Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Lost British Piano Works: Part 2


The second part of the listings of British piano music on the back of a piece of piano music published by Augener’s. It is clear that many of these long forgotten pieces are for teaching purposes.  However, one or two works that I do know (or have a copy of in my library) are anything but easy.  For example, Alec Rowley is often seen as a ‘grades’ composer, however his Toccatas are no cinch. Even Eric Thiman's New Nursery Rhymes are full of places that can trip up the over confident tyro.

Robin Milford
Waltz
Thomas Baron Pitfield
Five Short Pieces: Prelude, Dance-miniature, Bagatelle, Crooning, Merry-go-round.
The Circle Suite: Bourree, Minuet, Pavan, Jig
Two Little Dances in old style: Minuet & Gavotte
Freda Pointer
Country Tunes -20 graded pieces
Leonard W. Reed
Two Pieces: Pavanne Caprice & Child Portrait
Kathleen Richards
Two Pieces:  Whither  & Frozen Landscape
Alan Richardson
Meadowlands
Alec Rowley
7 Preludes on all the intervals
Three Invocations: The Shipyard, Song for Reapers, Earth Chant
Toccata – The Two Worlds
Second Toccata
Tunes from an old music box
Felix Swinstead
Etude Arabesque
My Lady’s Minuet
Tete- a-tete
Alec Templeton
Five Portraits: In the Twilight (Vera), Valsette (Hazel) Melodie (Eileen) In thought (Ursula) & A little song (Anne)
Idyll Caprice
Toccata
Eric H. Thiman
New Nursery Rhymes (Set 2): Hey Diddle Diddle, Matthew, Mark Luke and John, Little Boy Blue & Jack & Jill
Andersen Tyrer (was he British?)
Contrasts
Etude Caprice
Reflections
Soliloquy
Three Pieces: Nymphs, The Lake & April Days
Toccata

There are no titles here that strike me as being particularly ‘camp’ or ‘of their time.’  However, there are a few that sound tempting to discover:. For example, I wonder what Kathleen Richards’ Frozen Landscape sounds like?  Or Alec Templeton’s nostalgic Five Portraits:  I wonder where the dedicatees ended up?  Finally the two ‘big names’ here are Robin Milford and Thomas Pitfield. Both of these composers are surely ready for reappraisal and re-discovery. 

Monday, 28 May 2012

Lost British Piano Works: Part 1


Any reader of my blog will know that I am fascinated by obscure British piano music. Do not get me wrong I love the standard (at least from the British music enthusiast’s perspective) repertoire. The piano works of John Ireland, Arnold Bax, Cyril Scott and Frank Bridge are all safely uploaded to my iPod ready for instant access. However, from a personal point of view most of the pieces by the four above named composers are beyond my Grade 6½ standard. So I tend to look to simpler pieces.  To this end, I love Alec Rowley, Thomas Dunhill, Felix Swinstead and Harry Farjeon.  However, let it be sad that not all their works are easy.
I recently bought a couple of short pieces by a composer called Geoffrey Robbins – Two Preludes for Piano.  They are just about in my gift. The first is The Lavender Path, which is a short ‘allegretto’, has some interesting harmonies and possibly a few too many octaves for its own good.  The second is Trees on the ill which is slightly more complex but well worth practising.  Once again, the composer likes octaves. Btu what struck me most about these pieces were the listings of ‘forgotten’ piano music by often forgotten composers on the back cover.  Simply by reading their titles, I want to hear and possibly play them. Someone once said that lists are good for blog – so here goes with part one. The second part will follow in a few days. Meanwhile I will try to find out a wee bit more about Mr Robbins and his music.

William McLean
By Killarney
In Andalusia
In the Moonlight
Jessamine
Joy – Valsette
Margery Moore
The Merry Mid-Shipman
Herbert Murrill
Two Impromptus
Geoffrey Shaw
What Grandpa Plays – The Pony Gallops, Mrs Duck, The Shepherd to his lambs, The Brave Tin Soldier & Grandfather Clock
Arthur Somervell
What you will
Frederick J Staton
Romp on the Sands
Freda Swain
The Mountain Ash
Colin Taylor
Barren Woods
Beside the Idle summer Sea
Pantomime
The Haven of Piece
Touch-Last
Two Preludes: Retrospect & Gossamer
Alec Templeton
At the Garden Gate
Concert Waltz
Flight
Idyll Caprice
The Trout Stream
To What Place?
Kathleen Tittle
Moon Magic
Ernest Walker
A West African Fantasietta
Richard H. Walthew
The Scholar and the Day Off
Joseph Wardale
The Toy Box: The Clown, Hippo, The Fort, The Dancing Bear, The Sailing Boat & The Flying Scotsman
The Toy Cupboard
Mickey Mouse, Dismal Desmond, Jumbo, Japanese Doll, Peter Rabbit & Monkey-up-the-stick.

Although as a principle, I always try to put a title into its ‘sitz in leben’: what may be rather funny today could have been quite serious back in 1935.  However, there are a few deliciously camp titles amongst these pieces.  One wonders what the Merry Mid-Shipman got up to? And what about the Romp on the Sands? Finally, I am glad I never had a toy called Dismal Desmond. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Terzetti: Trios for flute, viola and harp


Arnold Bax (1883-1953) Elegiac Trio (1916-17) Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Sonate en trio (1916) Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Sonatine en trio, arranged by Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961) (1905/c.1915) William Mathias (1934-1992) Zodiac Trio (1975) Theodore Dubois (1837-1924) Terzettino (1904) The Debussy Ensemble  Susan Milan (flute) Matthew Jones (viola) Ieuan Jones (harp)
Divine Art dda25099 [63:20]

