Concert Spectacular






When Decca Records call, the orchestrators, conductors and composers of the world follow the money, sometimes creating wishy-washy results and less than stellar works on their way. As you can guess from this naysaying spoilsport introduction, Concert Spectacular by Anglo-Italian conductor Annunzio Paolo Mantovani is more of a hit-or-miss affair than anything else. And there’s a reason for this. Released in 1960 and sporting 12 well-known movie themes, traditional songs and Latin classics, the album is few and far between the styles, absorbing the Mediterranean Sea and summer vibes. That’s great and perfectly legit, but: this is not what the title suggests.


Here, megalomania, histrionic haze and crazy conniption are suggested, and considering Mantovani’s demeanor, these explosive trains of thoughts aren’t entirely out of place. But no can do: Concert Spectacular is a mellow affair most of the time. It is well-orchestrated though, sporting a large battery of instruments. In addition, Mantovani branches out into the tone sequences and timbres of Space-Age, the Far East and even Exotica. So here, then, is the expected – albeit quite a bit shorter – look at a good collection of songs that doesn’t live up to the album title, but hey, here it goes.


What’s John Philip Sousa’s best piece? It has to be Stars And Stripes Forever, at least in lots of areas all over the world. And Mantovani’s take on this classic isn’t even overly patriotic either: the strings are auroral, the flutes flutter, and the cymbals clash. It’s business as usual with this march, no experiments, but it’s Space-Age alright. Meanwhile, Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita succumbs to the most classical of setups: evaporating strings with lots of soothing segments. All other instruments are keeping a low profile, making the circumambience especially silky.


While Max Steiner’s Theme From A Summer Place kicks off the film-related portion of the album with cotton candy pizzicato strings, hautboy coils and aquamarine accordion aureoles, Agustin Lara’s Granada maintains the grand, lordly pride of the original and sees its sunset-colored glow ameliorated by plinking triangles and a stop-and-go gridlock/leeway fusillade of multifaceted segues. Leroy Anderson’s Forgotten Dreams then leads to a flute-filled piano-accompanied ballad of pastel-colored string helixes and spacy vibraphone placentas before Johan Strauss II’s Thunder And Lightning Polka integrates fittingly clashing timpani and cymbals in an otherwise xylophone-incorporating suntrap. The melody is occasionally recognizable, but Mantovani prefers to branch out time and again, making this one a lucky bag, so to speak.


Pablo de Sarasate’s Zapateado kicks off side B with a frilly-fresh celebration of mountainous mediterranean vistas complete with castanets and tap dancing verve before the traditional Londonderry Air paints a seriously gorgeous fluvio-lacustrine stream of flowing strings and panchromatic runlets without. Eric Coates’ exotic By The Sleepy Lagoon follows suit, and yup, it must be a good interpretation since it’s loosely tied to Exotica, right? And indeed, the quasi-nocturnal glitz is augmented by the moonlight-reflecting triangles and cautiously pentatonic string flumes, making this one a dreamy doldrums.


Whereas A Trumpeter’s Lullaby is the second Leroy Anderson composition of the album and obviously focuses on the lead instrument which is embedded in an overly sugar-coated string centriole, Dimitri Tiomkin’s and Paul Francis Webster’s The Green Leaves Of Summer paint high-gravitas heatwaves via reeds, petrified flutes and mysticism in-between every interstice before Leon Jessel’s The Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers sees Mantovani finish the album with a comic relief attitude, providing a galloping rhythm and ligneous vesicles, blebs and punctilios in order to aurally visualize the micromotion study and movement type.


Mantovani’s Concert Spectacular is, at the end of the day, an exaggeration, as is the case with the works of many like-minded artists. It’s one album out of many, true, but I for one would have wished for a meticulous scope, one that embraces the album title and offers – nomen est omen – spectacularly vivacious vistas or even life-threatening instances, but alas, it is to no avail. Even the only potentially fitting inclusion, the Thunder And Lightning Polka by Johann Strauss II, cannot simulate the electrifying grandeur of a thunderstorm as everything else around is posh and peachy.


Granted, this is close to the vision of the composer after all, but Mantovani does provide various serpentines and ophidian ancillary paths in many of his arrangements (Granada for instance), so there have been chances aplenty to boost the phytotelemata with gruesome bone-crushing bursts as well as shock-and-awe tactics. In regard to the title, the collection of classical compositions fails, and severely so. Having said that: there are splendidly veiled megafaunas on board; By The Sleepy Lagoon and Londonderry Air are the gemstones I have in mind. But spectacular they are not. If you search for technicolor in lieu of aposematism, Mantovani delivers… against all odds. Available on vinyl, CD, streaming platforms and as a download.


Exotica Review 443: Mantovani – Concert Spectacular (1960). Originally published on Jul. 25, 2015 at