Thursday, 15 June 2017

Hubert Clifford (1904-1959): Cowes Suite

I was delighted to discover that one of my musical desideratum has been released (June 2017) on Dutton Epoch. I had known about Hubert Clifford’s Cowes Suite for a wee while, but had never managed to hear any of it. The work was premiered at the BBC Light Music Festival in 1958, an event sponsored by the BBC and London County Council. There were a series of Saturday concerts beginning on 31 May of that year and continuing at weekly intervals until 5 July.

The list of ‘novelties’ (or first performances) will interest enthusiasts of British light (and not so light) music. There were eight commissioned pieces:
John Addison: Conversation Piece for piano and orchestra
Geoffrey Bush: Concerto for Light Orchestra
Hubert Clifford: Cowes Suite
Iain Hamilton: Concerto for Jazz Trumpet and orchestra
Alun Hoddinott: Four Welsh Dances
Spike Hughes: The Nonsensical Tailor, a scherzo
Phyllis Tate: London Fields, a Suite
Dennis Wright: Casino Carnival.
Of these novelties, five are now currently available on CD – Bush, Hamilton, Hoddinott, Tate and now, the Clifford.

The new Hubert Clifford disc (Dutton Epoch, CDLX 7338) has several pieces by the composer. They are all premiere recordings except for the Cowes Suite. (I was unable to locate details of the earlier recording).  The other works feature: Dargo: A Mountain Rhapsody (1929); An Irish Comedy Overture (1930); A Pageant of Youth (1926); Left of the Line (1944); Victorian Polka (c.1939); Hunted: Suite from the film and Voyage at Dusk: Fantasy for orchestra (1928). Ronald Corp conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Lewis Foreman, in the CD liner notes, suggests that the Cowes Suite was ‘possibly’ the last orchestral work written by the composer: he died the following year. As noted above, the Suite was commissioned by the BBC and was duly premiered by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by the composer at the Royal Festival Hall. Hubert Clifford and his wife were at that time living on the Isle of Wight, and, as Foreman points out was a ‘friend and neighbour’ of the yachtsman and boat designer Uffa Fox (1898-1972).  The work is dedicated to him.

I feel that the Cowes Suite is a touch uneven between the movements, however this does not really detract from enjoyment. The first movement, ‘Cowes Roads’ is a little tone poem, that successfully conjures up images of holiday-making and boating holidays. It is easy to allow the mind’s eye to explore the huge expanse of the Solent, and see the yachts, the liners and the naval vessels. This can be a stormy sea, but the mood of the music suggests breeziness rather than gales.  The second movement evokes the life and times of Fox. Here the composer has used the clichés of light music, nautical tunes and nods to big-band jazz to present a picture of ‘The Buccaneer’ as he roamed the Seven Seas. Brass instruments are always to the fore. It is a perfect standalone movement.  ‘Carnival and Fireworks’ is less-flamboyant than the title would suggest. It is more of a jaunt through the lanes behind the town of Cowes. The final movement is an ‘Eric Coates-ian’ march which celebrates a Royal Visitor. I understand that The Duke of Edinburgh was a regular visitor to Cowes Week with his yacht Bluebottle
Interestingly, the reviewer in The Times (2 June 1958) suggests that this work was ‘ambitious’ and used ‘conventional gambits effectively.’ It perfectly sums up the delightful Cowes Suite. It has been well-worth waiting for. 

No comments: