Saturday, 3 December 2011

Dan Godfrey Encores on Dutton Epoch

Dan Godfrey Encores
Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833) Overture: Zampa (1831) Byron Brooke (1898-1983) Gee Whizz! (1931) Percy Whitlock (1903-1946) Carillon for organ & orchestra (1932)
Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) Overture: The Boatswain’s Mate (1914) Howard Flynn Clatter of the Clogs: A Novelty Fox-Trot (1930) Sir Landon Ronald (1873-1938) In an Eastern Garden (No.2 from The Garden of Allah) (1920) Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) The Betrothal Ballet Music, Op.34 (1921) Montague Birch (1884-1947) Dance of the Nymphs (c.1923) Ina Boyle (1889-1967) The Magic Harp (1919)
Ludwig Pleier Karlsbad’s Doll’s Dance (Karlsboder Puppentanz) Characteristic Piece (1903) Rutland Boughton (1878-1960) The Immortal Hour- Love Duet for orchestra (1913 arr.1924) Montague Birch (1884-1947) Intermezzo (Pizzicati) (1913) Cecil White A Sierra Melody (1931) Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Ronald Corp
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7276
One of the great frustrations of reading Stephen Lloyd’s masterly monograph Sir Dan Godfrey: Champion of British composers (Thames Publishing 1995) are the listings of music that was played at Bournemouth that has now been largely lost to the listener. As a random example, page 81 elucidates that the following works were performed during the 1906-07 season:- Nicolas Gatty’s Prelude, Ernest Halsey’s Suite de Ballet, Landon Ronald’s Birthday Overture, Richard Walthew’s Three Night Scenes, Arthur Hervey’s Dramatic Overture and a May Festival Overture by Arthur Wight.  Two things stand out here; firstly the works are totally forgotten, but secondly, so are many of the composers.
Dan Godfrey largely created what might be termed the ‘Bournemouth Problem.’ His enthusiasm for British music caused him to encourage a massive range of composing talents. His programmes are full of music by up and coming composers, one hit wonders and established talent. Most likely there were a few ‘has beens’ as well. However relatively few pieces ‘stuck’ in the repertoire and I guess most of these ‘novelties’ after a couple of performances have been put to one side and quietly lost. And, unfortunately that often included the score and parts as well. Stephen Lloyd’s listings are a fantasy- largely works that will not and perhaps more disturbingly, cannot be recovered.
Dutton Epoch have gone some little way towards addressing the ‘Bournemouth Problem’ in this latest disc of Dan Godfrey Encores. Here is a collection of fine pieces that will entertain, fascinate and occasionally move the listener. It acts as a taster of what has been lost.
This is definitely not a CD to listen to in a half-hearted manner. In spite of the ‘frothy’ nature of some of these ‘encores’ they are all to be savoured and enjoyed. They may not shake the foundations of musical endeavour, but they are all good and worthy of their composers: they demand our interest.
The first work on the CD is not British, but from across the Channel in Paris. I first came across Zampa in a volume of piano reductions of operatic overtures. It has fascinated me ever since. With the opera’s almost Gilbertian plot of a nobleman turned pirate, it is full of good tunes, and exciting orchestral pyrotechnics.
Byron Brooke is represented by Gee Whizz! which is a little cracker, complete with its tricky part for solo xylophone. It must have brought the house down.
Most people will have come across the music of Percy Whitlock, most likely his ‘Folk Tune’ or Toccata from the masterly Plymouth Suite for organ. However Whitlock, who had a long association with Bournemouth, wrote much music in a variety of genres- some of it being decidedly high-quality ‘light’ music including a Bucket & Spade Polka. The present Carillon for Organ is an example of his more thoughtful writing. The music here is involved and although a touch ‘retro’ in its style is internally consistent and in spite of a little Delius-like slippery harmonies is beholden to no one. This is great music that is reflective, often moving and is well-wrought. It deserves to be welcomed to the repertoire.
Dame Ethel Smyth is probably better known for her opera (and overture) The Wreckers, than for The Boatswain’s Mate which is a one-act opera dating from 1914. This was a comic opera based on a retired boatswain’s attempt to persuade a widowed pub landlady to marry him. The music in the overture is actually quite dark in places – more than the plot would seem to demand. Yet it is a well written piece- let us hope that one day the entire opera is recorded.
