One of the most delightful pieces on the first volume of the long-running series The Golden Age of Light Music is Robert Farnon’s arrangement of Chopin’s ‘Fantasie-Impromptu’. When I reviewed this CD in 2004 for MusicWeb International, I considered that I preferred the original piano version of 1835. However, hearing the work recently I have come to accept that Farnon’s magical touch on this popular work is a refreshing change.
For the record, the original by Chopin, was given the full title Fantasie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, op.66 and was first published after the composer’s death, against his wishes. It has been pointed out that the work bears a strong resemblance to the Impromptu, op.89 by the Bohemian composer Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) which had been published in 1834. It was around the time that Chopin was composing his piece. Critics have suggested that Chopin was never completely satisfied with his work – it possibly lacked ‘a degree of distinction and perfection of detail which alone satisfied his fastidious taste.’ This said, it has remained one of the composer’s most popular works with the Arkiv catalogue currently listing some 193 versions of this piece. The big tune in the middle part of the work has had the words ‘I’m always chasing rainbows’ set to it.
Farnon’s arrangement features a part for obligato flute and clarinet, played by Arthur Gleghorn and Reginald Kell respectively. The work is performed by the Kingsway Orchestra, conducted by ‘Camerata’. This was a session orchestra founded around 1945 by Salvatore Tutti ‘Toots’ Camarata, (1913-2005).
The piece is considerably shorter than the Polish master originally penned it: it had to fit on one side of a 78rpm record. However, Farnon has created a magical sound for the ‘elegance and charm’ of the opening and closing sections, with a busy flute played out against a well scored romantically charged accompaniment. The ‘saccharine’ trio section is well played by flute and harp, with the clarinet making an ideal partnership.
It was originally released on Decca F8885 in 1948. I have been unable to find out what was presented on the other side of the record.
Robert Farnon/Frederic Chopin: Fantasie-Impromptu is available on Guild GLCD 5101. The piece has not been uploaded to YouTube.