Most folk would regard the combination of flute, viola and harp as being rather unusual and unlikely to have brought forth many works. However, a brief look on the Internet reveals dozens of pieces for the medium, with many of them having been written in the past thirty years.  The earliest would appear to be the present Sonate by Debussy; however, Bax could be the contender for that honour.
Even the most cursory hearing of the works on this CD reveals a great potential for richness of musical colour and tone in the use of this instrumental grouping.  It is a combination that must be a gift to any composer who wishes to write a piece of evocative music that nods towards impressionism, the mysterious or the exotic.
Arnold Bax balanced impressionism with romanticism in many of his works. Added to this was the influence of the ‘Celtic Twilight’.  In the present Elegiac Trio all three stylistic elements are present. This is a lyrical work that alludes to the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and what Bax perceived as the loss of his ideal (and maybe imaginary) world.
The work is written in one continuous movement and references Irish melodies, ‘colourful pastoral scenes [and] …rippling waves.’ I think that what impresses me most about this work is the successful balance between the various instrumental timbres. It is possible that Bax was inspired by Debussy’s Sonate for the same combination of instruments which was written some six months previously. However, some scholars feel that Bax would not have had an opportunity to hear this work as it was not heard in London until just six weeks before the Bax premiere. So maybe he invented this particular chamber grouping.
Debussy’s Sonate en Trio was, as stated above, written during the Great War in 1916. It is one of three important sonatas written in the last years of his life: the other two are for cello and violin. In many ways, the present work sounds like an improvisation, where the soloists experiment with various instrumental colourings. They are often used in a pointillistic manner which may remind the listener of the orchestral work La Mer. The Sonate is in three movements.
 I am not quite sure about Ravel’s Sonatine en trio. This is simply a transcription of the well-known Sonatina for piano.  It is attractive enough, but I would much rather hear it in the original version. It was arranged sometime after 1915 by the harpist Carlos Salzedo with, ‘by all accounts,’ the composer’s blessing. Perhaps it would have been better for the Debussy Ensemble to champion a work by a lesser-known composer that was especially written for their instrumental combination.
 After reading the liner notes about the William Mathias’ ‘Zodiac’ I was a little concerned. My eye caught a sentence about ‘cosmic’ effects, such as ‘string sliding using a metal object’ on the viola and ‘soundboard tapping’ on the harp. As my late father would have said, it sounded a little ‘long haired.’ Yet I need not have worried. Mathias’ good sense and musicality saved the day.  The work is conceived as a journey between the star signs of Pisces, Aries and Taurus. The three constellations are separated by ‘travelling’ music.  This is an attractive, musically interesting piece that is often haunting and always interesting. There is another recording of this piece listed in the catalogues on the ‘Harp and Company’ label, however I have not heard this.
 Theodore Dubois is best remembered in the organ loft. I wonder what aspiring organist has not attempted the superb Toccata.  However, there is a deal of instrumental, chamber, vocal and stage works in his catalogue.  The Terzettino, which gives its title to the CD, was composed in 1904: the composer was 67 years old. It is a delicious work that is both romantic and reflective. The only downside is that it is far too short.
 The Debussy Ensemble consists of three well-respected and competent soloists. Susan Milan was a former principal of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who now has a largely solo career performing with three chamber ensembles including the present one.   She is also Professor and Fellow of the Royal College of Music and is a director of the British Isles Music Festival.  Matthew Jones is a teacher, performer on the violin and viola and a composer.  He regularly gives recitals with the pianist Michael Hampton.  Finally Ieuan Jones began playing the harp at the age of six. He continued his studies at the Royal College of Music. He has given concerts in many countries and has made a number of recordings.
 Much of this music is impressionistic and numinous in mood and I felt that this was not reflected in the sound quality of this CD: they are just a little let down by the hard edge in the recording. However, the playing on this CD is excellent and all three soloists respond to each other sympathetically.
Bearing in mind that these works are not well known, the liner notes could have been more comprehensive. For example, there is virtually no description or analysis of the Ravel, the Bax or the Dubois.  Finally, I did feel that the cover was just a little bit ‘naff.’ 
Nevertheless, this is a great CD with a wide-ranging selection of music: it displays an instrumental combination that is relatively rarely heard.
 With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Dr. Thomas Arne: An Even Distribution of Honours

Dr. Arne was once placed in a somewhat similar situation to that of Solomon when the two women each claimed the child. His disposition of the case was as fair as that of the king, only the distribution was more even, as even as Solomon threatened to make the division of the child in question.
Dr. Arne was a very prominent English composer who lived in the first half of the last century. He had been called upon to decide on the merits of two singers. Their merits, by the way, were based largely on their own appreciation of their powers, rather than on that of other people. After hearing them, Dr. Arne cried out to one of them,
" You are the worst singer I ever heard in my life !"
"Then," exclaimed the other, "I win."
"No," answered the just judge, "you can't sing at all"

Sunday, 20 May 2012

English Recorder Concertos: Harvey, Arnold and Jacob


Richard Harvey (b.1953) Concerto Incantato (2009) Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) Concerto for Recorder and Strings, Op.133 (1988) Gordon Jacob (1895-1984) Suite for Recorder and Strings (1957) Michala Petri (recorder) City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong/Jean Thorel
OUR Recordings 6.220606
Let’s deal with top and bottom lines first. This is one of the best CDs of recorder music that I have ever heard. Full stop. However, four things need to be said. Firstly, that this particular instrument is not my favourite: it comes a long way down my personal batting list which is crowned by piano and cello. I guess that I associate it with my own excruciating attempts to play Greensleeves as a nine year old scholar. And my contemporaries were not much better either.  Secondly, I think that the tone of the ‘English flute’ is something that needs to be heard in relatively small doses. To this end, I advise taking each of these works one by one – with small refreshment breaks in-between. Thirdly, I have never heard of Michala Petri – I ought to have. She is utterly brilliant. And finally, notwithstanding ‘point one’ above, I have long regarded the legendary John Turner as being the master of recorder music. It is rare for me to listen to any work for this instrument that is not played or recorded by him. So this is, for me at any rate, new territory.
The Richard Harvey Concerto Incantato is officially billed as a World Premiere Recording. However I have not heard the Arnold or the Jacob before.  I have discovered that Michala Petri did record the Jacob in 1984 on Phillips Digital.

If I am honest, I never heard of Richard Harvey either.  Once again, I should have. For one thing he contributed to Hans Zimmer’s score to the Da Vinci Code.  Born in 1953, he graduated from the Royal College of Music in 1972.  He has involved himself with many genres of music – from medieval to rock – he had a progressive rock and folk band called Gryphon. One point of note: his ‘modest’ web-site (Richard Harvey: Renowned Composer, Arranger Conductor and Multi-Instrumentalist)) is very difficult to read – white text on black!
Harvey’s Concerto is interesting, if not totally satisfying. When I read that he was a film-music composer, I did wonder if it would suffer from sounding like a compilation from his film scores and to a certain extent I believe this is true. However, the Concerto is a valid work in its own right. The listener needs to remember that Harvey is an accomplished recorder player – and other instruments too. His website notes that he can play some 700 different instruments from around the world!! I would be delighted to manage just one well.

