Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Phillip Lord: Nautical Overture

There have been many nautical pieces in the annals of musical history. Perhaps the one that spring to mind is the great, patriotic effort by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the Britannia Overture which features the tub thumping Rule Britannia!
Philip Scowcroft mentions many more: these include John Ansell’s Windjammer Overture, Frederic Austin’s The Sea Venturers and Dame Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers. It is perhaps a genre that British composers warm to coming from an island race.

Phillip Lord’s Nautical Overture was composed in 1965, some four years before his early death from a heart attack.
A brief note on the composer: he was born in Waterfoot in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire and studied music at Manchester University and the Royal Manchester College of Music. In 1952 he gained a scholarship to Cambridge. This was followed by National Service, work in a London publishing house. After a spell in a teaching post at Aberdeen University he returned to the other side of the Pennines to Sheffield.

Philip Lane in his programme notes for the Dutton Epoch recording of this work suggests that the Overture may have been only one of a projected sequence of pieces based on The Sea. However, this is the only one to have survived. The piece was given a broadcast in the 1960’s by the BBC Concert Orchestra under the baton of Vilem Tausky. The score disappeared only to resurface many years later in the Light Music Society Library.
However there are other a few other pieces with a marine flavour in Lord’s catalogue that have survived – these include A Northumbrian Sea-song Suite (1966), a large scale choral work High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire, an opera The Marsh Raiders and a set of Variations on a Sea Shanty for piano and orchestra.

Although I like this piece very much, I am not quite convinced just how much of a ‘nautical’ air this overture actually has. Martin Thacker in Manchester Sounds (Volume 7, 2007-8 p204) alludes to this in his review by suggesting that the second subject 'perhaps depicts a sailors’ dance, but there seems to be an ineradicable clip-clop about it –you think more of a buggy on the mains street in small-town America.'
Certainly if one is looking for sailors’ hornpipes, sea shanties or a Flying Dutchman type of seascapes in music this is not the piece for you! However I could imagine the work being used as a film score for a romp such as Carry On Cruising or Carry On Up the Creek. The music is great: it just does not quite ‘depict a choppy sea like the one in Bax’s Symphony No. 4!'
Rob Barnett at MusicWeb International considers this work to be “a rattlingly rousing overture in the British concert overture tradition.” It is an opinion with which I wholeheartedly agree. It is time that Phillip Lord’s music was made available to a wider audience.

Finally, in case any reader thinks that I have misspelt the composer’s Christian name I have not - the non-biblical spelling owes it to the composer’s mother whose maiden name was Phillips!

The Nautical Overture can be heard on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7190 The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is conducted by Paul Murphy.

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