Saturday, 26 September 2009

Montague Phillips: In Old Verona

In my younger days the piano stool at home was full of pieces of music that had descriptive titles – often referring to romantic-sounding places. I am not quite sure if many of them actually fulfilled the expectation of their various titles – but often they were pleasant to play and enjoyable to listen to. It gave a little bit of warm inspiration when outside the freezing fog was curling round the corner of the gasometer. In Old Verona is a good example of one of these pieces – albeit conceived for the orchestra. It is actually an attractive ‘serenade for strings’ that had the soubriquet attached by the composer for its publication in 1950. Now I am not sure if ‘Verona’ immediately springs to mind with this particular dance tune. There is little here to remind me of the glorious Ponte Pietra, Juliet’s Balcony or the Roman amphitheatre. But that is not the point. The work is actually an accomplished essay in writing for strings that is effective and way beyond the limited scope of a salon piece.

The short movement opens with a good tune supported by a pizzicato base. It is quite a stately dance. However the mood does change in the central section. Things become a little more passionate – perhaps reflecting the Shakespearian connection? There is quite a nice rounded climax, before the music sinks back to the opening measures. It finishes quietly with a violin solo.
This is exactly the kind of music that does a sterling service for ‘light music.’ Here is nothing complicated or profound: it is not even a tone poem. What it does reveal is a composer who was able to provide a well crafted, tuneful and enjoyable miniature.

Montague Phillips's In Old Verona can be heard on Dutton CDLX 7158

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