Having heard some Alec Wilder's instrumental compositions backstage at New York's Paramount Theatre on a portable record player, Frank Sinatra decided that he wanted to conduct and record them himself. When Sinatra got a passion for something, nothing would stand in his way -- not even the inconvenient facts that he had never conducted before and couldn't read music. Yet apparently he was a natural; indeed, musicians have testified that his baton technique was no worse than those of most of the great arrangers he employed. Either that or this New York pickup group did a Herculean job of carrying the young singer, for the ensemble is alert, cohesive, and phrases with terrific musicality. In any case, these are lovely, wistful pieces that fall in between the cracks of classical music, what was once called semi-classical (Kostelanetz, Mantovani, etc.) and pop, often with a featured spot for a wind soloist. That's Sinatra's future bête noire at Columbia, Mitch Miller, expertly sounding forth on "Air for Oboe" and "Air for English Horn," and the future New York Philharmonic principal flutist Julius Baker takes a gorgeous turn on "Air for Flute." You can hear some overtones of Delius now and then, even touches of '40s swing on "Slow Dance" and "Theme and Variations," but Wilder was defiantly his own man, conjuring playful, relaxed, piquant, mixed idioms at will.
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AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell