Saturday, 30 November 2013

Charles Williams: Seaford Head.

Charles Williams has written a delightful miniature tone-poem describing one of the most romantic places in the South of England. Seaford Head is located between Brighton and Eastbourne. From the Head there is a great view of the South Downs, the famous Seven Sisters and unsurpassed vistas of the English Channel. Tennyson stayed here and revised his ‘Ode to Wellington’. The house has gone, but the garden is (I believe) still there, with cedar trees that the poet would have known. Smugglers were rife about here many years ago and the nearby Seaford College was built on the site of the old Corsica Hall, which belonged to a smuggler. 
The musical image opens with a nautical flourish supported by a musical representation of waves gently washing onto the beach. There is a big tune introduced which is quickly built up into a climax, before dying down. The woodwind takes over and slowly brings this piece to an end.
The raison d’être of this piece was not as concert piece: it was designed to be used as an accompaniment to a documentary film. It was a library piece probably filed under ‘seascapes’ which would be used by film directors to underscore their scenes. It is just a pity that this beautiful music was not developed beyond the 1 minute 47 second duration. Yet there is enough to convince me that Charles Williams had captured the mood and view of this most exciting part of the South Coast. It is easy to imagine yachts or even a cross-channel ferry heading out mid-channel as the visitor stares out to sea. Perhaps he has his arm wrapped round a girl’s waist? There is all the romance of the sea wrapped up in these few precious bars.
Seaford Head is available on Guild The Golden Age of Light Music GLCD5107 played by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by the composer. The recording was made in 1942 and was catalogued as Chappell Music Library No. C189.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Great European Organs No.85: Daniel Cook plays the T.C. Lewis Organ of St. George's Church, Cullercoats

Alan GRAY (1855-1935) Fantasia in D minor 
William MCKIE (1901-1984) Romance in B flat 
Charles H. LLOYD (1849-1919) Sonata in D minor 
John STAINER (1840-1901) Andante Pathetique
Gordon PHILLIPS (1908-1991) Postlude for a Festival
Alec ROWLEY (1892-1958) Soliloquy 
Walter ALCOCK (1861-1947) Introduction and Fughetta (from The Organ))
Alec ROWLEY Second Benedictus 
York BOWEN (1884-1961) Melody in G minor
Arthur MILNER (1894-1972) Introduction and Fugue Prelude on a theme of Palestrina, Toccata
Daniel Cook (organ) PRIORY PRCD1083

I was reminded of Cullercoats a few years ago when I was in New York. One of the most impressive pictures in the Metropolitan Art Gallery collection is Winslow Homer’s ‘Inside the Bar’ which features a feisty woman commonly known as the ‘Cullercoats Fish-lass’ which was painted in 1883. For personal reasons, Homer had ended up in this Northumberland village situated near Tynemouth on the North Sea Coast. He remained there for nearly two years. At that time Cullercoats attracted artists and photographers who were captivated by the rugged way of life of the fisher folk and wished to capture it for posterity. 
Unfortunately, Winslow Homer could not have attended St George’s Church as it was not consecrated until after he departed for the States. However, he is likely to have witnessed its construction. The church is situated on an impressive site above the beach. The architect was John Loughborough Pearson who was a native of Durham and is best known for designing Truro Cathedral. The organ was built by the Thomas Christopher Lewis in consultation with William Rea who at that time was the Organist to the City of Newcastle. It was dedicated just a few months after the consecration. The instrument has some 26 speaking stops over two manuals and pedals. According to the church webpages it is the only unaltered Lewis organ remaining in the Diocese of Newcastle and one of only a handful in the entire country. The main bellows can still be hand-blown although a Discus blower has been fitted. The instrument was restored in 1987 by Harrison and Harrison. In spite of its relatively small scale this organ creates a hugely impressive sound.

Most of the pieces on this CD are by Victorian Gentlemen. The two exceptions are Sir William Mackie and and Gordon Phillips who were both born during Edward VII’s reign. I have listened to and played some dire Victorian organ music over the years: I will not mention any names, just in case I malign someone’s favourite ‘discovery’. Listeners will know the type of ‘grind and strain’ that I allude to. Do not except any of this third rate music on this CD.  I have always known that there was a wide range of achievement in this period; alas, some organists have usually chosen to provide just one facet of it.

This CD gets of to a great start with Alan Gray’s Fantasia in D minor. Gray was born in York, studied with E.G. Monk at the Minster and latterly taught at Wellington College before succeeding Charles Villiers Stanford as organist at Trinity College, Cambridge. This long Fantasia is really a ‘prelude and fugue’ which takes as its model similar works by Joseph Rheinberger and Gustav Merkel. It is a satisfying piece that skilfully exploits the tone-colours of the organ. The work was composed in 1894 and is better for having used a Germanic model. There is nothing sentimental or sugary here.

