Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Golden Age of Light Music- Melodies for the Starlight Hours

The proceedings get off to a great start with a smoochy, smoky little number by Robert Katscher – ‘When Day is Done’. I guess that this piece epitomises the selection of music on this disc. This Laurie Johnson arrangement emphasises it as a late-night piece. There is a particularly moody break for trumpets before the music closes with a violin solo.
Many of the numbers derive from various ‘shows’ or ‘films’. There is a fine arrangement of ‘I could have danced all night’ from My Fair Lady. The beautiful ‘I’ve told every Star’ comes from the Hammerstein/Kern musical Music in the Air which was premiered in Broadway in 1932.  The Bob Hope and Bing Crosby knockabout comedy The Road to Morocco has given the world the romantic ‘Moonlight becomes you’.  The classic Kurt Weill number ‘Speak Low’ comes from the largely forgotten ‘One Touch of Venus’, whilst ‘During One Night’ is the eponymous title from the 1961 film staring Susan Hampshire and Don Borisenko with a musical score by Bill McGuffie. I am not sure that the harmonica quite supports the mood of Starlight!

I am always pleased to find a number of ‘classic’ British (Commonweath) light music composers represented in these Guild CDs. This disc is no exception.  Steve Race’s ‘In Paris, In Love’ opens with a vamp that could be an introduction to an Adam Faith song! Later, the Parisian mood takes over this well-constructed little tone-poem. A little closer to home Robert Farnon has painted a picture of a ‘typical ‘Home Counties’ evening with his thoughtful ‘How Beautiful is the Night.’ Equally ‘English’ in its mood is Cecil Milner’s ‘Melody for Lovers.’ This composer, who lived in Wimbledon for much of his life, deserves to be better known.  Angela Morley can always be relied upon to deliver an effective and romantic piece of mood music and ‘A Tender Mood’ is quietly restrained and probably reflects lost love rather than an evening of romance.  More positive is Peter Yorke’s ‘Cocktails by Candlelight’. This hints at the magic of two lovers sipping Snowball’s or Cosmopolitans in the Dorchester or Claridges.

Our American allies are well represented here too. ‘Manhattan in Satin’ by Willis Schaefer is evocative of the lamented Rainbow Room in the Rockefeller Center – an elegant lady sitting by the picture windows with all the lights of Manhattan behind her.  Cole Porter’s standard ‘Mind if I make love to you’ is near perfect, whilst up the road Harry Revel has painted a picture  of an evening ‘Underneath a Harlem Moon’ which is a little edgier with a few blue notes, muted trumpets, big band-style breaks and a good part for clarinet. Further south ‘Moon over Miami’ by Edgar Leslie and Joe Burke is Mancini-like with its use of sweeping strings. Over in the Caribbean, David Rose has scored a hit with his ‘Night in Trinidad’. This has the trappings of calypso worked over by a London-born, but Chicago-raised composer. There is a Latin mood in ‘Midnight Tango’ by Hiller, Hiller and Newman: this is the most lively and least starry piece on this CD. I am not sure what the balalaika is doing in the Argentine though?
Balalaikas and accordions inform Hubert Giraud’s attractive ‘Sweet Surrender Waltz’ – something between a music box and a Paris café scene. ‘Orchid’s in the Moonlight’ by Vincent Youmans has a sinister beat, yet the romantic strings play down any suggestion of ‘things of the night.’ Other tunes include the wistful ‘Thinking of You’ by Harry Ruby that makes such effective use of sweeping strings. ‘Take my Lips’ by Teo Usuelli is an upbeat little tune whilst ‘Stranger in Town’ by Malcolm Lockyer reflects on the dichotomy of its title – lonely but full of possibilities. Adolph Deutch’s ‘Lonely Room’ is not quite as sad as the title would imply. ‘Love me if you wish’ penned by Vittorio Mascheroni’s is quite simply beautiful and contains a luxurious trumpet solo.
The final number has gained a double entendre – ‘After Hours Joint’ by J. George Johnson. But perhaps to the innocent all things etc… For me this piece epitomises my idealised view of a nineteen-fifties night club down some half-lit, back street in Fitzrovia. Drum and bass gently supporting strings and piano give just the right atmosphere for a late night hang-out. It is a good place to conclude this exploration of music inspired by the ‘Starlight Hours’.

There is only one issue I have with this CD: I do wish that Guild would provide all the composers’ dates. It is important that the listener is able to ‘contextualise’ these pieces, even although they are ‘only’ light music. I do not expect the dates of composition to be given as I imagine that in many cases this will be well-nigh impossible.
As always with the Guild Light Music series the recording is superb: all the pieces have scrubbed up well.
I enjoyed this relaxed selection of music designed to be heard during the ‘starlight hours.’ It is to be hoped that many more ‘chilled’ tunes are available and will duly be presented in this hugely impressive series of recordings.
Guild Light Music GLCD5196
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

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