Friday 30 November 2012

Even more Light music from Guild - Melody Mixture

The liner notes immediately make clear the terms of reference for this latest CD from the Guild Golden Age of Light Music series: it states that ‘this collection does not have a special theme or concept.’  It is quite simply an attempt to collect a ‘varied mixture’ of pieces featuring a diverse range of light music composers.  Interestingly, David Ades states that most of these numbers had been considered for previous releases, but never quite found their way onto any discs. However, he is quite clear that this was usually because the programmes were already ‘full’ rather than any lack of interest in this music.

Certainly the quality of this disc is immediately apparent from the first few bars of the opening number ‘Cab Rank’ by the Dutch composer Dolf van der Linden. It is a classic example of light music describing a cityscape – in this case, rows of taxis somewhere in the West End. The music comes complete with car horns.  Henry Mancini is an all time favourite of light music aficionados – best known for ‘Moon River’; however, the theme tune to the TV series Mr. Lucky hits all the right notes with its moody, romantic sound.  Little need be said about Duke Ellington’s lugubrious ‘Caravan’ save that is a piece that nods towards Delius (in spite of the rather Eastern sound)
It is good to hear that great harmonica player Tommy Reilly in a fine performance of the ‘Down Under’ theme from the film The Sundowners.  I have always felt that this instrument is undervalued (RVW and Arnold are exceptions) in the palette of composers’ instrumental colour.  David Rose, forever associated with ‘The Stripper,’ presents the delicious ‘Gloria’s Theme’ from the Liz Taylor movie Butterfield B. The score was by Kaper and David. Kurt Weill is one of the great ‘crossover’ composers – writing ‘showtime’ music as well as symphonies and operas. The ‘Bilbao Song’ is one of his most delightful numbers which was part of the musical comedy Happy End (1929) co-written with Bertolt Brecht.  
The action moves back to Britain with the next couple of numbers.  London-born Trevor Duncan presents a quirky little piece call ‘Tongue in Cheek’, which seems all wrong but is actually all right! Peter Hope, who is still very active writing music is represented with one of his earlier pieces called ‘Spring Collection’.  To me this evocative piece suggests a wide variety of images but is it spring in the countryside? Or perhaps a mannequin parade with the ‘new year’s’ fashion? Who knows, but it is a perfect piece of ‘light music.’ It was originally written as ‘library music’ for use in newsreels or documentaries.

I am not sure what part of the world Lester B. Hart comes from, but his ‘Scurry for Strings’ epitomises the genre: I loved every bar of this. Murray Newman’s ‘Spinette’ is a little bit of ‘fairy tale’ music that sounds like a music-box on holiday! I understand the title is the plural of ‘spinet’!  The ‘Cool Caballero’ by Bernie Wayne is fun - definitely a Spanish knight having a night on the town.  Ron Goodwin is well known as a composer of film music – especially Where Eagles Dare and 266 Squadron. However, his little tune ‘Pleasure Island’ has a calypso beat. It is certainly not the Isle of Wight he is evoking.
Fred Hartley was a Scottish-born conductor, pianist, and composer. His masterpiece is the waltz ‘Rouge et Noir’. Apparently, he occasionally wrote music under the pseudonym Iris Taylor. ‘Alma Mia’ is not the greatest piece on this CD, but it is nice to have this piece recorded. ‘Alma Mia’, by the way means ‘My Soul.’
I always associate Laurie Johnson with The Avengers – the debonair Mr. Steed and the gorgeous Mrs Peel. However, from the nineteen-sixties Johnson has been a major contributor to TV and film music. The present piece, ‘I aim at the Stars’ is a romantic little number – however I am not sure if the ‘sound effect’ is a rocket taking off or a hoover starting up!
Wally Stott who metamorphosed into Angela Morley has contributed a jaunty piece called ‘Dear Old Pals’.  Classic light music sound is the order of the day in Cyril Waters ‘Leaps and Bounds’.  The mood changes slightly with Juan Rosa’s ‘Tango of the Flowers.’   We are back in a familiar part of London with Wilfred Burns’ offering, ‘Peacock in Piccadilly’. I think is more about vanity than the bird – perhaps it is an English take on Frederic Curzon's ‘Boulevardier’?

Harold Geller takes us for a spun down the Autobahns with his fast moving ‘Continental Highways’.  Horsepower is the order of the day (complete with ‘neighs’) in Tom Wyler’s ‘Galop on String’s.  Morton Gould’s ‘Guaracha’ is the third movement of his Latin-American Symphonette (1922). This present tune is based on a Cuban Dance and is a finely-gauged piece that balances interest with subtlety. Gould is a composer who is at home in a wide variety of classical and popular musical genres. He has even incorporated ‘rap’ into one of his compositions! 
Peter Yorke’s ‘Brandy Snaps’ on the other hand is fairly and squarely in the British light music tradition, bouncy, romantic and a little wistful. ‘Chicken Noodle’ by Peter Dennis’s is a ‘novelty’ song –nothing too profound, however, there is some lovely string writing.
Back on the continent with Roger Roger and his ‘Route Nationale’. This is scampering music with a lovely romantic counter melody. Certainly, it suggests motoring down to Cannes in the immaculate open-top 1950 Citroën Roadster (or is it a battered two-tone 2CV?) The final number is the dramatic ‘On Stage’ by Billy Mack who was the Musical Director of the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea. This piece has all the excitement of a night at the London Palladium.

Altogether, another excellent CD from Guild. The liner notes by David Ades are comprehensive and give much information about the composers and orchestras that is not readily available. As always, the restoration of these tunes by Alan Bunting is the best. 
When I read the introduction to this CD, I was a little concerned that we may have been scraping the bottom of the barrel. How wrong, wrong, wrong, could I have been! 