Sir William McKie was born in Melbourne, Australia but later moved to England: he studied at the Royal Royal College of Music and at Worcester College, Oxford. He held major appointments as organist at Magdalen College, Oxford, and at Westminster Abbey.  McKie directed the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and had also composed an anthem for the Royal Wedding of 1948. I guess that he is not a particularly well-known composer but is occasionally recalled by some for his choral music. His single contribution to the organ repertoire is the present Romance in B flat. It is a short piece that has modal inflections: it is not a great work, but it is an attractive, short voluntary that would be suitable at almost any Church service.

It is always easy to take a pot-shot at Sir John Stainer, mainly by folk who know little of his music. There was a time when every church choir battled through his cantata The Crucifixion during Holy Week. My very first organ tutor was written by Stainer – I still have it somewhere. Included in this primer was a short Prelude and Fugue, which I struggled to master. It was, alas, one of the few organ pieces that Stainer composed. The present ‘Andante Pathetique’ has a memorable tune and is skilfully harmonised.  I guess it is one of those pieces that ought to be heard with an ‘innocent ear’ so as to give it a chance of being appreciated rather than derided. It is good to have it here.

Gordon Phillips’ is recalled by many organists as being the editor of Tallis to Wesley – a comprehensive series of musical publications exploring early organ music including the complete voluntaries of John Stanley. Phillips studied with John Ireland at the Royal College of Music and latterly with Sir Ernest Bullock. For many years he was organist at ‘Tubby’ Clayton’s church of All-Hallows-by-the-Tower.  I can certainly recall attending his recitals there in the late 80’s.  The present ‘Postlude’ was published in 1957.  It is a good, gutsy piece that can be played as an imposing recessional after High Mass or Matins.

Sir Walter Alcock’s ‘Introduction and Fughetta’ will be known to countless generations of organists who studied the instrument with the help of ‘The Organ’ which was published in 1913. At the back of this tutor are a number of pieces in varying styles. Daniel Cook has suggested that in this relatively short piece, the composer has ‘distilled all of the techniques needed for the performance of the large romantic literature for the organ into an exquisite miniature masterpiece’. Certainly, this is an excellent work that transcends its genesis as a teaching piece. Interestingly Sir Walter has the distinction of having played the organ at the coronations of three monarchs – Edward VII (1902), George V (1911) and George VI (1937)

Many years ago, I found a bound album of organ music by Alec Rowley in a second hand bookshop. I was surprised at the depth of some of these pieces. Up until then I had always assumed the Rowley was a ‘didactic’ composer writing piano music for ‘grades’ and ‘amateurs.’ Do not misunderstand me: I love his music and often play through some of his piano suites. The ‘Second Benedictus’ shows a profound side to the composer that I scarcely imagined. In spite of the title, and its inscription, ‘In quiet contemplation shall peace guide your ways,’ this is a truly romantic piece of music that seems to ‘crossover’ from the chancel to a garden on a late summer’s evening… It is heartbreakingly beautiful.  Alec Rowley’s ‘Soliloquy’ has an equally reflective, questioning nature. It is written in the ubiquitous arch-form, with a forceful climax. Once again this beautiful piece is effective in or out of ‘places where they sing.’

York Bowen is now regarded as a composer of fine orchestral and piano music (unfairly dubbed the English Rachmaninoff). Only two of his organ works were published: the Fantasia op.136 as part of the Novello collection ‘Retrospection’ and the present Melody in G minor.  Interestingly, Donald Cook states in the liner notes that Bowen also wrote some concerted works for the instrument: alas these remain unpublished. The present work is beautifully written: it is both romantic and reflective. This is no sentimental melody, but an ‘ingeniously contrived’ exploration of a beautiful theme.

Arthur Milner (do not confuse with Anthony Milner (1925-2002)) was originally a Manchester lad; he spent most of his life in the county of Northumberland. He held academic posts at Durham University and at Newcastle Royal Grammar School. He was organist at various churches including St George’s Newcastle. The liner notes state that he wrote much music including a symphony, works for string orchestra, chamber music and piano. There is also a deal of organ music. Three works are presented on this disc. The striking ‘Introduction and Fugue’ written for Reginald Alwyn Surplice (1906-1977) organist at Winchester Cathedral. The ‘Prelude on a theme of Palestrina’ is a commanding, introverted arch-shaped piece that makes use of a tune from the Italian composer’s ‘Missa Brevis’. The final contribution from Arthur Milner is the tricky Toccata. It was dedicated to Arnold Richardson, organist at Southwark Cathedral. This is a fine example of the genre, spicily dissonant with a driving, dominant melody. There is a quiet middle section that lulls the listener into a false sense of calm. The ‘Toccata’ concludes with a reprise of the complex figurations supported by huge chords. This work should be a part of all organists ‘warhorse’ repertoire.

The most important work and the most surprising (for me) was the High-Victorian Organ Sonata in D minor by Charles Harford Lloyd. The liner notes do not let on, but this work was published in 1886.  The Sonata is dedicated to (Father) Henry Willis. This three movement work lasts for about 18 minutes and has an interesting formal construction. The opening movement is an ‘allegro’ which appears to be written in a fairly ‘classical’ sonata form. This music is wide-ranging, full of energy: the slower ‘second subject’ is particularly attractive.  There are some typically Victorian melodic and harmonic clichés, but also some passages pushing towards something a little more ‘French’ in its sound world. The second movement is a very brief, but quite delicious ‘andante’ which has surprisingly ‘remote’ modulation in its middle section.  I guess that I would have expected a fugue to conclude this fine sonata; however, Lloyd surprises us by providing what is effectively a ‘dance’ or as it is signed in the music ‘quasi minuet.’  The reviewer in The Musical Times (March 1886) suggests that the composer has not produced a prohibitively virtuosic piece: he has ‘not piled up difficulties unnecessarily, and his work is therefore within the means of ordinarily competent players.’ I think that the listener will be agreeably impressed at this generally restrained and dignified Sonata. It demands to be in the repertoire.

Daniel Cook has an impressive career. At present he is Organist and Master of the Choristers at St David’s Cathedral as well as an involvement in the Cathedral Festival.  He is also director of the Dyfed Choir, artistic director of Mousai Singers. He has a busy programme of recitals, concerts and recordings.  Cook has made a number of CDs for Priory Records, including the complete works (ongoing) of Herbert Brewer, Herbert Sumsion and Charles Villiers Stanford.  This year Daniel Cook was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music. In September he makes a career move to moves to Westminster Abbey as Sub-Organist.

The sound quality of this CD is perfect. I felt that I was actually sitting in the nave of St, George’s Church, Cullercoats listening to this music. The playing of all these pieces is sympathetic and well-balanced. The liner notes are exactly what are needed with a good paragraph or two for each work. However, little more information about some of these composers would have come in handy. And what about giving the dates of all the works?  There are photographs of the console and some pipework.  Included are the usual organ specification and a detailed biography of Daniel Cook.

The present CD is a truly imaginative exploration of British music. There is not a single piece on this record that is ‘hackneyed’ or is a ‘pot-boiler’ yet every work is impressive and demands our attention. It is an opportunity to look into the less-trodden paths British music.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Hamilton Harty: An Irish Symphony – The Fair Day

I am not usually an enthusiast of excerpting movements from symphonies, however when the composer himself did this on a regular basis I have to turn a blind eye. In fact ‘The Fair Day’ was the only movement of his symphony that Harty ever recorded.
Hamilton Harty’s ‘Irish’ Symphony was composed in 1904 in response to a call from the Feis Ceoil in Dublin. The festival organisers required a symphony based on traditional Irish airs. This was largely inspired by a recent performance of Anton Dvorak’s popular ‘New World’ Symphony. It was believed by the committee that this work was founded on ‘Negro melodies.’
In 1902 the prize had been won by Michele Esposito who was a Neapolitan composer living in Dublin.  However, in 1904 Harty took the prize with his ‘An Irish Symphony’. Lewis Foreman has noted that this is very much an Ulsterman’s symphony, with the particular folksongs chosen for inclusion and the programmatic/topographical setting of each movement.

The second movement was entitled ‘The Fair Day’ and served as the symphony’s scherzo. It is a well-wrought, short piece that shows the composer’s skill, humour and subtlety.
Jeremy Dibble in his recent study of the composer has noted that ‘The Fair Day’ was Harty’s memories of a local carnival. He quotes, ‘Horses and cattle –noise and dust -swearing, bargaining men. A recruiting sergeant with his gay ribbons and the primitive village band. In the market place, old women selling gingerbread and ‘yellow boy’ and sweet fizzy drinks. A battered merry-go-round.’
The music opens with a local fiddler tuning up his violin. This is followed by a reel called ‘The Blackberry Blossom’. After a short space the composer introduces the well-known tune ‘The Girl I left behind me.’ David Greer, in the liner notes for the Chandos recording has noted that this latter tune is played in ‘fifths’ which makes it sound as if it is being played in two keys simultaneously. Apparently this was in imitation of flute bands that Harty had heardin Ulster.  This extremely short movement ends quite suddenly.
In a review on MusicWeb International Rob Barnett has suggested on that ‘Vernon Handley polishes Harty's ‘The Fair Day’ until it fair gleams with emerald iridescence in the Irish sun’.
Hamilton Harty’s recording of ‘The Fair Day’ was issued Columbia C.9891 in 1929. At present there are three versions currently available or relatively easily attainable. Firstly, the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson on Chandos 10194. This can also be heard on YouTube. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland are conducted by Prionnsias O'Duinn on Naxos 8.554732. Finally, there is also a version on Lyrita SRCD336 with Vernon Handley conducting the New Philharmonia Orchestra

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Kenneth Leighton: Orchestral Works Volume 3 on Chandos

Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988)
Orchestral Works Volume 3
Symphony No.1, Op.42 (1963-64) Concerto No.3, Op.57 ‘Concerto estivo’ (1969)
Howard Shelley (piano) (Concerto)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Martyn Brabbins
CHANDOS CHAN10608

For me, this is one of the most important CD releases for many years. On 2nd February 1974 I heard Kenneth Leighton’s First Symphony at the City Hall in Glasgow. I attended the pre-concert talk given by the composer where he gave a good introduction to, and analysis of, the work we were about to hear. It was a fantastic performance and represented the first ‘modern’ symphony I had heard and the first ‘real live’ composer I had met! Naturally I trawled the record shops looking for a recording of this work – but failed miserably. Then a few years ago, Chandos began to issue CDs of Leighton’s orchestral music: I knew it would only be a matter of time before they got round to releasing the First Symphony. Now my wait is over! Thirty six years later I have the disc in my hand. I did have a little trepidation hearing this work after such a long time: I did not want to spoil my strong, positive memories of this music. I need not have worried. This was a great work when it was composed in the early sixties; it remained so in 1974 and is still a superb example of a British Symphony. This recording has been well worth waiting for: I am just glad that I made it thus far to be able to hear it again!

Kenneth Leighton’s First Symphony was composed during 1963 and 1964. It was submitted to the City of Trieste International Competition where it secured first prize. It was duly played in that city in the Giuseppe Verdi Theatre under the auspices of Aldo Ceccato.  After a subsequent performance in Milan the work was given its British premiere by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

The key impression of this Symphony, which I felt all those years ago, and on my second hearing the other day – is one of a perfect balance between the lyrical and the dynamic and the consonant and the dissonant. In overview, Leighton’s First Symphony is written in three well-balanced movements.
The composer has written that the first movement ‘sets a mood of elegiac lyricism and eventually becomes a strong, even desperate protest....’  The tools that Leighton uses are variation and development of material derived from a few scraps of melodic and rhythmic cells. In fact, the opening horn figure is important not only for this movement but also for the subsequent scherzo.  At times I felt that there is an almost Vaughan Williams sound to much of this music – as exemplified in that composer’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies –without in any sense of being derivative.
The Scherzo is an involved movement with material derived from a number of motives. However, the ‘leaping’ theme that opens the work is fundamental to the mood of this movement, which the composer has described as ‘[loosening] the reins, and in a spirit of rebellion seeks to arrive at an affirmative answer by sheer force of will.’ It is music that must be played with ‘Dionysiac energy and abandon’. This Scherzo is both exciting and sometimes just that little bit frightening.
The heart of the work is the final adagio: it contains the expressive essence of the Symphony.  The heart rending cry on the strings is given in two-part counterpoint before being developed. This is repeated in the high strings with an almost Penderecki-ian sense of pain. Yet a little warmth does creep into the proceedings with a lugubrious woodwind melody explored by bassoon, oboe and flute.
The liner notes suggest that this ‘movement frequently teeters on the edge of hopelessness and desolation’ however there are some positive moments, that suggests that a synthesis of the emotional content of this movement with the rest of the symphony is just about possible. Certainly some of the quieter passages offer both reflection and exploration. It is the balance of these two activities that typify the entire work.  Leighton notes that his Symphony closes with a question mark.

