Chuck Fernandez – CD Reviews

1 December 2009

Here are some reviews of ASMAC Board member Chuck Fernandez: American Record Guide review of Sentimental and Animated, November/December 2009 Issue

Fernandez: Ratso Scherzo; Tone Poem; Oboe Concerto; Songs from a Child’s Point of View; Animatus Eventus; Candy from a Baby. Alan Steinberger, p; Helen Goode, Cl; Francisco Castillo, ob; Melissa Fahn, s; Royal Philharmonic/Charles Fernandez.

American Composer Charles Fernandez has worked primarily in movies and animation, and he is an entertainer to the core. This wonderful collection (it should be on everyone’s shelves) is a spirited gathering of classically structured music for piano, oboe, clarinet soprano, and orchestra that is full of high drama and pure silliness (but not the Peter Schickele kind of silliness).

Ratso Scherzo is a romp for piano and orchestra taken from the music Fernandez wrote for an episode of the television show Casper. (No dates are given for any work here). I think if there’s an influence here, it’s probably Danny Elfman. Indeed, there’s an Elfman quote from his music for Batman in the cartoon send-up, Animatus Eventus, which is an homage to both movies and cartoons. You’ll hear nods to Mickey Mouse, The Jetsons, Loony Tunes, and even the Simpsons.

Tone poem for clarinet and strings is a heartbreaking dollop of quintessential American romanticism. The Oboe Concerto follows much of the elegiac mood of the Tone Poem. It’s rather more British than American. I thought I could hear bits of Holst, Ireland and Moeran; but those are mere reference points. Mr. Fernandez’s music is wholly original.

The work I love best is the Songs from a Child’s Point of View sung by the gorgeous Melissa Fahn. Fahn is an accomplished actress, Broadway star, and cartoon voice-over artist, all of which come into play here. The poems, by Fernandez, are reminiscent of AA Milne; and Ms. Fahn’s voice almost makes you believe that she’s a girl of six or seven sining about the foibles of being six or seven.

The last work here is the brief Candy From a Baby and is, in the composer’s word, a “reverent nod to Manciniesque bachelor pad music”. It is, at once, tacky and elegant. I was totally surprised by this music. In the somber world where we find ourselves today, music like this comes as a welcome balm. Being introduced to Melissa Fahn isn’t to be dismissed, either.


C. FERNANDEZ Ratso Scherzo. Tone Poem for Clarinet and Strings. Oboe Concerto. Songs from a Child’s Point of View. Animatus eventus (Suite in a Cartoon Style). Candy from a Baby • Charles Fernandez, cond; Alan Steinberger (pn); Helen Goode (cl); Francisco Castillo (ob); Melissa Fahn (sop); Royal PO • TRONE 53182 23389 (51:28)It’s hard to believe that five-and-a-half years have gone by since I interviewed Charles Fernandez and reviewed a recording of his ballet, The Statue, in the March/April 2004 (27:4) issue. At the time, I placed Fernandez’ music at somewhere “half-past 1930,” describing a highly derivative style that drew heavily upon “easily recognizable musical clichés” and “shopworn classical music models topped with a generous dollop of Hollywood whipped cream.” But I concluded that the music was “intelligent and clever,” and obviously the work of a composer with a real ear for orchestral color, undoubtedly sharpened by his experience and success in writing music for film. The influences were many and mostly familiar—Debussy, Bartók, and Prokofiev among them. But other, less expected and less frequent visitors also made occasional appearances—Grieg, Franck, Dukas, and even Roy Harris.

The works on the present disc continue in that vein. The Ratso Scherzo with which the disc opens is music fit for the background track of a pest control commercial, literally. It’s a comical, cartoonish commotion, originally written for an episode of the TV show, Casper, in which a pack of rats runs rampant through an orchestra during the performance of a piano concerto. Is there an exterminator in the house? The piece sounds rather like a conflation of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, but with the tartness and sharper dissonances somewhat diluted, and the scintillating keyboard writing of Saint-Saëns.

The very lovely Tone Poem for Clarinet and Strings and extended sections of the equally moving Oboe Concerto are steeped in the Coplandesque style of Quiet City and other works that manage to evoke a sense of the vastness of the American landscape through slowly changing, open harmonies and melodies that are often diatonic but involve wide intervals.

The three songs grouped under the heading Songs from a Child’s Point of View range from the kid who skips school because he’s scared of the class bully in “The Beast,” to a little girl worried no one will ever marry her because she’s been told she’s not pretty in “If No One Ever Marries Me,” to the parody of “Rules,” in which adult rules are mocked by the invention of silly alternatives, like “Do not bathe in chocolate pudding.” In each of these, soprano Melissa Fahn artfully adopts or imitates the high-pitched, nasal singsong voice of a child. It’s appropriate to the songs’ texts and intent, but I’d hate to think that this was her natural singing voice.

Animatus eventus is a three-movement symphonic suite that derives its material from animation music to classic cartoons and characters such as Mighty Mouse, Batman, and the Simpsons. “Animation aficionados,” Fernandez suggests, “will enjoy looking for the subtle and not-so-subtle references, sometimes going back to the original classical music the great animation composers drew on.” But one needn’t be a Loony Tunes buff (I’m surely not) to get a few guffaws and giggles out of the piece. Fernandez describes his Candy from a Baby as a “reverent nod to Manciniesque bachelor pad music.” To me, it sounds like a rumba.

In dealing with the music on this disc, I kept asking myself if this was the kind of thing that legitimately belonged in Fanfare and, if so, was it likely to appeal to an audience largely comprised of music lovers and collectors for whom the core Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th-century repertoires were of primary interest. But then it occurred to me that there were many English composers, such as Eric Coates, Robert Farnon, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, and Albert Ketèlbey, to name just a few, who belonged to a large and respectable circle we loosely refer to as British light classics. A corresponding American school of light classics might include the likes of Leroy Anderson and Morton Gould, just for starters. Charles Fernandez, I think, falls into this category, not shabby company to be in, by any means. His music makes no pretense at being anything other than what it is, which is lightweight, entertaining, and, not insignificantly, expertly crafted and deftly orchestrated.

The album is titled “Sentimental and Animated.” There is much to enjoy here for those who can let their hair down every once in awhile. Jerry Dubins.

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