The Golden Age of Light Music: Melody Mixture
Guild Light Music GLCD5197
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Sir Charles Halle: A Short Anecdote

I have recently been exploring the life, work and times of that great honorary Englishman, Sir Charles Hallé. There are so many books, articles and news report that refer to him, it is hard to know where to begin. However, in an old book entitled Manchester Old & New I found this delicious anecdote. It is worth sharing.  This anecdote does not appear to come from the Autobiography of Charles Hallé with correspondence and diaries.

“When first he came to England [Hallé] had letters of introduction to various people of  standing. ‘One of them,’ he has said, ‘afterwards a Minister of State, invited me to his house, and asked me to play something to his friends. Of course, I was anxious to do so, but I was startled when on leaving he asked me a few questions, amongst others in what style I played. It was difficult to understand what he meant, so he named another eminent pianist [1], and said, 'Do you play in his style?' and I honestly said 'No,' upon which he said, 'I am so glad, because he plays so loud that he prevents the ladies from talking'!" Of course ,all this is entirely past. People never talk nowadays the moment a pianist begins to play.
Manchester Old And New Volume III by William Arthur Shaw M.A. 

Saturday 24 November 2012

Richard Addinsell: The Black Rose

I guess that everyone knows the beautifully romantic (if over the top) score to the film Dangerous Moonlight.  This music is better known as the Warsaw Concerto. Richard Addinsell wrote this great piece ‘surrounded by the scores of Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Concertos and the ‘Paganini’ Variations.’ However I imagine fewer people will have come across the music to the film The Black Rose.  This 1950 film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, Cecile Aubry and Jack Hawkins and is loosely based on the book of the same title by Thomas B. Costain. The scene was set in thirteenth century Britain and the Far East.  It concerns the nobleman Walter of Gurnie (played by Power) who is involved in an unsuccessful uprising against the Normans. He is outlawed, so he decides to seek his fortune in the Far East. He travels with his friend Tristam (Jack Hawkins) and on his journey meets the Mongol warlord Bayan, played by Orson Welles. Predictably, Walter falls in love with the lovely Maryam (Cecile Aubrey) whilst both are ‘guests’ in Bayan’s prison.

I do not intend to give the remainder of the plot –save to say that love does not run smoothly. However, the film does have a satisfactory ending. This is more than can be said for the musical score. Philip Lane has noted that Addinsell should have been given the opportunity to compose an expansive, epic score. However, the music appears to be somewhat fragmented.  However, Lane has made a short suite of the score which is rewarding. 
The Chandos recording has three short sections: the main titles and opening scene, followed by; In the Empress’s Place and lastly The Black Rose Theme. After a short fanfare the music sweeps into a big, but not extravagant tune.  The second section is the more oriental sounding music from the Empress’s court and uses some interesting percussion effects. Lane points out that this music runs through much of the film’s screen time. Finally the ‘Black Rose’ theme concluded this suite. This section was issued as a very complex and decorated piano solo sheet music. However, this has been reduced to its original form. This is a very beautiful and heart-breaking melody.
Ian Lace writing in April 2003 on MusicWeb International was impressed with ‘the ... the delicate oriental figures of ‘In the Empress’s Palace’ ...the lovely sweepingly romantic Title Theme...’

Richard Addinsell’s The Black Rose was released on a retrospective of his film music on Chandos CHAN 10048 in 2003.
There are no YouTube postings for this music; however the Amazon site gives three little extract which will allow the listener to sample this music.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Shine and Shade: English 20th Century Recorder Music

I will hold my hand up straight away. The recorder is not one of my favourite instruments. I guess that this antipathy goes back to my primary-school days when I was struggling to play ‘Greensleeves’ on this instrument. I failed. The sounds generated were horrendous. I then took up the piano and had a considerably better (but by no means great) success. Furthermore I instinctively feel that most pieces written for the recorder could be played just as well (or even more effectively) on the flute or oboe. Having shrived my soul on that issue, I have to state that the present CD is excellent.  If I imagined that I love the sound of the recorder, I can believe that this is one of the best releases for that instrument I have heard. From the excellence of the playing through to the imaginative and rare repertoire it impresses me.  I am not sure, but I would fancy that most of these works are receiving their first recordings. However, bear in mind the disc was recorded in 1993 – so some of these tracks may have appeared elsewhere. I do not know.  

The programme opens with Norman Fulton’s beautiful Scottish Suite.  There are five movements to this work, most of which takes on a largely traditional dance-suite form – ‘Prelude’, ‘Air’, ‘Musette’, ‘Nocturne’ and ‘Reel;. The jaunty ‘Prelude’ gets the music going with swagger. The wistful ‘Air’ suggests some ‘lonely glen on a misty morning’. The ‘Musette’ is a little more ‘international’ in its mood: complex and technically difficult. The exception to dance movements is the ‘Nocturne’: this is the heart of the work. It is a deeply felt piece that moves away from any notion of ‘tartanry’ into an almost atonal mood.  The liner notes allude to the ‘solitary loneliness of the Scottish highlands and islands’: it is a perfect allusion. Conversely, the spirit of Burns and Scott is present in the final ‘Reel’ – this a rollicking piece that sits somewhere between sailors on ships and the ceilidh. Finally, more investigation needs to be done into the life and works of Norman Fulton. He appears to have been largely ignored by performers and writers.

I find Edmund Rubbra’s Meditazione Sopra Coeurs Désolés a little too dry and dusty. However, I imagine that many folk will enjoy this timeless tune with its nod to the fifteenth century. The piece is in the form of a set of well constructed variations. 

