The Golden Age of Light Music: Melody Mixture
Guild Light Music GLCD5197
The liner notes immediately make clear the terms of reference for this latest CD from the Guild Golden Age of Light Music series: it states that ‘this collection does not have a special theme or concept.’ It is quite simply an attempt to collect a ‘varied mixture’ of pieces featuring a diverse range of light music composers. Interestingly, David Ades states that most of these numbers had been considered for previous releases, but never quite found their way onto any discs. However, he is quite clear that this was usually because the programmes were already ‘full’ rather than any lack of interest in this music.
Certainly the quality of this disc is immediately apparent from the first few bars of the opening number ‘Cab Rank’ by the Dutch composer Dolf van der Linden. It is a classic example of light music describing a cityscape – in this case, rows of taxis somewhere in the West End. The music comes complete with car horns. Henry Mancini is an all time favourite of light music aficionados – best known for ‘Moon River’; however, the theme tune to the TV series Mr. Lucky hits all the right notes with its moody, romantic sound. Little need be said about Duke Ellington’s lugubrious ‘Caravan’ save that is a piece that nods towards Delius (in spite of the rather Eastern sound)
It is good to hear that great harmonica player Tommy Reilly in a fine performance of the ‘Down Under’ theme from the film The Sundowners. I have always felt that this instrument is undervalued (RVW and Arnold are exceptions) in the palette of composers’ instrumental colour. David Rose, forever associated with ‘The Stripper,’ presents the delicious ‘Gloria’s Theme’ from the Liz Taylor movie Butterfield B. The score was by Kaper and David. Kurt Weill is one of the great ‘crossover’ composers – writing ‘showtime’ music as well as symphonies and operas. The ‘Bilbao Song’ is one of his most delightful numbers which was part of the musical comedy Happy End (1929) co-written with Bertolt Brecht.
The action moves back to Britain with the next couple of numbers. London-born Trevor Duncan presents a quirky little piece call ‘Tongue in Cheek’, which seems all wrong but is actually all right! Peter Hope, who is still very active writing music is represented with one of his earlier pieces called ‘Spring Collection’. To me this evocative piece suggests a wide variety of images but is it spring in the countryside? Or perhaps a mannequin parade with the ‘new year’s’ fashion? Who knows, but it is a perfect piece of ‘light music.’ It was originally written as ‘library music’ for use in newsreels or documentaries.
I am not sure what part of the world Lester B. Hart comes from, but his ‘Scurry for Strings’ epitomises the genre: I loved every bar of this. Murray Newman’s ‘Spinette’ is a little bit of ‘fairy tale’ music that sounds like a music-box on holiday! I understand the title is the plural of ‘spinet’! The ‘Cool Caballero’ by Bernie Wayne is fun - definitely a Spanish knight having a night on the town. Ron Goodwin is well known as a composer of film music – especially Where Eagles Dare and 266 Squadron. However, his little tune ‘Pleasure Island’ has a calypso beat. It is certainly not the Isle of Wight he is evoking.
Fred Hartley was a Scottish-born conductor, pianist, and composer. His masterpiece is the waltz ‘Rouge et Noir’. Apparently, he occasionally wrote music under the pseudonym Iris Taylor. ‘Alma Mia’ is not the greatest piece on this CD, but it is nice to have this piece recorded. ‘Alma Mia’, by the way means ‘My Soul.’
I always associate Laurie Johnson with The Avengers – the debonair Mr. Steed and the gorgeous Mrs Peel. However, from the nineteen-sixties Johnson has been a major contributor to TV and film music. The present piece, ‘I aim at the Stars’ is a romantic little number – however I am not sure if the ‘sound effect’ is a rocket taking off or a hoover starting up!
Wally Stott who metamorphosed into Angela Morley has contributed a jaunty piece called ‘Dear Old Pals’. Classic light music sound is the order of the day in Cyril Waters ‘Leaps and Bounds’. The mood changes slightly with Juan Rosa’s ‘Tango of the Flowers.’ We are back in a familiar part of London with Wilfred Burns’ offering, ‘Peacock in Piccadilly’. I think is more about vanity than the bird – perhaps it is an English take on Frederic Curzon's ‘Boulevardier’?
Harold Geller takes us for a spun down the Autobahns with his fast moving ‘Continental Highways’. Horsepower is the order of the day (complete with ‘neighs’) in Tom Wyler’s ‘Galop on String’s. Morton Gould’s ‘Guaracha’ is the third movement of his Latin-American Symphonette (1922). This present tune is based on a Cuban Dance and is a finely-gauged piece that balances interest with subtlety. Gould is a composer who is at home in a wide variety of classical and popular musical genres. He has even incorporated ‘rap’ into one of his compositions!
Peter Yorke’s ‘Brandy Snaps’ on the other hand is fairly and squarely in the British light music tradition, bouncy, romantic and a little wistful. ‘Chicken Noodle’ by Peter Dennis’s is a ‘novelty’ song –nothing too profound, however, there is some lovely string writing.
Back on the continent with Roger Roger and his ‘Route Nationale’. This is scampering music with a lovely romantic counter melody. Certainly, it suggests motoring down to Cannes in the immaculate open-top 1950 Citroën Roadster (or is it a battered two-tone 2CV?) The final number is the dramatic ‘On Stage’ by Billy Mack who was the Musical Director of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea. This piece has all the excitement of a night at the London Palladium.
Altogether, another excellent CD from Guild. The liner notes by David Ades are comprehensive and give much information about the composers and orchestras that is not readily available. As always, the restoration of these tunes by Alan Bunting is the best.
When I read the introduction to this CD, I was a little concerned that we may have been scraping the bottom of the barrel. How wrong, wrong, wrong, could I have been!
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.