Friday, 3 February 2017

Richard Addinsell: Festival for piano and orchestra

Richard Addinsell (1904-77) is unfortunately regarded as a ‘one work’ composer. The well-known Warsaw Concerto has been popular ever since featuring in the war-time film Dangerous Moonlight. The story is often told of how he pored over the scores of Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Piano Concertos as well as the well-known example by Tchaikovsky, before devising this masterpiece of pastiche. The final score was orchestrated by Vaughan Williams’ one-time amanuensis Roy Douglas.
The light music enthusiast will know of several other film scores with equally good, if slightly less overblown music. I think of Blithe Spirit starring the gorgeous Kay Hammond and Rex Harrison. Then there is Good Bye Mr Chips, the politically driven Love on the Dole and Tale of Two Cities. One of his finest pieces is the ‘March’ from the movie I was Monty’s Double which is as good as similar examples by William Walton and Ron Goodwin.
Less popular, are Richard Addinsell’s other contributions to the piano/orchestra repertoire – The Smokey Mountain Concerto and the sparkling Festival.
The history of Festival is given in booklet for the Marco Polo recording the work by Philip Martin and the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Alwyn (8.223732).  In 1940 the Welsh dramatist Emlyn Williams (1905-87) requested the composer to write a song and some incidental music for his play The Light of Heart. It is assumed that Addinsell did not fulfil the commission. A few years later Williams asked for some more music, this time for a play called Trespass, about ‘a…Cardiff draper with dubious spiritualistic powers.’ 
This time the music appears to have been written sometime later the composer extracted two numbers from it: Harmony for False Lovers and Festival.  The former piece can be heard on YouTube: it is a dark, lugubrious piece that could have been scored for a ‘1960 French love film.' 
Festival on the other hand, is written as a lively and memorable ‘beguine’. This was a dance form popular in the 1930’s and originated in the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. It is a combination of Latin folk-dance and French ballroom dance. It is perhaps best remembered in Cole Porter’s superb ‘Begin the Beguine’ (1935). My favourite recording of this song was made by Julio Iglesias in 1981.
My one criticism of Richard Addinsell’s Festival is that it is too short: it lasts for little over five minutes. The listener is just getting into the Latin mood when this infectious tune comes to an end. It is a well-structured little number that balances the piano and orchestra with consummate skill. For the life of me, I cannot understand why it is not played regularly on Classic FM.
Festival can be heard on YouTube played by The Melachrino Strings conducted by George Melachrino. Interestingly, it was transcribed for two pianos/four hands by Percy Grainger in 1954. Seven years earlier Grainger had made a similar arrangement of the Warsaw Concerto


Paul Brownsey said...

And don't forget his magical music for The Greengage Summer.

John France said...

Love that work too!!