The principal work on this CD is the Sonata Op.121 by York Bowen.  It was composed in 1946 and was given its premiere two years later by Arnold Dolmetsch.  I guess that this work epitomises my view that most works for the recorder would be better for the flute. On the one hand, this highly charged work has a demanding romantic piano part. Against this is counterpointed the ‘old-world’ sound of the recorder. To me, it just does not quite work. However, there is no doubt that Bowen was a master of his craft and has written effectively for both instruments: it is their combination and interaction that concerns me. Yet this is clearly an important part of the recorder repertoire and undoubtedly earns it place in this recital.

Contrariwise, the Sonatina by Lennox Berkeley is a perfect balance between recorder and piano. This is a neo-classical (or is it neo-baroque?) work that has little in the way ‘romance’. The liner notes point out that Berkeley’s style owed little to the English pastoral tradition. This Sonatina makes use of angular melodies, acerbic harmonies and restless figurations for both recorder and piano.  This ‘Spartan’ effect is seen at its most depressing in the middle ‘adagio’  There is a little easing of the tension in the concluding ‘allegro moderato’ in fact, I detected a nod towards a hornpipe! Possibly the most satisfactory work on this disc, even if it is not immediately approachable or user-friendly. It is a miniature masterpiece.

Three Matisse Sketches by Edward Gregson is a response to three paintings by the French master –‘Pastoral’, ‘Luxe, Clame et Volupte’ and ‘The Dance’.  The sound world of these numbers could be described as impressionist rather than descriptive however, it is not necessary to see the paintings in order to enjoy the music. The stylistic balance is good with nods to Debussy. This is by far the most ‘modern’ piece on this CD.

Stephen Dodgson’s Shine and Shade (the title track) was written for the recorderist Richard Harvey in 1976. The mood of this piece (for some reason) reminded me of Beethoven’s ‘Happy-Sad’ bagatelle (WoO54).  However, Dodgson makes subtle use of a wide palette of musical devices, such as blues, jazz and ‘retro’ classicism. This lovely work combines reflection with humour. A long, complex work that is entertaining and moving.

It is nice to see a CD featuring the work of Donald Swann. More often than not, he is considered in the same breath as his writing partner Michael Flanders. They are recalled for their humorous songs such as ‘The Hippopotamus’, ‘The Gasman Cometh’ and ‘Have some Madeira, M’dear’. However, Swann always regarded himself as ‘striving for recognition’ as a classical composer. The present Rhapsody from Within was written for Arnold Dolmetsch and the harpsichordist Joseph Saxby to celebrate 50 years of their partnership. The liner notes omit to state that the work was given its first performance at the Wigmore Hall on 2 April 1982 by the dedicatees.
The present recording successfully uses the piano in lieu of the harpsichord. I agree with the anonymous reviewer in the Jun 1982 edition of Recorder & Music that this work is ideally suited to this scoring.
Rhapsody from Within is in three well-balanced movements – Part one: Molto movimento, Part two: Rhapsodico and Part three: Ritmoco. Do not try to unpack all the musical nods and winks. I guess that Francis Poulenc is the name that springs to mind as a possible stylistic model. However, Saint-Saens, Mendelssohn and Sullivan are never far away. Yet, this is not a pastiche or a parody: Donald Swann has composed a very attractive work that is well written, ideal for the present musical combination and has instant appeal. I think that this recording will ensure that it is firmly established in the recorder player’s repertoire: I believe is the only one currently available. This is my favourite work on this CD.

I noted my general lack of enthusiasm for the recorder at the start of this review. In spite of this fussy little prejudice of mine, I have to reinforce my contrary opinion that this is actually a stunning disc. The playing is first class –from both performers, the sound quality is excellent and the liner notes are extremely helpful, if not comprehensive. Composer dates would have been helpful. Additionally, I would have enjoyed reading Donald Swann’s own programme note for Rhapsody from Within (I may post it on my blog later). However, the most important aspect of this CD from Red Priest (too much Sandeman’s Port?) is the wide-ranging repertoire. It is an interesting and fundamentally well-balanced programme that makes an ideal recital. It was a pleasure and an honour to review this disc.

Track Listing:
Norman FULTON (1909-1980) Scottish Suite (1954) 
Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986) Meditation sopra Coeur’s Desoles 
York BOWEN (1884-1961) Sonata Op.121 
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Sonatina 
Edward GREGSON (b.1945) Three Matisse Impressions 
Stephen DODGSON (b.1924) Shine and Shade 
Donald SWANN (1923-1994) Rhapsody from Within
Piers Adams (recorder) Julian Rhodes (piano)
RED PRIEST CDs RP010 [69:47]
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry writing on Johannes Brahms

Hubert Parry (1848-1918) was not only a great composer; he was also an excellent musicologist. For example, his masterly book on Johann Sebastian Bach: the Story of the Development of a Great Personality (1909); still demands attention, in spite of its age. I was introduced to many composers in his once popular Studies of Great Composers (London, 1886/R) which I found for about 20p in a second hand bookshop. One of his smaller volumes was the Summary of the History and Development of Mediaeval and Modern European Music (London, Novello 1893, 2/1904).  I have chosen to post his paragraphs about Johannes Brahms. Brahms along with J.S. Bach was probably the two greatest influences on Hubert Parry.

