Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Robert Farnon: Mr Punch – from Three More Impressions for Orchestra.

I have always had a soft spot for Mr Punch, ever since I watched a show on the seafront at Fleetwood. I was certainly old enough to realise that these characters were puppets operated by a man in the red and white striped tent, but I was curious as to why he was billed as a Professor. I guess I wondered why he was running a show on the Prom and not teaching 'Astro-physics’ or ‘Pure Mathematics’ at Oxford University. Perhaps he had been ‘defrocked’ or whatever they do to ‘naughty’ professors? My father assured me that it was simply an honorary title that Punch and Judy men and women have adopted over the years. I was content to watch the rest of the show. Many years later, I discovered the wonderful music ballet by Richard Arnell Punch and the Child on an old recording by Sir Thomas Beecham. This music has recently been recorded by Dutton Epoch as a part of their survey of Arnell’s music.
However, it was the short but attractive piece by Robert Farnon that recently caught my eye, so to speak. Mr. Punch was the first of a group of three pieces called Three More Impressions written in 1959. The other two were The First Waltz and the Dominion Day March.
Mr Punch is an excellent example of how a piece of light music ought to be written: it should be a technically competent work that is tuneful, enjoyable and if possible evoking a response to the title. This work scores on all accounts.
The work opens with a cheeky flourish that soon leads into the main tune. This is repeated, before a brassy variation leads to a fine pizzicato central section that is complemented by the celesta. The opening theme returns in a slightly more a more romantic mood, which is certainly no commentary on Mr. Punch’s relationship with his wife! Then it is all downhill to the coda, complete with suggestive little counter melodies and a final flourish which suggests Mr. Punch sticking out his tongue at the audience.
Even a cursory hearing reveals a subtle and incisive orchestration that makes good use of the percussion in a quiet way and balances strong brass writing with the effective pizzicato string passages. It is really a little gem.
I do not know if this particular Mr. Punch is very wicked – the general mood of the music would perhaps suggests he was an enfant méchant rather than anything more delinquent. The music certainly has no suggestion of  his propensity to beat his wife or murder his child!

Three More Impressions can be heard on Dutton Vocalion The Queen’s Hall light Orchestra Volume 4 CDLK 4274

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