I have always had a soft spot for the antics of Mr Punch and his ‘friends’ since first seeing a performance of this classic seaside entertainment at the great Lancashire seaside of Fleetwood in 1969. (In fact, walking along the seafront there the other day, I noticed that he is still going strong-on Fridays during the summer). It is fortunate that the ‘plot’ of this burlesque has not been watered-down by the politically correct elite. Punchinello was an earlier incarnation of Punch: it appears that he was a clown from Italian puppet show. I wrote two years ago about a piece with the same title by a certain John Cottam Holliday. So it is nice to discover this equally good example by the once popular light music composer Frederic Curzon.
Frederic Curzon is now best recalled for his attractive, if slightly melancholic, piece The Dance of the Ostracised Imp. Cognoscenti of the genre will also enjoy his Iberian suite In Malaga as well as the more solidly British themes Robin Hood Suite in three movements.
The Miniature Overture: Punchinello was composed around 1948 and was dedicated to the Welsh-born conductor Rae Jenkins (1903-1985). Jenkins had performed many of Curzon’s short pieces on the Radio during the 1940s and 50s and led to the composer becoming (for a space) a household name.
It is hardly surprising that there is little critical commentary on this present piece, but it deserves listening to carefully. Curzon’s description of some of Punchinello’s adventures are neatly presented. Like so much of his music the orchestration is second to none.
It opens with a few sharp chords before a scurrying string theme begins the adventure. These chords to interrupt the proceedings every so often. The woodwind introduces another little tune that leads on from the scampering tune. After a little Coatesian ‘development’ the work concludes with a short sharp coda. There is no real contrasting tune to suggest a more romantic side to Punchinello’s nature. It is really just about mischief.
To my knowledge, there are three versions of this delightful work currently available in the Record Catalogues. As long ago as 1991, Marco Polo brought out a retrospective of Curzon’s music on 8.223425. This presented most of the composer’s pot-boiler’s including the titles mentioned above. There is the February 1962 recording made by George Weldon with the Pro Arte Orchestra on the EMI sampler of light music 0887962. The final version is part of Guild’s The Golden Age of Light Music –Great British Composers Volume 2 GUILD GLCD 5203. No recording has reached YouTube yet.