It is important to recall the antipathy between the supporters of ‘programme’ music and ‘absolute’ music at this time.  Other factors of contention were the extent to which music could become more divorced from ‘classical’ key structures and move towards a highly coloured chromaticism and eventually atonality. Musical Structure also mattered a great deal. Did the symphony and sonata still have a place in musical endeavour, or was it the day of the tone-poem and the music-drama?  The two sides began to polarise during the 1850s with Brahms and Clara Schumann following in the footsteps of Mendelssohn. The opponents were based at Weimar and included Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Parry was influenced by all the composer’s ‘mentioned above although his orchestral and chamber works are largely ‘absolute in their ethos. However his Prometheus Unbound and the overture Guillem de Cabestanh (1878) certainly owe much to Wagner.

The one great representative of the highest forms of instrumental music still living [1] is Johannes Brahms, born in 1833 in Hamburg. He was introduced to Schumann by Joachim in 1853, and Schumann at once saw how great were his musical gifts and character, and wrote an enthusiastic article in the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik (in 1853), proclaiming him to the world as the man music was waiting for. However, the austerity and sternness of his musical character caused the public to be very slow in recognising him, though he had for constant champions such great exponents as Madame Schumann and Joachim. Brahms has no sympathy with the methods of the modern music-drama, or with the theories of composers who attempt to apply those methods to instrumental music. He is at once a musical intellectualist and a man of powerful and concentrated feeling. He seems to judge instinctively that self-dependent music is artistically intelligible only on grounds of design and development; and he applies all the artistic resources which the long period of musical development has made possible to the expounding of his musical ideas in lofty and noble symphonies, and in splendid examples of all kinds of chamber music, such as Pianoforte Quintets and Quartets, Trios, String Quintets and Quartets, and other combinations of solo instruments. It must be confessed that his powers are so great that he still finds how to do something new and individual in the old forms of the sonata order. He did not attempt Symphonies till comparatively late in life, No. 1 in C minor, being Op. 68, and the date of its appearance 1876, though it was actually written much earlier. The second, in D, followed in 1877, and a third and fourth in F and E minor have followed in recent years, [2] as well as two fine and very difficult Concertos for pianoforte, and one Violin Concerto, and one double Concerto for violin and cello, and two Overtures.
His treatment of the orchestra is austere but powerful; as though he disdained the subtle seductions of colour, and used only such grave and almost neutral tints as befitted the self-contained dignity of his ideas. He obviously eschews programme even in pianoforte pieces; but his numerous Capriccios, Intermezzos, Ballades, and Rhapsodies are as full of genuine impulse as the best works of the programme composers, and are often very original in design. He is also one of the few great masters of the Variations form which is one that only the very greatest composers have excelled in and has produced superb examples for orchestra as well as for pianoforte.
Summary of the History and Development of Mediaeval and Modern European Music (London, Novello 1893, 2/1904) [with minor edits]

[1] Johannes Brahms died on 3 April 1897 – so was still only 60 when Parry’s book was first published.
[2] Symphony No.3 composed and f/p1883; Symphony No.4 1884-5 and f/p 1885..

Thursday 15 November 2012

More Light Music from Guild - music While You Work IV

I seem to have missed the first three volumes of this collection of ‘Music While you Work’ (MWYW). However, I get the general idea. I used to sit and listen to the eponymous radio show on the Light Programme with my grandmother. 

This was 1966 and I guess this style of this music acted as a good counterweight to my usual diet of ‘pirate’ radio stations. Not quite as rebellious, but at least it gave me a lasting love of Eric Coates.   When I first began gainful employment with a ‘summer job’ in the 1970’s I worked for a short while in a factory as a labourer. I remember chatting to one of the staff, a lady in her fifties, who told me about the factory broadcasts ‘during the war.’  She had worked assembling radios for the army.
The programme was broadcast twice daily from June 1940 – which was just after Dunkirk and just before the Battle of Britain got underway. The series was to last until September 1967.  The original ethos of the programme was to include only popular or light music with the hope that the steady rhythms would encourage the factory workers to be more productive. The music was non-stop with no announcements. The show began and ended with Eric Coates ‘Calling all Workers.’
However, the project did not stop there: there was a spin off.  Decca ‘Music While you Work’ records first appeared in 1942 as 78rpm discs. The last ones were issued in January 1947.  This was part of a ‘hush-hush’ wartime project to produce music that could be played over the public address system in the factories. There were eventually some 400 discs in the catalogue.
Apparently, a wide variety of music was recorded including dance bands, jazz and various instrumental ensembles – however the present CD concentrates on what is generally considered to be ‘light music.’
The CD Liner notes point out the series was soon deleted and suffered from bad publicity. Apparently, the record buying public were largely unaware of what was available.  One interesting feature was the use of ‘full frequency range recording’ in the production of the records –this led to a much-improved sound quality.

The CD opens with a fine medley of ‘martial’ songs including such delights as ‘The Tin-Can Fusiliers’ and ‘When a Soldier is on Parade’. Harry Fryer and his Orchestra were stalwarts of the MWYW programmes and recordings. Included is the excellent ‘Rhythmic Paraphrase’ on Bizet’s Carmen.  This seems to have been a hit for Harry as there is also a one based on Charles Gounod’s Faust.  Ronnie Munro and his Waltz Orchestra  give sweeping accounts of some of Johann Strauss Jr’s best loved waltzes  including ‘Roses from the South,’ the delightful ‘Voices of Spring’ and the ‘Artists Life’. However, Munro does not restrict his interest to Strauss. The ‘Danube Waves’ are recalled in Iosif Ivanovici’s attractive waltz and Emile Waldteufel’s less well known ‘Les Sirenes’ is given an airing.  And I love his ‘um-pa-pa’ performance of Erensto Becucci’s ‘Tesoro Mio’ (My Treasure).

