Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Golden Age of Light Music: Bright & Breezy on Guild

The Golden Age of Light Music: Bright and Breezy

There are some 81 volumes of Guild’s ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ currently available. If one allows an average of 28 tracks per CD, this makes a grand total of about 2268 pieces of music. Now, I imagine that some listeners will think that Guild must be scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel to find good material for any subsequent releases.
In fact, I was beginning to wonder myself how much more of this kind of music is still hidden away. The answer is given as part of the liner-note discussion of Anthony Mawer and his delightful and trippy Painted Carousels. In fact, Mr Mawer (1930-1999) is a new boy to this series. Hailing from Sale in Cheshire, and a Manchester Grammar School lad, he was largely self-taught. However in the ten years between 1955 and 1965 he contributed some 500 titles to the De Wolfe sound library. If all this music were ‘rediscovered’ there could be a further 17 or 18 volumes just of his music!! And I am sure that many of the other composers represented on this CD will have similar large libraries of music attributed to them.

This is a strong selection of music that explores a wide range of moods and imagery. Included are a few standards such as Errol Garner’s Misty, Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine and Lerner & Loewe’s ‘They Call the Wind Maria’ from Paint your Wagon. Big name ‘classical’ composers such as Hugo Alfvén with his Summerdance and Nino Rota’s film score for ‘La Vita Dolce’ rub shoulders with the masters of the ‘light music’ genre such Robert Farnon’s Sea Shore and Charles Williams’ Theme from ‘The Apartment’. Incidentally, Farnon’s work is one of the most evocative pieces on this CD – complete with chorus of sea-gulls and the magical piano playing of Rawicz and Landauer.

But what is really impressive with this CD is the number of composers that are largely new to the light music revival scene - at least to my understanding of it. These include the German Ernst Fischer with his attractive Suite: South of the Alps, which for me is the discovery of this disc. It manages to capture the spirit and romance of Italy’s Mediterranean coast in the shadow of those great mountains. Interestingly, this work also includes a ‘concertante’ part for cinema organ and balalaika, although this is not overdone ...

Other composers that are less mainstream than Farnon and Williams include Peter Dennis and his evocative Bright and Breezy which gets the proceedings off to a bouncy start. Harry Warren’s Carnival is perfect descriptive music – although the carnival is in Latin America and not Liverpool or Grimsby! Ragazza Romanza is a lovely tune by a composer simply billed as ‘Roberts’. Toy Town Trumpeters by William Davies is a predictable fun piece that once upon a time would have had some kind of vogue on Children’s Favourites. And Laurie Johnson (theme music for The Avengers and The Professionals) contributes the romantic theme music from ‘Tiger Bay’. Sheer heaven!

The American Sir Chauncey, whose real name is the slightly-less glamorous Ernie Freeman, conducts Christian Bruhn and Georg Buschor’s good string piece, Midi-Midinette. E Bello by a certain Dante Vignali is a moody number that balances strings and brass and sheer sultry romance. Kristina is a lady I would like to meet: I imagine that she impressed Maurice Grabmann too!

I really enjoyed the zippy Stringendo by Ivor Slaney. Musicians will know that this title means ‘gradually faster – pressing forward’: the piece lives up to its title. Dancing Daffodils by Johnny Steggerda is another one of those effervescent little pieces of light music that typifies the genre. Cyril Watters’ contribution Up and Coming is equally as effective whilst Mariano Marquina and his Spanish Gypsy Dance manages to conjure up the sultry summer sun of Spain. The fascinating Sweet Sue by Victor Young and a rather quirky musical portrait of San Francisco complete this musical feast.

One amusing thing I noticed on this CD are the number of people sometimes involved in creating a piece of music – for example Vincent Youmans, Otto Harbach, Herbert Stothart, Oscar Hammerstein II and Reg Owen were all involved in presenting the listener with 1:52 worth of Bambalina: Havergal Brian managed to compose the massive Gothic Symphony all on his own!

Yet every one of these pieces is a joy and a pleasure to listen to. Certainly, after recently reviewing the intense John Joubert Symphony No.2 (In memory of those killed at Sharpeville 21/3/60) it was a welcome relief and a bit of indulgent escapism. However, there is an important point. Each of the works presented on this latest Guild Light Music series can be regarded as a ‘mini-masterpiece’ – not necessarily moving and shaking the artistic world, but being attractive and well-wrought and displaying superb workmanship, imagination and invention.

The only downside to this CD is that Guild do not give the dates of all the composers in the track listings or the liner notes: not all of them can be easily found on the Internet!
Finally, this is a series than can probably continue indefinitely: roll on the next 81 releases!

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

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