amicable and gleams, the piano prongs twinkle cheekily, everything is perfectly sunny.


Time to start side B, time to introduce not one but six Tangos in a row, thus reserving the whole side for this lovers' dance, madre de dios; Gerardo Hernán Matos Rodriguez’s La Cumparsita from 1916 is a frequently interpreted Tango about a carnival parade and as such does not need overly lovestoned notes of yearning, but alas, this is exactly what is found throughout the arrangement: stop-and-go motions of tambourine-infested horn helixes, dun flute tones and lackluster rose-tinted pizzicato strings. The only plus side is the crackling ligneous ruction on the percussion side. Jakob Gade’s Tango Glamour follows, comprising a much more sparkling gleefulness, with only a few sunset-colored Balearic guitars boosting the lovelorn zestfulness. The Portuguese accordion is a delightful addition, as are the swooshing strings and the fissured clefts of this rotatory piece.


While Gerhard Wendland’s Tango Roulette is typically camouflaged German cuisine with lachrymose strings of mountainous vistas and oozing cheesiness, Eddie Cassen’s and Charles Niessen’s Tango Of Desiré (or is that desire?) unites fascinating Space-Age strings with aqueous pizzicato ones, warped accordion splinters and finishes this sweetness with a contravening oomph in terms of many segues full of clanging percussion. Georges Bizet is also treated rather well, or rather his Pearlfisher Tango which surprises with a humming choir and igneous strings in minor tones. The whole interpretation breathes histrionic melodrama, with only the harp tones having some sort of a lilac timbre. The closer Olé Guapa by Danny Malando may not sport the word Tango in its title, but is a proper one alright, supercharged with piercing accordions, harpsichord-like mountain lutes, an ethereal mixed choir hailing from afar as if it was drugged and dazzled, and a tambourine-maraca mixture which resembles rattling snakes. These animals are often a sign of betrayal, not coincidentally a danger that is always lurking if you dance the Tango, for every Tango could be your last. In the case of Olé Guapa, this is undoubtedly true, as the album has come to an end now.


This is the album that kicked off Werner Müller’s Holiday In… travelog series, and for such a piece of novelty that even precedes the official kick-off of the Exotica genre by 18 months or so, Holiday In Rio is a stupefying work. It is not recorded in Hollywood, let alone the United States, but it both breathes and exhales the production technique, the transformation of Brazilian folklore and its music of the streets into string-heavy, brass-ennobled orchestral settings. Granted, this has been done numerous times before Müller decided to give it a go, it is not that he has found a certain formula or shtick that puts him on top of the competition. But in regard to Exotica, he has delivered a highly compatible symphonic work that can compete with true orchestral pre-Exotica classics such as Andre Kostelanetz’s Lure Of The Tropics (1954) and Morton Gould’s Jungle Drums (1957). The greenery and verdure in Müller’s album work so well due to the Brazilian, Latin or simply exotic percussion strata. Exotica fans are used to bathe in sound waves created by bongos, congas and maracas, but in a symphonic setup in the mid–50’s that is not pieced together in order to deliver a film score, these devices are neither expected nor mandatory. They are even almost completely amiss in Morton Gould’s said album!


Müller is as keen on delivering joyous melodies as he is able to structure the album in such a way that it comes much closer to a concept album than the majority of exotic works. In reserving side B for six Tangos instead of scattering them throughout the album, the German arranger and conductor sends out a message: “Look people, I even care for an artistic vision when I'm recording Easy Listening LP’s!” Holiday In Rio is an enchanting artifact which Exotica listeners should not miss. I still rate Holiday In Japan (1958) much higher, but hey, Rio is better than Holiday In France (1958) any day. Available on vinyl and a reissued download version on Amazon MP3 or iTunes.


Exotica Review 298: Werner Muller – Holiday In Rio (1955). Originally published on Dec. 28, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.