Two Eric Coates numbers are included here. Richard Crean and his Orchestra play ‘In a Country lane’ and ‘At the Dance’ from the Summer Days Suite. Both these numbers are perfect evocations of the ‘things we were fighting for’ – a Britain that existed, but for most people only in the imagination. They are beautifully played, however I hope I may be allowed to add here that I do like my Coates played by a full ‘symphony’ orchestra.  Another piece in the Crean listings is Gabriel Marie’s ‘La Cinquantaine’. The title means ‘The Fiftieth’ and possibly refers to a wedding anniversary. This tune, which was originally scored for cello and piano is ‘sweetly romantic and is signed to be played ‘in olden style.’  It is given all sentiment here.
Harry Davidson and his Orchestra are well represented on this CD.  Abe Holzmann’s ‘Old Faithful’ is one of those tunes that you seem to know, even if you cannot name it. Archibald Joyce’s ‘Vision of Salome’ is a restrained waltz: there is nothing here to inflame the passions. This is not Richard Strauss’ ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ – but something very prim and proper. It was not John the Baptist’s head on a plate here, but an Egg and Cucumber Sandwich. ‘Tick of the Clock’ by James Perry is a little novelty piece –with another of those tune that you have always known. Paul Linke is a name that often crops up in the world of light music. He was a German composer/conductor who is perhaps best remembered for his ‘Berliner Luft’ from his operetta Frau Luna, and ‘The Glow-Worm’ from Lysistrata. Harry Davidson plays his ‘Amina – Intermezzo’, which is wistful and gentle.  Abe Holzmann is represented again with his jaunty march ‘Yankee Girl’.
Harold Collins and his Orchestra play a rather eccentric little number by George Blackmore called ‘Knuckledust.’ Now I am not quite sure what to make of the title. What is Knuckledust? Let’s hope it has nothing to do with Knuckledusters! Archibald Joyce was known, as ‘The English Waltz King’ or ‘The English Waldteufel’ such was his popularity duding Edwardian times. Collins performs the well-known ‘hesitation’ waltz called ‘Dreaming’: it is actually more wistful than a reverie. 

David Java seems to be little-known in light music circles: his career is ‘poorly documented’ Apparently there are only four ‘sides’ recorded by him for the Decca MWYW series – two are presented here – ‘Love Dance’ which is an old-fashioned’ intermezzo from the vaudeville musical  Madame Sherry (1910) composed by a certain Karl Hoschna. The other is Jonny Heyken’s ‘Heyken’s Serenade No.2. I winder what happened to No.1?
Two loose ends are the offerings from Reginald Pursglove and his Orchestra and the London Coliseum Orchestra. The former is an attractive little dance number called 'Lonesome and Sorry' by Benny Davis and Con Conrad. The latter is a called ‘Waldmere’ and is a little foursquare in its working out but enjoyable all the same.

Once again, Guild has come up trumps with this fine new release. As always the sound quality if perfect. In fact, many of these recordings sound better than ones made later. This may well be to do with the ‘hush-hush’ ‘full frequency range recording’ mentioned above. The liner notes are extremely helpful and put all the music and the artists into context.
I noted above that there were 400 records in this series. Assuming two numbers on each disc, that is 800 tunes. There are 25 tracks on this CD. Four have been released in the MWYW series. Therefore, that leaves only another twenty- eight volumes to conclude the complete survey of the entire run of these Decca ‘Music While You Work’ records. Guild, keep them on coming! 

The Golden Age of Light Music : Light Music While You Work- Volume 4
Guild Light Music GLCD5198
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Monday 12 November 2012

Parry Choral Music on Chandos

When I showed this CD to a friend they responded by suggesting that it would be right up my street. Unfortunately, this comment was barbed. ‘My street’ in this case meant ‘over-blown’ ceremonial music of the kind that uncritically lauded Empire, glorified war and insisted that the ‘rich man [was] in his castle, The poor man at his gate’.  Now before the reader runs off with the idea that I am politically slightly to the right of Sir Oswald Mosley, I wish to make three comments. Firstly, Parry (and Elgar) was a man of his time so their choice of poems to set and ideas to compose about were different to someone living in the post-Colonial, ‘liberal’ and cosmopolitan society of the early part of the 21st century. Secondly, not all ‘ceremonial’ music is bad – for example, I have never been a fan of Elgar’s The Crown of India however, I do love Walton’s Coronation Marches. By definition, this style of music tends to celebrate the life and times of the Royal Family or matters of ‘state.’ However, it need not be ‘tub thumping’ or ‘jingoistic’ in its mood or ethos. Often it can be reflective and contain profound thoughts on mankind’s adventure. One need only consider the ‘Cortege’ by Cecil Coles – ideal for Remembrance Sunday yet full of the ‘horror of war’.
Thirdly, there is a tendency to present Parry as being something of a caricature of a ‘Tory’ squire who was into all the trappings of the feudal society. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not the place to analyse the composer’s political or moral views, however it is fair to say that he was liberal – possibly even a ‘radical.’ His religious views were typically agnostic in spite of the fact of Delius’ suggestion that if he lived long enough he would have set the entire Bible! H.R.H. Charles, Prince of Wales has noted in his introduction to the CD liner notes that Parry, in spite of his ‘hugely energetic personality’ revealed a ‘nervous, melancholy, even depressive temperament which infuses the inspiring and noble sentiment of much of his music with a darker, complex hue.’
The listener to this CD will be surprised. In spite of the cover photograph of a grand royal procession, much of this music is introverted and deeply moving. Some of it may have been written to celebrate national or royal events – but all of it has a thoughtful disposition. There is nothing here for the ‘jingoist’ expects possibly the Prom favourite ‘Jerusalem.’ However, this hymn setting has been accepted by people of all political persuasions and none as a great national treasure.

