Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Golden Age of Light Music: Nature’s Realm

I always consider that I am having an adventure when I first listen to a new volume of The Golden Age of Light Music. It is quite definitely an exploration in sound and mood. In the present CD, it is a contemplation of ‘Nature’s Realm’. Like most of these CDs there is a good balance between arrangements of standards from the ‘shows’ or the world of cinema and ‘original’ pieces. I admit that the later genre is of most interest to me.

However, the arrangements on this album are all first-class. The opening Johann Strauss Thunder and Lightning Polka is a great place to start. Well-known to virtually everyone, it is given a vibrant performance by Sidney Torch and his Orchestra. This is presenting nature at it most thrilling and spectacular. Harold Arlen’s lovely Stormy Weather is probably more about the ‘atmospherics’ in a lover’s hearts rather than in Nature –‘stormy weather since my man and I ain't together, keeps raining all the time.’  It is good to have Malcolm Arnold’s characteristic tune from the film Whistle Down the Wind on this disc. It is not a film I relate to – but the music is classic Arnold.  I love the sparkling score from the 1949 psychological thriller Whirlpool starring Gene Tierney and Richard Conte. It is so typical of the period with gorgeous romantic strings and swirling harps.  A slightly more relaxed mood is created by the song ‘Softly as in a Morning Sunrise’ from Sigmund Romberg’s 1927 operetta The New Moon. Here are lots of romantic strings in the Mantovani style.  Three men collaborated to provide the ravishing September in the Rain – Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s original was given the Ronald Binge touch which certainly has echoes of Binge’s more famous ‘Sailing By.’

The remainder of the numbers on this disc are miniature tone poems describing a geological, meteorological or geographical feature: it may paint a picture or portray an emotional response by the onlooker.
Peter Yorke has written an attractive little piece that perfectly (if a little romantically) describes a Misty Valley. Not to be out done Trevor Duncan has contributed an essay of English pastoral music called Meadow Mist. This is one of the loveliest works on this CD and probably deserves inclusion in ‘samplers’ of English landscape music. It is at times almost ‘Delian’ in its harmonies and orchestration. I have not heard of Lotar Leonard Olias before, however his ‘Tango in the Rain’ is a little bit of a novelty: a good tune complete with ‘rain and thunder sounds’ in the background and also a melodeon (I think).
It is good to hear another piece from Frederick Curzon. He is best known for pieces such as The Boulevardier, the Dance of the Ostracised Imp and Punchinello. The present accomplished arrangement is a setting of the well-known song ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’. The original dates back to the late 17th century. Clive Richardson has contributed a film score-like Saga of the Seven Seas. This big, expansive piece conjures up images of sailing ships and wartime convoys. It is full of the salt tang of the sea.
Leroy Anderson must be one of the best-known composers of light music. His contribution Summer Skies is sultry piece that echoes its title: ideal for daydreaming. I have not come across Leslie Coward before, however his Wandering the King’s Highway is an attractive little arrangement of a song that was once popular. It dates from the nineteen-thirties. A touch of Elgar and Coates here along with a bit of a swing.
Peter Yorke’s Fireflies is a typically colourful piece of whimsy. Beautifully scored it vacillates between a deliciously romantic nocturnal mood and the delicate tracery of the beasties in question. One of my favourites on this CD. The liner notes are right in suggesting that Percy Faith’s Blue is the Night reflects the composer’s mastery of the orchestra. This is a haunting number that is both romantic and descriptive. I imagine a lady or gentleman looking out over the blue Bay of Naples on a warm, still night and regretting the absence of their lost love. Listening to the progress of the music suggests they will not return…but there are plenty of other fish in the sea!
Another fine musical picture is provided by Anthony Mawer with his idyllic Countryside. I believe it not an English landscape – but just where is harder to suggest but most likely somewhere a touch warmer. However, it has a lovely melody and is well arranged.
Thunder in Louisiana by Gerard Calvi is quite explicit – it starts off quietly, but the jazz infused mood takes over. Beating drums and wa-wa brass move the music onto a different level. The score builds up to an iddy bit of a storm before subsiding. There are lots of good orchestral devices, especially in the percussion department.  Domenic Savino’s Twilight on Las Pampas is quintessential Latin American mood music.
I guess that no compilation of light music would be complete without at least one example of Robert Farnon’s craft. In this present CD, it is his magnificent Headland Country. It is almost like a score for a 1950’s travelogue film advertising Cornwall or the Dorset Coast.  However, the liner notes suggest a possible Canadian background. Whatever the geographical setting it is a lovely expansive and undeniably romantic piece.  Trotting Class by Bruce Campbell is another ‘novelty’ number. Lots of good tunes and a clip-clop accompaniment would have made this an ideal score to for a romantic Ealing Comedy featuring a day’s pony-trekking on the South Downs.
Roger Roger (I knew of someone called William William Williams once) is a French composer who has contributed his quixotic (imaginary) Landscape to the Chappell Recorded Music Library.
I just love the varied movement of George Trevare’s The Mad Mountain Ride. This is quite a complicated piece of music with contrasting themes and moods. However, the basic premise would appear to be some kind of trek/ski/sledge in the high hills.  The penultimate track on this CD is Cyril Watters Spring Idyll. Somehow, this does not quite work for me: it is just that little bit too intense. Yet there are some lovely moments that exhibit an accomplished ability at orchestration that goes well beyond much that appears as light music.
The final number on this exploration of ‘Nature’s Realm’ needs no introduction. Ferde Grofé stunning ‘Sunrise’ from the Grand Canyon Suite is one of the masterpieces of American descriptive music. It holds impressionistic description with high drama in perfect equilibrium.

As usual, the sound quality of these restored tracks is excellent, bearing in mind that they have been re-mastered (by Alan Bunting) from old 78 r.p.m. and vinyl records. The accompanying notes are helpful, giving an insight into both the composers and orchestras. 
This is the 94th release in the Golden Age of Light Music series: it shows no sign of being the last. It never ceases to amaze me how many numbers in this genre there is. If I were honest I would have imagined that after all these CDs they would be scraping the bottom of the barrel. The opposite would appear to be the case: each new release presents surprises and delights that the listener can barely imagine. Long may the series continue!
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared
Please see link to GuildLight Music GLCD5194 for a detailed track listings

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