Howards Flynn’s Clatter of the Clogs: A Novelty Fox-Trot is quite simply a pure joy to listen to. Would that there were dozens more pieces of music like this!
Sir Landon Ronald is a composer that I would like to know more about. Works entitled A Birthday Overture, Britannia’s Realm and A Winter’s Night all excite interest. The present piece, ‘In an Eastern Garden’ is the second number from the incidental music to the play The Garden of Allah by Robert Hitchens and Mary Anderson. It is a lovely evocation of peace and reflection with the solo violin well to the fore.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs’ The Betrothal Ballet music is a little bit of an enigma to me. It is great music, and deserves to be recorded. However, I cannot for the life of me see what made this a ‘popular’ encore.  This is quite serious music that reflects a second rate ‘fairy’ play by Maurice Maeterlinck. It is music to be savoured and in many ways is not typical of the composer as we have come to regard him. Look out for the ravishing waltz theme: it beats Richard Strauss’ Rosenkavalier! It is great to have this piece of music included here and suitably divorced from a long-forgotten play where it spent most of its time supporting dialogue. Forget any plot: just enjoy this deliciously romantic music.
Montague Birch has two calls on this CD – firstly the characteristic Dance of the Nymphs with its ‘will o’ the wisp’ mood created by celesta and strings. The Intermezzo (pizzicato) is one of those pieces that one feels that one knows. Yet I guess I have never heard this before. It is a finely crafted piece of music that hovers on the cusp between ‘light’ and ‘just a touch serious’ music.
The Irish composer Ina Boyle was a pupil of Ralph Vaughan Williams and this is reflected in her stunningly beautiful The Magic Harp. This work received a Carnegie Award in 1919 and was taken up by Dan Godfrey. It proudly stands alongside Stanford’s Irish Rhapsodies and Hamilton Harty’s With the Wild Geese, for evoking the mood of the Emerald Isle. This is a magical piece that archives its success by eschewing sentimentality of the Moore’s Irish Melodies but manages to create a mood that evokes history, myth and landscape. It is a masterpiece. Let us hope that her Symphonies and Violin Concerto are forthcoming.
The German Ludwig Pleier Karlsbad’s Doll’s Dance is a lovely piece of whimsy that uses ‘strings played with [goose] quills to give the magical pizzicato effect.
Rutland Boughton is probably best recalled for his important opera, the Celtic fairy play The Immortal Hour. However this was one small part of a massive catalogue of the composer who saw himself as being the English Wagner and forming an English Bayreuth at Glastonbury. The operas typically explored British mythology and included titles such as Avalon & Galahad, The Round Table and The Birth of Arthur. The present piece is the ‘Love Duet’ from act one of The Immortal Hour arranged by the composer for orchestra. It is a romantic piece that exceeds all expectations. This is beautiful music that is both inspiring and moving. It is good that Dutton Epoch have already recorded the opera The Queen of Cornwall. For people who are not opera buffs the Third Symphony is a great place to begin exploring Rutland Boughton’s music.
The final piece on this CD is A Sierra Melody which has been realised by Malcolm Riley. This miniature gives great solo passages to the cellist and trumpet player. Again it is hard to define this as ‘light’ music – it is just totally pleasant and absorbing. A ‘sierra’ is Spanish for a range of mountains- so look out for a touch of Iberian colouring.
This is an excellent CD. Naturally, one would wish it to be Volume 1 of umpteen! The playing by the ‘home’ orchestra and Ronald Corp is brilliant with an obvious enthusiasm for these ‘lost’ or misplaced works. Unsurprisingly, Stephen Lloyd has provided the exceptional and comprehensive liner notes giving considerable details about the pieces and their composers.  And the cover is evocative of a time when most seaside resorts had their resident orchestras. Heigh ho!

With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

A wonderfully wholesome review. It was Montague Birch, not Maurice, who wrote the Intermezzo Pizzicati and the Dance of the Nymphs. He kept the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra alive during WW2, despite Municipal cuts and the rival Wessex Philharmonic Orchestra, initially conducted by the Mosleyite Reginald Goodall.

John France said...

Thanks for that!! Will change the name too...

J