A good place to start this CD is the setting of John O’ Gaunt’s verse ‘England.’ This song has occasionally been mentioned in the same breath as the well-known ‘Jerusalem’ yet to my mind they could not be more different in their musical nature.
The story goes that after the success of the Blake setting, Gilbert Murray, the classicist and Ernest Walker, the composer, asked Parry to make a setting of John O’ Gaunt’s famous monologue from Act II of Shakespeare’s play Richard II. (This royal throne of Kings, this sceptred island)  However, there is nothing bombastic about this beautiful unison song – if anything it is undemonstrative and reflective, with a greater emphasis being on the sentiment of the final words ‘Grant, Lord, that England …May be renown’d through all recorded ages/ For Christian service and true Chivalry’.  Jeremy Dibble has noted that ‘England’ is about more than just flying the flag – ‘its rousing tune expresses a sense of vision, self-sacrifice and hope, typical of Parry’s own outlook.’

‘Jerusalem’ is given a largely thoughtful performance here.  This song, beloved by the vast majority of the nation, is usually heard in the ‘opulent’ Elgar orchestration. However, the original Parry song has slightly less grand aspirations. The composer suggested that the first verse ought to be sung by a soprano solo with the second sung by ‘all available voices.’  Formerly composed as a ‘choral song’ with only a piano accompaniment, Parry orchestrated it right at the end of his life for a Suffrage Demonstration Concert on 13 March 1918 at the Queen’s Hall.  My only complaint is the excessive length of the final word (Land) sung by the choir. This is at variance with my score of the work.

The nation collectively heard the ‘Wedding March’ from Parry’s incidental music to the Greek comedy, The Birds by Aristophanes at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; it was played just before the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen.  For Parry enthusiasts this extract had been available on a Lyrita recording featuring Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra [SRCD220]. However, there has been no recording (to my knowledge) of the entire score.  The present performing edition has been prepared for performance by Philip Brookes.
The Birds was produced by the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club in November 1893.  Jeremy Dibble has suggested that this music is full of ‘humour and light-heartedness’ and notes that the score is ‘rich in artifice and invention.’  I enjoyed this music. I guess that knowledge of the Aristophanes play may be of some help to the listeners, however all these numbers stand well on their own account.  I was especially attracted to the gentle ‘Entr’acte’, the ‘cheeky’ waltz, and the beautiful ‘Intermezzo’.  All these display Parry’s skill at musical design and orchestration at their best.

I guess the piece that gave my friend the greatest cause for concern about the political correctness of this CD was the short ode entitled The Glories of Blood and State. I believe that they imagined Parry indulging in some idealist ‘Brooke-ian’ ‘pro patria mori’ sentiment. However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth about the intentions of this piece.  This is an early work dating from 1883, some three years after the composer’s broke the mould of dissipation in English music with his Wagnerian cantata Prometheus Unbound [I add, that this ground-breaking work probably does not represent the ‘renaissance’ of British music, but just the realisation that it was equal to the German hegemony] The present work is a setting of a poem by the English author James Shirley (1596-1666).  Charles Lamb summed up this writer’s career with the damning fact the he ‘claims a place among the worthies of this period, not so much for any transcendent genius in himself, as that he was the last of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language and had a set of moral feelings and notions in common.’ The funeral dirge from his play ‘The Contention of Ajax and Ulysses’ was regarded as a meditation on the fact that death is a leveller- kings and peasants are subject to the same laws of nature – ‘There is no armour against fate’.  The exposition of the music is excellent. There is a Brahmsian feel to this music that reflects Parry’s love the the Deutsches Requiem: Wagner’s ghost has [almost] been laid to rest.   Perhaps anyone still worried about Parry and his ‘tub-thumping’ should mediate on the last line of the poem – ‘Only the actions of the just/Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust’.
Sir Henry Wood wrote in in his fascinating My Life of Music (1938) that ‘one work we produced I thought was going to live – Parry’s Magnificat – but it has now dropped out of the concert repertoire. I have never been able to understand why’. It is a sentiment with which I strongly agree: I believe that the Magnificat is a masterpiece. This work was composed for the 1897 Three Choirs Festival and was duly performed there on 15 September. The piece has one primary exemplar: Bach’s Magnificat of 1732-35; however, the listener will feel that much of the strength of this music is similar to the massive contrapuntal constructions of Blest Pair of Sirens which was completed ten years earlier.  They may also consider that there are hints of Brahms in these pages.  The work is conceived in five sections: the first and last being composed for soprano, chorus and orchestra, the second and fourth are for the soloists alone with the middle section being composed for chorus.
I believe that the listener will find this setting extremely satisfying for Parry has managed to balance his forces in a near-perfect manner. The ‘aggressive’ parts of the the text are balanced with exquisite introspective moments. Lyrical music is counterpoised with ‘contrapuntal fertility and rich choral textures.’ Some of the soprano soloist’s music is reminiscent of Brahms German Requiem and certain passages have more of an operatic, rather than liturgical, mood to them.
It is interesting that Parry drew the text from the Vulgate Latin Bible rather than use an English translation such as the Book of Common Prayer: it would be instructive to know why.  After the first performance, Parry dedicated the work to Queen Victoria.

In 1911, Hubert Parry was commissioned to compose a liturgical Te Deum for the Coronation of King George V. This was in addition to the well-known anthem ‘I was Glad’.  This work does display the ‘pageantry, ceremony and grandeur’ of this important national occasion. This mood was reinforced by the use of the same six trumpets that were required for the anthem.  Yet throughout this work, there is a more serious note: tenderness and solemnity are never far away.  Parry seems to be well-aware of the more profound and numinous qualities of the Coronation Service.  He weaves the well-known tunes ‘St Anne’ and ‘Old 100th’ into the texture of the work.  This work is now a ‘concert’ piece: I do not believe that it could be used in the context of a religious ceremony – no matter how ‘high.’  It is a worthy piece that I find both exhilarating and moving.

