Ferrante & Teicher
The Enchanted World






The famous duo of pianists Arthur “Art” Ferrante (1921–2009) and Louis Teicher (1924–2008) is known for their highly developed skills on the piano. You can say that about lots of pianists, even those who are (a loose) part of the Exotica scene such as Rene Paulo, Irving Fields, Ahmad Jamal, Paul Conrad and of course Martin Denny. What sets Ferrante & Teicher apart is the various tweaks and alterations of their instruments through the use of sponges, wool and wooden plates. Their earliest works such as Soundproof (1955) or Blast Off! (1958) are therefore considered milestones of the Space-Age genre. Eclectic and abrasive, these cater to a specific audience only. How (un)fortunate their later career path is depends on the listener: the duo decides to twinkle to the masses via orchestral arrangements that form a lush backdrop to their increasingly accessible and unaltered piano sequences. Pianos In Paradise (1962) is the pinnacle in this regard, with The Enchanted World Of Ferrante & Teicher being a subsequent example.


Released in 1964 on the United Artists label, it spawns 12 compositions – five of them written by the pianists themselves – of the Middle/Far East and for romantics. The orchestra is well equipped, comprising of bongo drummers, various mallet instruments, brass players, lots of strings and even a Space-Age choir. From fervid deserts over verdured gardens and glacial landscapes to besotted amalgamations, there’s something in it for everyone. The album title lives up to its promise, but a fair share of questionable choices prevent it from reaching the olymp.


Murky strings, pompously portentous, hued in Oriental haze: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s Scheherezade is an archetypical piece of program music since everyone knows the looming fate of the captured storyteller once she runs out of catchy yarn. The opener therefore basks in a threatening cesspool of danger, and once Ferrante & Teicher join the plinking triangles and rubicund violins, golden glimmers of hope are evoked, even a downwards spiraling Space-Age shooting star is mimicked via the duo’s signature instrument, but it is to no avail: Scheherezade means serious business and remains a heavily cinematic piece. The pianists’ own Sirocco rectifies the notion, for this is – wait for it – Exotica! Resembling Margarita Lecuona’s Taboo quite a bit, the genteel piano aorta meanders through gorgeous bongo coppices, dry acoustic guitar strums and humming Space-Age choirs before a shawm-like snake charmer horn protrudes the string-accentuated saffron concoction. This is a great addendum to said Taboo, clearly inspired but varied enough to enchant indeed.


Samson And Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns follows, and the already graspable Middle Eastern mood range is wonderfully intensified here. Fragile ophidian brass layers, plinking piano stardust and a cautious march-like structure made of softly beaten timpani and shaken tambourines, the piece unites movement and grace. Once the polyphony of the pianos is agglutinated to the string-focused main melody and leads to a dialog between the two instrumental groups, a delightful shadiness ensues, augmenting the black interstices of the sepia-colored mélange. Adjacent to this aural cinematography is Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Procession Of The Sardar whose Bolero-esque rhythm encapsulates thermal heat via sunset-colored strings and galopping piano accompaniments. Mercurial and varied, the mood is hard to pinpoint, as it is somewhat festive but still majestic enough to not mistake this procession for a casual booze fest.


The final two compositions of side A are treats in that they were specifically written by Ferrante & Teicher for this album: while Skaters Waltz is a lachrymose-amethystine ballad with a wintry cascade of glissando glaciers, moments of contemplation and vignettes of comic relief, Happy Sleigh Ride absorbs the winter theme and boosts it via orchestra bells and glockenspiels, frosty tambourines and a piano polar pericarp, with the omnipresent strings whirling ebulliently like Northern lights. Hopefully the “hey” chants don’t wake anyone up!


Side B caters to the needs of symphonic Exotica as well, although the starting point could have been neglected: Queen Liliʻuokalani’s Aloha Oe has been played to death already and is now resurrected via warped steel guitars (which is entirely fine) in tandem with chintzy yearnings by the mixed choir (which is not so great). Once the strings come into play, the saccharine level is increased, and even though Ferrante & Teicher try to inject complex piano patterns, this is not the right backdrop for an avantgarde battle. With Aloha Oe behind, that side can somewhat prosper and bloom: Giacomo Puccini’s Japanese Garden turns into a majestic Hollywood production in Ferrante & Teicher’s hands by putting an enchantress in the epicenter of the string-infested void. Definitely not lightweight, probably not even based on the Easy Listening formula anymore, this piece proves to be a seriously devoted affair once again.


Not so the traditional Mexican Hat Dance with its mountainous horns, handclaps, frilly fives and overall Honky Tonk atmosphere. The timpani and recondite strings are the contrapuntal force, adding a droning oomph to the easygoing party. The less known but still traditional Loch Lomond is a nice benthic swamp of humming choirs, changing rhythm patterns, crimson strings and flute washes, but it is the last two unique pieces that gain attention alright, though not only for the better: Possessed is a near-Baroque pianorama with heftily cascading strings, creating an ultrawide and exaggerated bouquet d’amour, whereas the endpoint Dream Of Love (Liebestraum) only feigns a dangerous atmosphere as the clandestine piano chords open up and become more aureate amidst the magenta mirage.


Here’s the conclusion in a nutshell: side A offers a wondrously exotic panorama of the Middle East as depicted by Hollywood, side B is an auroral river of legato strings for lovers only. Ferrante & Teicher’s own concoctions are therefore a hit-or-miss affair in the end; while these are enormously strong and varied on side A where they either emanate the Oriental rhizomes of Exotica (Sirocco) or the hibernal purity of an evening on ice (Happy Sleigh Ride), the later compositions lack the variety in their arrangement as well as a catchy melody. The duo concentrates on the love theme that floats through this album, which is okay , but turns the truthfully exotic vibe of side A around and becomes a commonplace tryst for lovers.


There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as both title and front artwork suggest such a turnaround. It is just a sad conclusion to an excitingly exotic starting point and gateway to the constructed/plastic Orient of the mind. Side B has its fair share of problems regardless by losing the focal point: the strongly Hawaiian Aloha Oe feels like a foreign substance once the lever is pushed to the maximum and allows the following compositions to become drowned in thickly wadded, richly alluvial strings. The listener feels asphyxiated, an impression that is likely to be entirely ruled out in the given dreamy context, but comes unintendedly close to failed marriages; this afterthought is almost funny, isn’t it? Not so funny is the availability. It has only been issued on vinyl. 


Exotica Review 426: Ferrante & Teicher – The Enchanted World (1964). Originally published on Apr. 18, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.