The Concerto Incantato was written specifically for Michala Petri and was commissioned by Leanne Nicholls for the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong’s tenth anniversary concert.
The sleeve notes suggest an eclectic stylistic background to the work and this is exactly what we hear. The composer quite clearly draws extensively on his television and film score background, although this is supplemented by his interest in medieval music.
The concerto is written in five movements and makes use of the full set of recorders.  The first movement is entitled ‘Sorcery’ and I must admit does have a distinct ‘Harry Potter’ mood to it. The orchestration fairly shimmers.  The second is entitled ‘Natura Morta’ - Still Life. Here the composer has used the tenor recorder and has had recourse to ethnic music derived from China and the native North-American flute. It is a thoughtful, almost static piece of music that lulls the listener into a dream-like world. The following ‘Danza Spiriti’ (Dance of the Sprits) destroys the reverie. This is exciting music that chases itself around in circles. The next movement is the meditative ‘Sacra Canzone’ featuring what the composer has called the ‘English Theme’. This leads to the finale which once again nods to Harry Potter – ‘Incantesimi’ – Spells. This, for me, is the least impressive part of the work. The minimalist recorder figurations become tedious. However the music builds up to a hectic dance, before the ‘English Theme’ is reprised. I am not sure I like the ‘medieval’ mood in parts of this movement.
In the round this is a reasonably impressive and virtuosic work – however I hold it to be a little unbalanced between the parts. If this is music for the ‘Harry Potter’ generation, as billed in the liner notes then I am not quite convinced.

Malcolm Arnold’s 1988 Concerto was composed specifically for Michala Petri. I know that there are mixed views about the quality of this work.  It is not one of my favourites from the composer’s pen. Yet there is plenty of interest and one or two touches of the ‘old’ Arnold.  I guess that I am a little concerned that the balance of work is faulty.  There is such a difference stylistically between the complex passacaglia of the second movement and the ‘St Trinian’ mood of the finale. And I cannot quite weigh up the opening movement.  Yet the concerto has some interesting things. It probably[?] deserves its place in the repertoire.

Gordon Jacob needs no introduction to readers of these pages. However, I think it fair to say that his music is largely underrepresented in the catalogues with only nine CDs containing his music. This compares to 159 for Malcolm Arnold. The present Suite was commissioned by Arnold Dolmetsch in 1957. The work has been rightly regarded as a ‘divertissement’ rather than anything more serious. It is presented in seven well-balanced movements. The Suite opens with a delightfully ‘pastoral’ prelude. This is followed by a lively English dance which is just way too short. Then there is a ‘Lament’. However, this is not too depressing and has a ‘smoochy’ feel to it rather than one of heartbreak. The string writing here is particularly beautiful. It is the longest movement in the suite. I love the exiting ‘Burlesca alla Rumba’ which is all sunshine. This is followed by an epitome of English pastoral – the ‘Pavane’. Here are impressions of fields and rivers and up-and-down dales. The penultimate movement, an ‘Introduction and Cadenza’ is also illustrative of the landscape although this time in valedictory mood.  For me it is the heart of the work. The finale ‘Tarantella’ is fun all the way. Jacob calls for the soprano recorder to give brightness and sparkle to the last moments of this Suite.

Michala Petri has some sixty CDs listed in the Arkiv catalogue. The range of music covered is phenomenal. From Bach to Ole Bull and from Fauré to Frederick the Great she has recorded a huge variety of works. Noted as a child prodigy, she began playing recorder aged three, took serious lessons at five and by 11 years she made her concerto debut. She often played together with her mother Hanne, a harpsichordist and her brother David, cellist as part of the Petri Trio. Nowadays, she often gives concerts with her husband, the lutenist and guitarist, Lars Hannibal.  Both Petri and her husband run their own record label – OUR recordings. The present disc is one of more than a dozen released in the past eight years.  

However, it is not just Michala Petri who has given a superb performance.  Jean Thorel at the helm of the City Chamber Orchestra has contributed a sympathetic accompaniment to these three concertos. 
This is an enjoyable CD that is well played and features a diverse programme. In spite of my reservations about the Malcolm Arnold Concerto and the stylistic balance of the Richard Harvey I feel that it will be essential listening for enthusiasts of recorder music. The presentation of the disc is impressive: it looks and feels good.  The sound quality is excellent. I enjoyed the liner notes – they are both informative and entertaining.
My favourite work, by a long shot, is Gordon Jacob’s Suite and I will turn to this recording to enjoy this piece on many occasions.
This CD can be sampled at Our Recordings  however it is a slow loading website.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Ernest Walker on Elgar Part II

I posted the other day a frank critique of Edward Elgar’s music by the critic and composer Ernest Walker – it was not exactly disparaging, but neither was it sycophantic. Just to even up the balance a little bit I post the previous section of Walker’s comments on the composer.  No commentary is needed; however, I have taken the liberty of breaking up one or two of his tediously long sentences, including one of over 140 words!

Few things in the history of modern music are more remarkable than Elgar's sudden leap into something like worldwide fame; indeed, no composer has had an artistic career like his. Like Berlioz, his nearest parallel, he is free-lance, self-taught, and influenced very slightly by the current traditions of his time; but unlike Berlioz, whose work is all of a piece from the very start, Elgar began on lines almost entirely alien to his later methods. All composers, even the greatest, have of course written relatively inferior (often very inferior) work at some period or other; and some have only for the first time found themselves artistically in middle life, like Wagner, or in old age, like Verdi. But Elgar, till he was considerably over thirty years of age, was known chiefly by, so to speak, ‘smart society’ music: the Salut d'amour kind of production that seeks and finds its reward in the West End drawing-room, clever and shallow and artistically quite unpromising. Even in the days of his high fame, he has had (at any rate for a time) the heavy millstone of aristocratic fashionableness hanging round his neck, and may over and over again well have prayed to be delivered from his friends. Indeed, there was no particular reason for any one to prophesy any special future for him. In the best work of the transition period there were no doubt points of interest of various kinds: the pleasant picturesqueness of The Black Knight and the Serenade for strings, several parts of King Olaf (especially the powerful 'Challenge of Thor'), and the very fine sombre 'Lament' in Caractacus. [However]…these were so much overbalanced by things like the conscientious sentimentality of the great bulk (though not indeed all) of the The Light of Life, the rather blatant hardness of the last section of The Banner of St. George and the Imperial March, and the superficial appeal of the salon music, that it seemed decidedly doubtful whether the obvious talent would ever result in anything really vital. It was not until 1899 that Elgar found his fully individual method of expression in some fine Sea Pictures for contralto and orchestra, and in an astonishingly subtle and imaginative set of orchestral variations (which very many musicians are still inclined to consider his best work). The Dream of Gerontius, in which the new style was first shown on an extended scale, had to wait some time for its second performance, and three years before it was heard in London, but after its great success in Germany its composer's popularity swelled rapidly to enormous proportions.

It was fairly obvious from the start that the movement, which began in London with the performance of The Dream of Gerontius at the Westminster Catholic Cathedral in 1903, was to some extent of a merely evanescent character; and the comparatively cool reception accorded to The Kingdom, which is certainly by no means inferior to Elgar's other mature works, seems to show that it has already nearly spent itself, as was bound sooner or later to be the case. But although pessimistic voices are heard prophesying that Elgar will find his level by the side of people like the composers of The Redemption or The Resurrection of Lazarus, yet the reality would seem to be far otherwise. Elgar is too great a composer not to be able to come out at the other side of his trying experiences as Gounod and Lorenzo Perosi (the priest-musician who, after being urged upon Europe with the whole driving force of the Roman Church, was dropped just at the beginning of Elgar's popularity) were certainly not able to do.