The CD is an ideal production. From the highly imaginative and packed programme, through the superb performances by the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales the soprano Amanda Roocroft and conductor Neeme Järvi. The sound quality of this disc is excellent. The liner notes are a model of their kind, however that is only to be expected from the champion of Parry ‘n Stanford, Professor Jeremy Dibble of Durham University.

When I look at the catalogue of Parry’s music and see works like the great Fourth Symphony, the delightful evocation of childhood in the Shulbrede Tunes and the celebration of the composer’s yacht in the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasia and Fugue for organ, I see a composer, who, far from relishing in any kind of false ‘my country right or wrong’ attitude was a thoughtful man: The Prince of Wales notes that he took ‘a wide interest in politics, the Arts, science and the most current philosophical discussion of his time…’ Parry was a complex character: this complexity is revealed in this CD.  
Finally, my friend was wrong. This is not a CD of ‘jingoistic’ music: there is no sense of ‘tub-thumping’ or what current-day political correctness would find abhorrent.  It is a moving tribute to one of Britain great composers. It is good that we are now beginning to (re) appreciate that fact.

Track Listing:
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings PARRY (1848-1918)
Te Deum (1911) England’ (1918) The Birds of Aristophanes Suite from the incidental music for the Cambridge Greek Play (1883) ‘Jerusalem’ (1916) The Glories of Our Blood and State: Funeral Ode by James Shirley (1883) Magnificat (1897) Amanda Roocroft (soprano) BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Neeme Järvi
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

Friday 9 November 2012

Deems Taylor: Suite Through the Looking Glass Two British Reviews

I thought it would be a good idea to quote two short of British reviews of this work.  The first two refer to a performance of the Suite, which had been given at that year’s Leeds Music Festival.
S.L. writes in The Guardian: - Of an entirely different nature was the orchestral suite ‘Through the Looking Glass’, by Deems Taylor, music critic of the New York World.  Mr. Taylor seems to have as pleasant a fancy as our own Roger Quilter. He is content to delight and amuse, and he is well able to do both. His music runs along with a perfect security of invention and handling. It follows the ingenious invention of Lewis Carroll as gleefully as if the music had been born for no other purpose. The American taint is only seen in the fact that the humour has learned from the jazz band a licence that is carried too far. The joke is told out to the end, as if it were in the band, when the little less would have been ever so much more.  Yet we should always be glad to hear tis delightful composer.
Manchester Guardian 12 October 1925 (with minor edits)
Certainly, listening to this piece at a remove of some 90 years we do not feel quite so intimidated by the ‘jazz’ element in the music.

A short note in The Times about the same concert:-
‘Through the Looking Glass’ by Deems Taylor, also an American composition, [1] by avoiding a false profundity does succeed in being amusing. It does not aim, it is true, at expounding Lewis Carroll’s ‘contrariwise’ logic, but it illustrates the fragments of text which were printed in the programme –and not as at a recent London performance, recited from the platform. The bassoon cadenza describing the death of the Jabberwok is not only funny, but really descriptive, [2] and other effects are no less happy and to the point.  It is all done with a light touch and – O, blessed virtue – its texture is free from mud'.
The Times 12 October 1925 (with minor edits)

[1] Howard Hanson’s Lux Aeterna had also been heard at this Festival.
[2] I have never heard a Jabberwock being slain. Have you? 

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Lennox Berkeley Chamber Works on Regis

Any new CD of music by Lennox Berkeley is to be greatly welcomed. However, this is doubly the case when two of the works are ‘World Premiere Recordings’. This is a CD to be savoured rather than consumed at a single sitting. Although it is not essential, I would suggest listening to this disc in chronological order. I have reviewed the works accordingly. The first two are premiere recordings.

The earliest piece on this CD is the acerbic Suite for Flute (Piccolo) Oboe (Cor anglais), Violin, Viola and Cello. This work was composed after four years of study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Yet there is little of French sophistication about this piece. The model would appear to be neo-baroque with nods to Stravinsky. Six movements make up this considerable Suite. After a short introduction, complete with the ‘dotted notes’ of a typical French ‘Overture,’ a rather piquant ‘pastorale’ leads into a stately and quite dissonant ‘galliard.’ The ‘passepied’ is nonchalant in comparison to the foregoing.  I loved the ‘aria’, which anticipates much of Berkeley’s later music: this is certainly the coolest part of this work. The Suite concludes with an attractive, ‘breezy’ hornpipe.

Chronologically, the next work to consider is the Trio for Flute, Oboe and Piano. Peter Dickinson, in the liner notes has suggested that this is the ‘main discovery’ of the present disc. The work was composed in 1935 for the Sylvan Trio, who subsequently broadcast the work in 1936 and continued to give numerous performances.  Although the Trio was revived for the composer’s 75th birthday celebrations it was not issued as a commercial recording.
The Trio is presented in four brief movements. The opening ‘Prelude’ sets the scene with an attractive melody that is accompanied by a florid, almost romantic, piano part. There is a subtle balance between harsh and soft dissonances that inform this musical texture of this movement. The following ‘allegro’ is a rapid, almost compulsive little toccata. However the middle eight’ has a lovely ‘cantabile’ oboe melody. Dickinson has suggested that the Caribbean is not too far away from the more laid back ‘moderato’.  Certainly this music is infused with the mood of an afro-Cuban rumba which dominates the proceedings. However the mood changes completely with the ensuing ‘fugue.’ Bach would seem to be the model here rather than the dance bands. 
This is a major work that deserves to be in the repertoire. It is unbelievable that it has taken some 77 years to be issued as a recording.

