Tuesday, 12 February 2008

William Blezard: Battersea Park Suite


William Blezard (1921-2003) was possibly best known as the one-time accompanist to Joyce Grenfell. However he was also an accomplished composer with many works to his name: he wrote for orchestra, piano and other genres. I was listening to his Battersea Park Suite the other day and felt that this is a little gem. From my desk I can see the chimneys of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott fine power station. It is an evocative piece recalling a post war world that has largely disappeared into folk memory.
Battersea Park is presented a being a ‘suite for children.’ I would only partially agree with this statement. I suggest that it is really a Suite for those who are still children at heart! There is nothing trivial about this work: nothing that suggests immaturity or simplicity. Each one of these five short movements is a miniature tone poem that well complements their titles. ‘Walk up, Walk up!’ reflects the showman’s cry to the reveller to step up to the coconut shy and knock one off the stand or perhaps ‘roll a penny’ It is a cheeky cockney tune that convincingly depicts the fairground. The second piece is called ‘Boat on the Lake.’ It has a poignant clarinet solo that is heart achingly beautiful. This is no children’s messing about in boats. Rather, this is a wistful look back to a time when father was sat at the oars and we were sat in the stern imagining all sorts of romantic or heroic dreams. The ‘Little Merry-go-round’ is exactly what it says. We can almost hear the showman’s engine providing the power for the roundabout and the fairground organ. ‘Distorting Mirrors’ is a weird piece –exactly as it should be. All of us remember laughing at, or being scared of, our altered images. It lasts for all of 46 seconds. It opens with a naive brass tune followed by discordant crashes. Was he nodding to Webern with this piece? The flute comes to the rescue in ‘Child Asleep.’ All is calm as nanny pushes the pram past the tired holidaymakers and dreaming lovers.
It is hard to imagine that this is in the centre of London. The last piece is the best – and most effective. Those of you who know Battersea Park know that the Southern Region main line ran nearby with all those marvellous locomotives – ‘Battle of Britain’, ‘West Country’ and ‘Schools’ classes. But Blezard’s portrait is not of these giants of the iron road but of the miniature railway that was once found in Battersea Park. This is the complete ‘railway’ tone poem – complete with chugging sounds and whistles. Maybe not quite Pacific 231 or Coronation Scot, but this perfectly epitomises a miniature railway which must have been the highlight of many a school boy and girls day out back in the 1950. But do I perhaps detect a nod towards the giants on the British Railways viaduct high above the Thames?
With thanks to MusicWeb.

1 comment:

David Barker said...

Having just received and listened to the ASV disc that has the only recording of the Blezard, I totally agree with you - a marvellous work.

Light music is such a "damn with faint praise" term, and so undeserving in this and numerous other cases.