Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Bryan Kelly: Cuban Suite (c.1956)

The first piece of music by Bryan Kelly (b.1934) that I heard was his ‘Exultate’ which was published in the Oxford Book of Modern Organ Music, Volume 1. It was played as a recessional during a service in a Glasgow church. Since that time, I have come across a few bits and pieces, including anthems, carols and liturgical music. YouTube has uploaded the composer’s Symphony No. 1 (1983), however this is not a particularly good recording, sound-wise. Suffice to say that from what one hears, this work deserves a full professional recording.

The piece by Kelly that I know best is his delightful Cuban Suite. The composer noted that he ‘…wrote the Cuban Suite while still a student. It remained un-played for three years but was eventually taken up by the BBC and has become, since its first performance, a popular repertoire piece.’
The work was released on a splendid LP recorded by the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra issued in 1970. The orchestra was conducted by Eric Pinkett. Other works on this album included Arthur Bliss’s Introduction and Allegro, Andre Previn’s Overture to a Comedy, John Ireland’s ‘Elegy’ from a Downland Suite, Herbert Chappell’s Overture-Panache and Michael Tippett’s ‘Interlude’ and ‘Non nobis Domine’ from A Shires Suite. I do not believe that any other recording of this Suite has been made.

The sleeve notes of the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra includes the composer’ analytical description of the Suite: ‘The four movements in dance-like character, are unashamed attempts to write popular light music with immediate appeal. The first movement [Siesta] is slow and lazy, the second a 6/8 scherzo, the third a nostalgic tango, and the finale a rumba in which two themes are eventually combined with the theme from the opening of the Suite. After the first performance I was asked by the conductor if I had written the Cuban Suite before or after the Castro revolution. I leave the listener to guess my answer!’
There is little information available to date the Cuban Suite, however I understand that it was composed before 1960, therefore before Fidel Castro’s revolution.  I guess probably sometime after 1956.
T..H writing in The Gramophone (April 1971) suggests that this work is ‘uncommonly gifted for a student work, even if it is, as he writes, an unashamed attempt to write popular light music with immediate appeal…’ He concludes his comment by suggesting that the School Orchestra ‘…enjoyed playing the…tango…as relaxation from the demands of Bliss.’
The German newspaper Westfalische Nachrichten (16 September 1970) reviewing a concert performance of this work in that country considered that ‘Bryan Kelly's much - broadcast Cuban Suite brought it to a sunny and tuneful close’ and that ‘its pithy brevity and marked character made great demands on the musicianship of the orchestra.’

Bryan Kelly’s Cuban Suite, played by the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra is available on YouTube. It includes a brief introduction. 

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