Apart from a certain number of small works, either several years old or written in imitation of earlier models, Elgar has, since 1899, published nothing which does not bear his own characteristic sign-manual; and in slender productions like the Greek Anthology lyrics for male voices or other similarly most remarkable part-songs like 'Weary wind of the west' or 'Evening scene' the individual vitality of utterance is quite as conspicuous as in the large choral works or orchestral compositions such as the In the South overture.
In feeling for colour colour of every conceivable kind Elgar is surpassed by no living composer, English or foreign, and as an orchestrator he is among the very greatest in musical history; his melodies and harmonies are always his own and sometimes very beautiful, and he shows, like his contemporary and great admirer, Richard Strauss, a singular power of reaching the essence of the words he chooses to set especially when they give opportunity for the expression of emotional drama or religious feeling in the terms of mystical but modern Catholicism.
The sort of entrancing unearthly charm of such music as the songs of the Angel in Gerontius or the setting of the Beatitudes in The Apostles is without parallel in English work; it is wonderfully subtle and intimate, and yet the appeal which it makes, is very direct. He threads the mazes of the most elaborate polyphony with easy assurance, vividness and courage: modernity inspire every page of the works by which he bids fair to live.
Ernest Walker The History of English Music, 1907 (with minor edits)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Fugues and Chess


Many are the musical prodigies who come before the public, though but few of them reach the great heights of musicianship of which they, in their youth, give promise. Handel, Mozart, and Liszt fulfilled the expectations aroused by their youthful feats.
Among those whose fame was not so great was Walter Parratt, who was knighted by Queen Victoria. He played the organ in a Yorkshire church when only seven years old. At ten he performed all of Bach's forty-eight preludes and fugues without the music before him, and in later life he accomplished the extraordinary feat of playing, blindfolded, three games of chess and one  of Bach's fugues at the same time, manipulating the keys of the organ and calling out his moves on the chess-board simultaneously.
From Anecdotes of Great Composers W. Francis Gates 1897

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Don Banks: Coney Island

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing one of the latest editions to the Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music series – Stereo into the Sixties. The full review will appear on this ‘blog’ and on MusicWeb International in due course. However, whilst listening to the various excellent arrangements of Gershwin, Kern and Porter I came across two excellent ‘original’ compositions. These were Ron Goodwin’s London Serenade and Don Banks’ Coney Island.
Donald (Don) Oscar Banks (1923-1980) was an Australian composer who is probably best known for his ‘serious’ compositions which sometimes made use of serial technique and and experiments with electronic media including the Moog Synthesiser.  However, his career included considerable contributions to the worlds of jazz, commercial recordings and film music.  His musical mentors included Milton Babbitt, Luigi Dallapiccola and Luigi Nono.  When in London, he studied with the exiled Hungarian composer, Mátyás Seiber. It was through Seiber that he was introduced to the world of film music – specialising in cartoons and Hammer Horror films.  Many folk will have heard Don Banks’ music without recognising the name or his wider interests.
Don Banks’ vision vision of Coney Island suggests all the romance of a day at Coney Island -probably in the nineteen-fifties.  Certainly the last time I was there, it was a shadow of it former self, yet still exuding a certain excitement and and faded glory. The fundamental ethos of this work is surely of one pair of lovers enjoying the funfair and another pair who watch the proceedings from the boardwalk or from a quiet bar.
The work opens with a brash, brassy passage that defines the razzmatazz of the funfair. However, this is soon balanced by a lovely romantic tune for the strings, which is frequently interrupted by rhythmical brass chords. A short bridge passage highlighting the harp leads to a slightly more relaxed dance tune.  After a brass fanfare, some scurrying ‘cartoon’ music featuring woodwind, xylophone and glockenspiel dissolve into a smoky, saxophone dominated nocturne as the lovers watch the neon lights of the funfair from the beach. Sweeping strings and a romantic melody lead to a reprise of the opening music. An energetic coda re-establishes the mood of excitement and faux terror of the big rides.
The present recording was made in 1961, was in stereo and was played by The Sinfonia of London, conducted by Douglas Gamley. Coney Island is available on Guild GLCD 5192.  A short extract can be heard on the Guild Website. For the cognoscenti the work was first released on a LP entitled Musical merry-go-round (World Club Records STE-275) which contained works by Jacques Ibert, Igor Stravinsky, Oscar Strauss, Richard Rogers and Henri Sauget. All the works on this LP evoked the circus or ‘all the fun of the fair.’ 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Ernest Walker on Sir Edward Elgar

It is sometimes useful to read a less than positive review of one of the ‘great’ composers. I am a fan of Elgar’ and have been since first hearing Sospiri and the Introduction and Allegro on some old 78rpm discs which I found in the school music room cupboard. I still have a re-recording of these two works made on what was then the new technology of cassette tape!
However, I have never become an Elgar groupie. There are elements of his music that I just do not appreciate. Even the symphonies I can sometimes find to be a little long winded in places. I hold up my hand and admit that I have never really got ‘into’ the oratorios. And finally, although I count myself as patriotic as the next person, I cannot get my head round works such as The Crown of India, Polonia and some of the other Great War works.
Before someone suggests that I do not like any Elgar, I will list my top five ‘hits’- not in any order of preference – Violin Concerto, In the South, Introduction and Allegro, the Violin Sonata and the Enigma Variations. Furthermore, I tend towards the lighter Elgar (Mina, Chanson de Nuit etc.), rather than the vast amount of his choral music.
That being said, I post part of Ernest Walker’s 1907 critique of the composer. Perhaps I will present the more positive side to review this later. There is no need for commentary.

We cannot help noticing here and there a lack of sustained thematic inventiveness, a deficiency in the power of broadly organic construction; even when, in a way, quite original, the material sometimes consists of scraps of music, neither individually nor collectively of any particular interest beyond mere colour, joined together by methods not altogether convincing. Occasionally also there seems an undue reliance on a rather hot-house type of emotionalism, that every now and then comes near degenerating into a somewhat forced pseudo-impressiveness; the melodramatic bars that depict the suicide of Judas in The Apostles set on edge the teeth of listeners who have felt to the full the dramatic power of the pages that precede them, and there are parts of Gerontius' confession of faith that, though sincere, nevertheless suggest an atmosphere of artificial flowers.
Sometimes the splendour of the frame tends to hide the picture; and in the picture itself, when we do see it, the gorgeous colour tends to hide the drawing. His most inspired pages excepted, it is not altogether paradoxical to say that even the later Elgar is a light composer compared with the classics; the relatively sensuous elements seem often to be the main consideration, and it is very rarely that he shows anything of the bracing sternness that lies at the root of the supreme music of the world. The path of picturesque emotionalism is beset with snares, and Elgar has not escaped them every one; but, when all is said, an unmistakably new and living voice of high genius is something for which we must needs be lastingly grateful, and remembering his astounding progress in the past ten years we cannot but believe that there is still a further future before this youngest of our leaders.
Ernest Walker A History of Music in England 1907

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Ian Venables: The Hippo

A very, very short post today. I was delighted to find this lovely song from the pen of the English composer Ian Venables on YouTube.
Theodore Roethke’s charming and wistful poem ‘The Hippo’ is given an appropriate setting that matches the tongue in cheek sentiment of the author. Roethke (1908-1963) was an American poet who wrote “an extraordinarily diverse and lyrical body of poetry. He could be sombre or playful, surrealistic or erotic or romantic, or many of these things at once.”

Graham Lloyd notes the pause on the word ‘yawn’ in ‘...he starts to yawn, it takes all day.’ Perhaps the music is a little bit more melancholy than the spirit of the poem demands. Yet from a listener’s point of view this is a near perfect matching of text and music. The song was composed in 2003 and received its first performance that year at the Royal Grammar School in Worcester with Nathan Vale as soloist and Paul Plummer on the piano. The Hippo is the last of Venables’ Six Songs Op.33.
The mezzo soprano Sally Porter-Munro and pianist Graham Fitch give a superb performance of this song. It was part of a concert given at The Royal Grammar School, Worcester, on July 23rd, 2011.
Listen to Ian Venables’ ‘The Hippo’ on YouTube.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Complete C.W. Orr Songbook-Volume 1

Charles Wilfred Orr (1893-1976)
Seven Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad: Along the field, When I watch the living meet, The Lent lily, Farewell to barn and stack and tree, Oh fair enough are sky and plain, Hughley Steeple, When smoke stood up from Ludlow (1927-1931)  Silent Noon (1921) Tryste Noel (1927) The Brewer’s Man (1927) Two Seventeenth Century Poems: The Earl of Bristol’s farewell, Whenas I wake (1927-28) Slumber Song (published 1937) Fain would I change that note (published 1937) When the lad for longing sighs (1921) The Carpenter’s Son (1921-22) When I was one-and-twenty (1924) Soldier from the wars returning (1928) When summer’s end is nighing (?) Two Songs from A Shropshire Lad: ’Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town, Loveliest of trees, the cherry (1921-22)
Mark Stone (baritone) Simon Lepper (piano)
STONE RECORDS 5060192780123

I have had to wait a long time for this project to be realised. Certainly, I heard my first song by Charles Wilfred Orr some 40 years ago. It was a setting of A.E. Housman’s great poem, ‘When I was one-and-twenty.’ Over the years I have heard other songs included in recitals and featuring on records, tapes and CDs. With the publication of Jane Wilson’s excellent study of the composer, C.W. Orr – the unknown song-composer, the complete extent of the song-setting has become clear.  Conventional wisdom, up to that point, suggested that Orr had only chosen to set Housman’s poems. However, it soon became clear that although that poet did feature often in his song settings, there was a wide variety of other texts and poets. There are some 36 songs listed in the catalogue. Out of these there are some 22 settings of Housman. Other writers include Helen Waddell, Arthur Waley, D.G Rossetti, James Joyce and Robert Bridges.  Additionally, the catalogue listed three choral settings and two instrumental works – one the Cotswold Hill Tune for string orchestra and the Midsummer Dance for ‘cello and piano. More about that Dance and the choral pieces below.

It is not really necessary to give a biography of the composer in this review. However one or two brief points may be of help to someone coming to these songs for the first time.  Charles Wilfred Leslie Orr was born in Cheltenham in 1893. He studied the piano privately. Unfortunately, the Great War interrupted his plans for a formal musical education.  After the war he entered the Guildhall School of Music and studied composition.  The second point of importance is his meeting with Fred. Delius, who was impressed with Orr’s music and acted as a mentor to him.  He also met Peter Warlock who helped get his first songs published. Most of Orr’s setting were written before the Second World War, a few were composed in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, however he was musically silent between the Midsummer Dance of 1957 and his death some nineteen years later. Orr lived in Painswick, in Gloucestershire with his wife from 1929 until his death in 1976.

In later years the composer was somewhat bitter at the lack of recognition he had received. In 1974 he wrote that ‘…I have always been more or less ignored by the BBC…so it is nothing new…to be regarded as not worth performing, but all the same it is a bit disheartening to be cold-shouldered in one’s own country…’

C.W. Orr’s musical style not unnaturally owes much to Delius. However, as a young man he had studied and enjoyed the songs of Hugo Wolf and Johannes Brahms: these influences are never far away. Yet, as one critic put it, Orr was ‘no slavish imitator of any man’s work.’ Each poem that he chose to set created a mood in the composer’s mind that allowed him to create a perfect partnership between words and music. There is a huge difference in style between the lyrical beauty of Rossetti’ ‘Silent Noon’ and the dramatic almost violent sound of Housman’s ‘The Carpenter’s Song’. 

The present CD, which is Volume 1 of a projected two-disc set, has 21 song tracks. So I wonder what the second volume is going to be filled up with. It may be that there are a number of other songs that have been discovered since Jane Wilson’s book as published.

The recital opens with what is probably Orr’s best known song-cycle Seven Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad.  These songs were composed between 1927 and 1931. ‘Along the Field’ is impressionistic in its effect. ‘When I watch the living meet’, is a meditation of someone looking forward to the calm of death. It is a brooding song. ‘The Lent Lily’ has a romantic ‘exuberant’ piano part. It is my favourite song of this group. The disturbing subject matter of fratricide is reflected in the powerful musical setting of ‘Farewell to barn and stack.’ The gentler, but equally troubling song ‘Oh fair enough are sky and plain’ is actually quite positive, bearing in mind the subject matter is suicide. ‘Hughley Steeple’, in spite of the fact the church had a tower and not a steeple, is a reflective number that matches the thoughts of the Shropshire Lad in the graveyard.  The final song of this cycle is the bouncy ‘When smoke stood up from Ludlow’: there is almost a folk-song feel to this song. All these poems have been set many times by English composers; however, Orr’s ‘takes’ are effective. I believe that these are some of the finest settings in the repertoire.

‘Tryst Noel’ is a thoughtful number that is really a little parody on a medieval carol. This is one of the darker songs in the present collection. The Two Seventeenth Century Poems are particularly memorable: these love songs are expressive and a little gloomy in their sentiment.  The Earl of Bristol’s Farewell is sad and reflective, with some interesting chromatic harmonies. ‘Wheneas I wake is a short song that again considers the emotion of absence. It builds to an impressive climax before a short piano postlude ends the song.

Orr’s first Housman setting was ‘When the lad for longing sighs.’ It was one of six songs, which the composer sent to Peter Warlock for his approval. This is a well-written song that fuses the poet’s words with the music. It is not surprising that Warlock was impressed with it.
‘When I was one and twenty’ is one of Housman’s less disturbing poems. In fact it is really quite amusing. This setting balances folksong in the first and art song in the second verse. This is one of the most effective settings of this poem in the repertoire.  

The CD concludes with Two Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad.’ These were composed in 1921/22 when the composer was on holiday in the south of France. However, images and recollections of the ‘Land of Lost Content’ were never far from his mind. These songs epitomise that connection between landscape and music that has proved so elusive to many composers but was achievable by Orr. The first song is ‘Tis time, I think by Wenlock Town’ which is a celebration of the arrival of spring. Orr makes use of a bell-like motif throughout the song. My favourite Housman lines are delightfully set – ‘Spring will not wait the loiterer’s time/Who keeps so long away’. Delius is never far away from this song with its delicious shifting harmonies.  
Many composers have set ‘Loveliest of Trees’, including Muriel Herbert, Graham Peel and Janet Hamilton. However, the  musical touchstone must be George Butterworth’s masterpiece. It is not appropriate to suggest that Orr’s setting is better or worse: it is another excellent addition to the repertoire. This song is contemplative, ideally fitting words to music and communicating the poet’s sense of the transience of life.

I am not sure what the point is of providing Orr’s Midsummer Dance for cello and piano with words from Housman’s Last Poems. I do not care if the result of ‘When summer’s end is nighing’ is effective or not: it is just that it seems odd. I would much rather they had recorded the original piece, even though it would if been outside the remit of this CD.  The Dance was written in 1957 and was dedicated to the cellist Penelope Lynex, the daughter of the composer’s friend Richard Lynex.  All things said, I think this setting is awful: it just does not work. I believe that it does no justice to Orr’s genius.

Neither am I convinced by the inclusion of the three songs that are usually classified as choral music: ‘The Brewer’s Man’, ‘Slumber Song’ and ‘Fain would I change that note’.  It could well be that Orr produced versions for baritone and piano, however they are not included in the catalogue of his music provided in Jane Wilson’s biography of the composer.  ‘The Brewer’s Man’ was a big gutsy song written for the baritone John Goss. However the original version included a two-part choir.  It is a setting of a poem by the Plymouth born poet Leonard Alfred George Strong.  The second choral piece is ‘Slumber Song’ to a text by Noel Lindsay.  This time the work was written for choir and piano.  It is a lovely reflective tune, that complements the dreamy words and imagery of moon, millwheel and dreams of yesteryear. Finally, ‘Fain would I change the note’, was originally conceived for three-part choir and piano. This a powerful four-square tune that fits surpisingly well with the thought that ‘Love is the perfect sum/ Of all delight.’

I enjoyed this CD –with the caveats noted above. It was good to hear a number of songs by C.W. Orr that I have never heard before. Mark Stone, baritone and Simon Lepper, pianist perform all these songs with feeling and enthusiasm. They have a deep sympathy for the composer’s style and the texts, which he has set.  
The liner notes are excellent and include the first part of an essay about the composer which explains ‘the creation of a song-writer.’ It is essential reading for all listeners to this CD, and I suggest that it is read before putting the CD into the player. Each song has a short programme note and includes the text.
This CD will appeal to all lovers of English Song. It is an important release that will encourage more performances and further study of these beautiful songs. 
 With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published



Saturday, 5 May 2012

William Sterndale Bennett: a portrait by George Alexander Macfarren


Born in Sheffield, April 13, 1810, where his father, Robert Bennett, was organist. He is conspicuous in the musical history of the present period, as having, by his unswerving fidelity to the loftiest principles of his art, and still more by his natural and highly refined ability to embody these in his works, been effectively instrumental in raising the standard of music in this country, and in gaining consideration for the earnest pretensions of English music abroad. We may suppose that the occupation of his father tended to the immediate development of his organization; but, becoming an orphan at three years old, he derived nothing from his parent's musical pursuits, save the inestimable advantage of this early impression. At his father's death, he was removed to the care of his grandfather at Cambridge, where in 1824 he entered the choir of King's College Chapel. Already he gave proof of an uncommon aptitude for music; so strong, that two years afterwards he was taken from this institution to be placed in the Royal Academy of Music in London. Passing through the classes of Mr Lucas and Dr. Crotch for composition, and of Mr W. H. Holmes for the pianoforte, he became the pupil of Mr Potter in both these departments, whose entire merit it is to have fully developed the remarkable talent they had prepared for his care,—fully developed, because it was while yet under his direction, that Bennett produced some of the works which most honour his name, no less admirable for maturity of style than freshness of invention; and while yet under his direction, he attained the excellence as a pianist which won him the esteem he still maintains. Among his academical productions which have not appeared in print, an overture to the Tempest and two symphonies must be named as possessing great interest. Prior even to these he wrote his Concerto in D minor, in 1832, the rare merit of which attracted general attention to the young composer. He played it at the prize concert of the academy at midsummer, 1833, when Mendelssohn was present, who, quick to appreciate the indications in the music and its performance of approaching excellence, gave Bennett such warm encouragement as true genius only can extend.
The academy committee paid the cost of publishing this first concerto for the author's advantage, and thus conferred an equal benefit on their institution in the credit the scholar reflected on the school. The Concerto in E flat, a production of the ensuing autumn, shows no longer the immediate effect upon the composer's mind of the classic masterpieces which, with him as with every genuine artist, were the seeds of his originality ; but the decided style manifest in this work shows the now indirect influence of the great models, from a perfect knowledge of which alone can result a mastery of the principles of construction which have been unfolded through successive generations, and a freedom in the employment of resources, which, being accumulated from all, are common to all that have the power to appropriate them.
His overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor, still unpublished, is a work of charming freshness,  which preceded the composition in 1834 of that to Parisina ; the depth of feeling, the flow of ideas, and their skilful arrangement that distinguished this last named, associate it with the highest productions of its class.
The Concerto in C minor, another fruit of this fertile year, has all the characteristics of classicality; the stately breadth of the first movement, the dreamy mystery of the andante, and the fire of the finale, are throughout entirely individual to the author; but the merit of the whole is common to this and to the best extant works of its kind. At one of the early concerts of the then promising society of British musicians in this same year, Bennett played his second concerto, and he thus gained such general acknowledgment, that the Philharmonic directors engaged him to repeat the performance at the first concert of their following season, when his success was most triumphant. The next year was occupied with productions of less importance, though, perhaps, of more extensive popularity; but in 1836 an unprinted concerto in F minor, and the fanciful and graceful overture, The Naiades (the work of his which is most played in public), brought him again before the highest musical tribunals. It was now at the suggestion of Mr Attwood that the munificent firm of Broadwood, who  have done more for the advancement of music through the encouragement of musicians in this country, than any other individual or institution has effected, offered to defray Bennett's expenses for a year's residence in Leipzig, where, by constant intercourse with Mendelssohn, by constant opportunity of enlarging his experience, and by constant occasion for exercising his powers, he might improve himself and extend his reputation. He accordingly quitted the academy of which he was still an inmate, and went to establish his and his country's character in the city which then, from a combination of circumstances, possessed more advantages for a musician than at this time any place in the world affords.
Returning in the autumn of 1837, he left a name of which, perhaps, the highest acknowledgment is the attempt on the part of some shallow critics to traduce it. Repeated successes as a pianist, and the production of some of his best chamber works, fill up his history till 1840. He then wrote another concerto in F minor (that which is published), and so created such a rival to its predecessor in C minor, as few writers could have produced. He now spent another twelvemonth in Leipzig, confirming the impression of his former visit. Here he wrote his Caprice in E for pianoforte and orchestra, and his overture The Wood Nymphs which fully sustain the high character of his best productions.
In 1843 be gave his first series of chamber concerts, which were continued annually till 1856, and brought his merit as a player periodically under public notice. In 1844, he competed for the musical professorship in the University of Edinburgh against several candidates, of whom Mr Hugh Pierson  was elected. In 1849, Bennett founded the Bach Society, for the study and performance of the music of the master after whom it is named, and is still the chairman and conductor of this institution. Nothing that may be cited within the present limits marks the career of this musician until 1856, when he was engaged as permanent conductor of the concerts of the Philharmonic Society. In this same year he was elected by an overwhelming majority to the musical chair in the University of Cambridge, to which locality his early associations, and his fulfilment of the highest hopes that can have been entertained of him, strongly endear him: subsequently to that, he was created doctor of music by this seminary of learning.
As an executant, Bennett is characterized by beautiful mechanism, exquisite grace, and that singing style, which is the strongest link of sympathy between a player and his audience. As a composer, it is fashionable with some to accuse him of imitating Mendelssohn, by which they prove their utter ignorance of his music. He has fancy, he has feeling, he has fire, and, most of all, he has a peculiar grace which distinguishes no less his phraseology than the turning of his ornamental passages, and all these are manifested in a manner as individual to himself, as is that of any artist possessing the traits which constitute a style. This individuality is as obvious in his ‘Fountain’, in his ‘Genevieve’, in his rondo ‘Piacevole’, in his song, ‘To Chloe in sickness’, as in any of his larger works; it consists, first, in his original train of thought ; second, in his command of resources, which enables him to mould his ideas at will. They who appreciate him the highest blame him the most, that during the last  fifteen years be has almost entirely ceased to compose ; and candour must admit the scanty productions of this long period want the merit, when they even have the pretensions, of those admirable earlier works, of which he and his country have just reason to be proud. The lesser interest of these later productions may, perhaps, be ascribed to his having lost the spontaneous vigour of youthful impulse, without replacing it with the fluency which results from habit and the intensity that is given by concentration; and his deficiency in both these is extenuatingly referred to his excessive occupation in teaching.
George Alexander Macfarren THE IMPERIAL DICTIONARY OF UNIVERSAL BIOGRAPHY: A SERIES OF ORIGINAL MEMOIRS [minor edits]

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Film Music of Arthur Benjamin and Leighton Lucas

Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Suite from The Conquest of Everest (1953) The Storm Clouds Cantata from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) Waltz and Hyde Park Galop from An Ideal Husband (1947) Leighton LUCAS (1903-1982)
Portrait of the Amethyst from Yangtse Incident (1957) Dedication from Portrait of Clare (1950) Prelude and Dam Blast from The Dam Busters (1954) Stage Fright Rhapsody from Stage Fright (1950) Suite from Ice Cold in Alex (1958) This Is York (1953) March-Prelude from Target for Tonight (1941) Abigail Sara (mezzo); Rob Court (organ)
Côr Caerdydd/Adrian Partington; Gwawr Owen
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba
Full Track-List at end of review

Virtually every music lover has heard Arthur Benjamin’s Jamaican Rumba in one of its many guises. Fewer, alas, will have engaged with his orchestral and chamber works. However recent releases from Dutton Epoch and Lyrita have brought to the attention of the public a number of important works which have redefined the composer as being much more than a ‘one hit wonder.’  However, a significant part of Benjamin’s music has been in the public domain for many years, although relatively few folk will have equated them together. Benjamin was an important and prolific film music composer.  Beginning in 1934 with the score for the production of The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon he composed the music for some twenty films.  These included Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man who knew too much (1934/1956) Alexander Korder’s An Ideal Husband (1947), Above us the Waves (1956) and A Tale of Two Cities (1959/60). Amongst the many scores Benjamin composed for ‘shorts’ and documentaries were Steps of the Ballet, This Modern Age and The Conquest of Everest. Some of these have become classics and others have disappeared into the archives and may be given occasional airings. Unfortunately, few of his film music scores have survived.
A detailed biography of the composer by Pamela Blevins can be found on MusicWeb International. Save to say Arthur Benjamin was born in Sydney Australia in 1903 and died in London in 1960.
The first tranche of music presented on this CD is the derived from the supremely optimistic score for The Conquest of Everest: this has been realised as a suite by Marcus A. Caratelli. The original documentary was made to celebrate the reaching of the summit in Coronation Year (1953) by Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay. The film considered the various attempts made over the years to conquer the mountain. The present Suite has touches of Vaughan Williams, William Walton and, as Rob Barnett has pointed out Korngold. It is really all ‘Boys Own’ stuff.  
The next Benjamin score is from the 1934 film The Man who knew too much starring Edna Best, Leslie Banks and Peter Lorre.  The story is about a man and his wife who received information about an assassination attempt on a VIP. However, they soon discover that their daughter has been kidnapped to keep them quiet. The present extract is the Storm Cantata which occurs at the climax of the film.  Rob Barnett has noted the influence of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast which was first heard three years previously. In the 1956 remake of the film, the composer Bernard Hermann retained this music in his own score.

The two short extracts from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (1947) conclude the exploration of Arthur Benjamin’s film music. The ‘Waltz’ is a lovely example of the genre that is more English than Viennese. The ‘Galop’ is pure fun: it is used as a kind of leitmotif whenever Hyde Park appears in the film. It is a fine romp. These two pieces were salvaged by the composer from the film score and were re-presented for the concert hall.