The String Trio of 1943/44 is a neo-classical work. The first movement is a ‘moderato’ written in sonata form. There is a good contrast between the irregular rhythm of the second subject and the ‘languid lyricism’ of the opening theme.  The ‘adagio’ is the heart of the work; it is written in ternary form. This is deeply-felt music that reflects wartime concerns and tragedies. However, this mood is swept away by the final ‘allegro’ which is a good old fashioned rondo. It is vibrant music that balances ‘rumbustiousness’ with episodes that are more serious in their effect.  The overall impression of the work is of a stylistic tension between a Gallic influence and nods to Mozart. The Trio was dedicated to Frederick Grinke, Watson Forbes and James Phillips.

The Oboe Sonata was composed for Janet Craxton and her brother, the artist John Craxton. Peter Dickinson reminds us that the work was premiered by Craxton and Alan Richardson at the Wigmore Hall on 19 November 1962. As an aside, it is surely time that the works of this accomplished composer (Richardson) and pianist were rediscovered.
One feature of the Oboe Sonata is the use of a tone-row or series in the opening movement. However, this constructional tool is soon abandoned and the composer appears to resort to more traditional methods of musical invention and formal design. The first movement is a little gem. Two excellent themes are developed in a largely sonata form structure. One is flowing and the other languid. The ‘andante’ display music that is profound beyond that expected in a ‘sonatina.’ However the final allegro dispels any mood of despair with exciting, cheerful music interspersed with more reflective moments.

My personal favourite work on this CD is the Oboe Quartet, which is chronologically the latest on this CD. The work is quite short, lasting some fifteen minutes. The structure is unusual insofar as the final movement is an ‘andante’ with the ‘presto’ taking the place of a scherzo. The opening ‘moderato’ manages to balance reflective music with considerable angst in a traditionally thought out sonata form. The ‘andante’ is heartfelt music that contrasts totally with the incandescent middle movement. The music is here songlike and manages to fade away to nothing.
The Oboe Quartet was commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The work was not formally dedicated to the well-known oboist Janet Craxton, however it was written with her in mind as the soloist.  The work was given its premiere by the London Oboe Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on 22 May 1968.
This is altogether an impressive CD that showcases the achievement of Lennox Berkeley over a period of more than a third of a century. It is a ‘must’ for all enthusiasts of English chamber music.

Track Listing:
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Chamber Works for Wind, Strings & Piano
Trio for flute/piccolo, oboe/cor anglais and piano (1935) String Trio Op.19 (1943) Sonatina for oboe and piano Op.61 (1962) Oboe Quartet Op.70 (1967) Suite for flute, oboe and string trio (1930) Tagore String Trio: Frances Mason (violin) Brian Schiele (viola) James Halsey (cello) Sarah Francis (oboe/cor anglais) Judith Fitton (flute/piccolo) Michael Dussek (piano),

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review first appeared.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Deems Taylor: Suite –‘Through the Looking Glass’. Contemporary Review in the New York Times.

The New York Times review began by noting the absence of a symphony in the New York Symphony Society’s concert at the Aeolian Hall on 11 March 1923.  However it pointed out that there was the first performance of Deems Taylor’s new orchestral suite ‘Through the Looking Glass.’  Taylor’s skill as an orchestral player has been previously witnessed at a Philharmonic Society performance of his tone poem ‘The Sirens.’
The reviewer is concerned to emphasise that Mr Taylor is no ‘modern.’  ‘He is not in the new movement.  He not only can write melodies, but does, and his score is all compact of them. He can and does write intelligible and finely effective harmonies. He has skill in orchestration; and altogether he fills his music with a feeling for beauty as well as with humorous descriptive touches.’
‘The opening movement is intended to recall Lewis Carroll’s verses of dedication to the ‘Child of the pure unclouded brow’ charming in its suavity and poetical grace. The movements descriptive of the ‘Garden of Live-Flowers,’ the fight with the Jabberwock, the Looking-Glass insects and Alice’s meeting with the White Knight are all written with a genial humour and with an elaborate ingenuity in the invention of themes and the use of them for descriptive purposes that have musical value and a potency of musical development.
The epic of the ‘Jabberwocky’ and the episode of the White Knight are the most elaborate of the five. They are all very descriptive and, it may be feared, would not make all their effect if listened to ‘purely as music,’ as some distinguished programmatic musicians have wished their music to be. So Mr. Damrosch [1] announced that he would give a three-minute intermission for everybody to read the program notes: everybody having read them diligently for three minutes, the performance went on.
‘The piece was received with great pleasure and evidently missed none of its points in the minds of the listeners’.
‘Mr. Taylor was present in the audience instead of taking a Sunday holiday, as all well-regulated music critics should do, [2] and was called to the front of the platform to bow and shake Mr. Damrosch by the hand.’
Richard Aldrich, New York Times 12 March 1922 with minor edits

Other works in the 11 March Concert included Erno von Dohnanyi’s Violin Concerto with Albert Spalding as soloist.  The program began with Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and concluded with ‘admirable finish and spirit’ with dances by Josef and Johann Strauss.

[1] Deems Taylor was at this time a regular music correspondent and reviewer for the New York World.
[2] Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) American (though born in Breslau, Germany) conductor and composer. He studied in Germany but settled in the United States in 1871. He became the conductor of the New York Oratorio and Symphonic Societies in 1885. He was director of the Damrosch Opera Company (1894-9).  In 1891 Damrosch brought Tchaikovsky to America and suggested that he compose the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony.