Saturday, 24 June 2017

Carey Blyton: Suite Cinque Port (1962)

There has only ever been one recording made of Carey Blyton’s (1932-2002) Suite: Cinque Port. It is a work that deserves to be well-known and should easily find a regular slot on Classic FM.
These historic towns are an association of Kentish and Sussex Channel ports dating back more than 1000 years. Originally, designed to give service to the English (as it was then) Crown, it gained several privileges. Nowadays, the raison d’etre is more to promote the ‘public awareness of the proud history and seafaring traditions of communities which played a key role in the early development of Great Britain as a naval and economic superpower.’ Over the years, the Warden of the Cinque Ports has been appointed by the Crown. Perhaps the most famous in recent years has been Winston Churchill (1941-65) and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1978-2002). The present warden is Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Boyce KG GCB OBE DL who was appointed in 2004. His official residence is Walmer Castle, near Deal.  The five Cinque Ports are Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich.

The present Suite has been described as ‘music for an opera’ which was never completed, however, these five miniature tone poems are a splendid evocation of an ancient British tradition Each movement of this work is set in one of the harbour towns which are not noted in the score.  The five short movements are 1. Prelude: Daybreak over the Harbour; 2. Song 1: Captain Bowsprit’s Blues; 3. Interlude: The Beach—Midwinter; 4. Song 2: The Sea-dog’s Song; 5. Postlude: Dusk over the Harbour.
'Cinque Port'.was composed some 60 years ago during the late 1950s. It was first performed on 31 January 1962 at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester by the Halle Orchestra conducted by Maurice Handford.

The work opens with some quiet, misty scoring, before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. Not quite as lively as Walton’s Portsmouth Point, but the muted brass give a certain spice to the scoring. The movement closes with a short march. ‘Captain Bowsprit’s Blues’ begins conventionally enough with a ‘nautical’ tune played on the piccolo, but after some hymn-like chords, soon develops into a lugubrious blues number, complete with piano. The third section, ‘The Beach-Midwinter’ is quietly impressionistic in its imagery. Gone are the holidaymakers and their paraphernalia: there are no Mr Punch or candyfloss. The mood is Britten-esque in its depiction of a cold, grey sea.  ‘The Sea-Dog’s Song’ is more conventional in its presentation of a shanty-like song. There are some lovely ‘wrong notes’ played by the flutes.  The ‘Postlude’ presents a thoughtful view of the sea as dusk begins to close in. One feels that the mood has more to do with the watcher rather than the seascape. The ‘cocktail’ piano maybe just hints at a warm hotel lounge awaiting their return. The orchestration is extremely subtle, with light, shadow, waves and breeze all being imagined.

A review (14 February 1962) appearing in the Kentish Times suggested that the Suite “…contains self-assured music’ however it was felt (and I agree) that ‘… If there is a fault, it lies in the brevity of some sections’ The reviewer was especially impressed by the ‘sensitive scoring of the Interlude… [in which] one realises Blyton can handle an orchestra and that his effects “come off”.  At the end of the concert the composer, ‘Mr Blyton took an enthusiastic call…’

The work was released on Dutton Epoch, CDLX 7283, played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland.  

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