What is true for Arthur Benjamin’s reputation is even more pertinent to the almost totally forgotten Leighton Lucas. I first came to his music through the fine brass band piece Symphonic Suite for Brass Band, which in my opinion is a masterpiece. Other sporadic CD releases presented his Oboe Concerto and his ballet suite Ballet de la reine. Amongst his symphonic repertoire which remains to be discovered are the Sonatina concertante for saxophone and orchestra (1939) the Suite française (1940) and a Cello Concertino dating from 1956. However a brief look at the Internet Movie Database shows that he wrote the music for twenty one films. Many of them are ‘household names’ such as Stage Fright, Ice Cold in Alex, Target for Tonight and the Yangtse Incident. He also composed the music to a number of documentary films including the evocative This is York.
For the curious, Leighton Lucas was born in 1903 and came to prominence as a member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe (1918-21) and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre a couple of years later. His main occupation was conducting. After war service in the Royal Air Force he continued his career of composing and conducting alongside educational work with the BBC.  He died in London in 1982. A certain generation will recall, unwittingly perhaps, his title music for the radio series Just William.

The first score from Leighton Lucas on this disc is the The Yangstse Incident starring Richard Todd and William Hartnell. This is a true story about an incident in 1949 when a British warship, HMS Amethyst, came under fire from the Communist Chinese on the Yangtse River.  The Suite is in three parts – the gorgeous quiet ‘theme’ is followed by a hornpipe. The selection concludes with the Amethyst March which incorporates ‘Hearts of Oak’ and other naval references. A great film with excellent music.

The 1950 film Portrait of Clare has been lost in the mists of time, and from what reviewers said, it is probably just as well. Lucas took a number of nineteenth-century songs and piano pieces and orchestrated them. The present example is Robert Schumann’s ‘Widmung’ from the song-cycle Myrthen. It is a good transcription and one hopes that some of the other pieces may follow suit.
Everyone (I hope) knows that Eric Coates wrote the fine Dam Buster’s March. However, fewer folk will realise that Leighton Lucas actually produced the score for the film and incorporated Coates’ legendary tune into the proceedings.  Lucas also composed his own ‘big tune’ and this is often heard in competition with the more famous melody as the film progresses.
Stage Fright was a film produced by Alfred Hitchcock in 1950. It is a crime story about a struggling actress and her efforts to prove the innocence of a friend who has been accused of murdering a high society entertainer. It has a big cast list including Marlene Dietrich, Alastair Simms and Richard Todd. The music nearly, but not quite, becomes Leighton Lucas’ Warsaw Concerto. It is romantic, well written and finely scored. Just a pity he did not produce a Piano Concerto!
Ice Cold in Alex tells the tale of a group of military personnel who make a long and arduous journey across the desert during the Second World War. It stars Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms and John Mills. The title is derived from Mills’ character dreaming of an ice-cold beer on reaching the sea port of Alexandria.  The present suite begins with the Prelude, continues with the very romantically scored love scene between Mills and Syms: this is music that is more at home in the Hollywood than in the desert. The Suite concludes with a march in the very best tradition.
The music for the British Transport Film production of This is York is one of the best scores for this type of now-nostalgic documentary.  The film tells the story of a day in the life of York railway station, although there are scenes in the town and further afield. It is seen through the eyes of the station master.  This is at times an almost impressionistic score that also has a very good locomotive sound created by the orchestra that is as impressive as Honegger’s Pacific 231. According to the liner notes, this is the only full film score by Leighton Lucas to have surfaced so far.
The CD ends with the ‘March-Prelude’ from the 1941 film Target for Tonight. This film described the preparation for an air raid over Germany. Interestingly, each part in the documentary was played by the man or woman who actually did the job, although names were changed for security reasons.  This short piece combines a number of themes from the film with the excellent march tune. It definitely nods to Walton more than to Eric Coates. I guess it is just all bit too short to really get into, but is enjoyable all the same.

As with all the Chandos Film music series this is a superb achievement. When one bears in mind that most of the music presented here has been arranged, transcribed or written down from hearing the soundtracks one realises just how much work has gone into making this CD the success it is. All the music is beautifully played by the The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and their conductor Rumon Gamba. This selection of tunes is surely a good distillation of the full film scores. The sound quality is excellent. As always the sleeve notes are excellent – however, please Chandos do not use white text of pictures of grey backgrounds. It is very difficult to read.  However the large number of ‘stills’ from the films makes a fascinating commentary on the music.
One can only hope that this CD will encourage performers and record producers to further explore the music of Arthur Benjamin and Leighton Lucas.

Full Track-List


Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960)
premiere recording
Suite from 'The Conquest of Everest' (1953) 9:34
Reconstructed by Marcus A. Caratelli
Orchestrated by Marcus A. Caratelli and Christoph Schürmann
1 I Title Music - 1:50
2 II Walls that Surpass the Imagination - 0:46
3 III The Great Lift - 2:27
4 IV Top of the World and Final Bars 4:30
5 The Storm Clouds Cantata from 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1934) 7:44
Edited by Philip Lane
Abigail Sara mezzo-soprano
Rob Court organ
Côr Caerdydd
Adrian Partington guest chorus master
Gwawr Owen conductor
Waltz and Hyde Park Galop from 'An Ideal Husband' (1947) 7:11
6 I Waltz 5:30
7 II Hyde Park Galop 1:41
Leighton Lucas (1903-1982)
Portrait of the Amethyst from 'Yangtse Incident' (1957) 6:49
Reconstructed by Philip Lane
premiere recording
8 1 Theme - 1:12
Sarah-Jayne Porsmoguer cor anglais
premiere recording
9 2 Hornpipe 1:51
premiere recording in this version
10 3 The Amethyst March 3:45
premiere recording in this version
11 Dedication from 'Portrait of Clare' (1950) 3:38
Arrangement by Leighton Lucas of 'Widmung' from Myrthen, Op. 25 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
premiere recording in this version
12 Prelude and Dam Blast from 'The Dam Busters' (1954) 5:15
Reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane
13 Stage Fright Rhapsody from 'Stage Fright' (1950) 4:54
Reconstructed by Philip Lane
Catherine Roe-Williams piano
Suite from 'Ice Cold in Alex' (1958) 9:19
Reconstructed by Philip Lane
premiere recording
14 1 Prelude 2:08
premiere recording
15 2 Love Scene 4:21
premiere recording in this version
16 3 March 2:48
premiere recording
This Is York (1953) 9:26
Edited by Malcolm Riley
17 Opening Titles - 1:47
18 Setting the Path - Diagram Lights - 1:51
19 Thornton-le-Dale - 1:30
20 Smoking Engine - Pan across York - Committee Room - Portraits - Railway Museum 4:17
premiere recording in this version
21 March-Prelude from 'Target for Tonight' (1941) 3:04
Reconstructed by Philip Lane

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.