I have never heard the Concerto Estivo (Summer Concerto) for piano and orchestra before. It was composed during the spring and summer of 1969.  Kenneth Leighton has stated that he tried to ‘express something of the warmth and beauty of that season (1968) which seemed so extraordinary to one who had not lived in the South of England for many years.’  In the early 1950s Leighton had retained a post of Professor of Harmony at the Royal Marine School of Music in Portsmouth. Latterly he had spent much of his time in Leeds and in Edinburgh on the staff of the universities there.  However, it was not the landscape of the South Coast that inspired this work but the countryside around Oxford where Leighton had recently succeeded Edmund Rubbra as a Fellow of Worcester College. Certainly this music is much more relaxed that the Symphony: there is none of the intense emotional angst in the three movements. The soloist is not conceived as being pitted against the orchestra but as emerging from it or playing with it.  However the more traditional role of the soloist is preserved by the fact that he presents most of the melodic material and takes a lead in the exploration of melodic ideas.

The first movement opens slowly with the introduction of a ‘motto’ theme which will dominate much of the proceedings during the entire concerto.  However, the tune itself is not reprised in its original from until the end of the work; instead it is subject to an array of variation and development.  The remainder of the opening movement is an ‘allegro’ which uses two themes – one a gentle ‘cantabile’ tune and the other a ‘lively and boisterous’ effort which is first announced on the horns and timpani.
The Pastoral movement is thematically related to the ‘motto’ theme stated at the beginning of the work, yet the listener is not particularly aware of the constructive principles used by the composer. What is obvious is the sense of warmth and an almost impressionistic feel to much if the music. There are some passionate moments, but the general mood of the movement is one peace and introspection.
The final movement is really a continuous dialogue between the piano and orchestra, masquerading as a set of variations – or is it the other way round?   There is much contrasting use made of pizzicato strings, brass chords and long tunes on the woodwind. There are references to the music from the opening movement. After an extended cadenza there is a reprise of the ‘motto’ theme from the first movement.  The work concludes with a dramatic and ultimately triumphant coda.  
There is much music in this movement which can be described a romantic – almost like a film score. Yet, ultimately, this is a successful concerto that manages to balance the traditional bravura pyrotechnics with something that is just that little bit more subtle and profound.

This is an important addition to the corpus of Kenneth Leighton’s music currently available on CD or MP3 download.  Yet even a brief glance at the composer’s catalogue shows a large number of possibilities for future releases of his orchestral music. I would like to hear the Dance Overture, the Dance Suites No.1- 3 and the first two piano concertos for starters.

The production of this CD is superb, with stunning playing by Howard Shelley. Martyn Brabbins and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales are obviously on great form. The programme notes could be a little more fulsome, but are adequate for an overview of these two works.
Well done Chandos – I waited for many years and you have not disappointed me!
With Thanks to MusicWeb International where this 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Malcolm Sargent, The Brains Trust and Percy Scholes.

The Brains Trust was a programme first scheduled by the BBC on the Forces Programme during January 1941. The format of the programme was straight-forward. Listeners submitted questions on any topic that were then answered by a panel of distinguished scientists, writers, philosophers and musicians. Panellists included the film actor Will Hay, the biologist Julian Huxley, the philosopher C.E.M Joad and Malcolm Sargent the conductor. The 'referee' was Donald McCullough.
Miss Edna Davies of Little Chalfont asked ‘would the Brains Trust help her form a library by recommending a book every week on some useful subject’. McCullough responded by noting that ‘at that rate, numerically, it would take about two years for The Brains Trust to list all the books they have written.
Dr Sargent responded:- ‘ If you want a book on music, I think probably the best one you can get hold of at the moment is the Oxford Companion to Music by Percy Scholes, which has been produced quite lately by Oxford University Press, and is an extremely good book. It has all sorts of things in it that most dictionaries have not, and it is very concise. It is full of information and very accurate indeed. I think if you just want a book on music, that is the one I would plump for straight away.’

According to WorldCat there have been 41 editions of Percy Scholes Companion published since 1938, the last being in 2000. It has been translated into two languages and is in 2180 libraries works wide.  The book has been superseded by a new volume with the same title edited by Alison Latham; however this draws extensively on Scholes achievement. This was published in 2002. I have had a copy of the orignal since 1972 and it is a work that I refer to, and browse in, on a regular basis.  

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Golden Age of Light Music: Non-Stop to Nowhere

Guild Records could have easily sold me this latest CD on the strength of the cover alone. The former London, Midland & Scottish Railway poster entitled ‘Scot passes Scot’ by the artist Bryan De Grineau is a definite bonus. For many years the named train ‘The Royal Scot' departed simultaneously from Glasgow Central and London Euston stations at 10am. The journey would have taken some seven hours. Just quite where the two trains passed I leave to railway enthusiasts, but I guess it must have been somewhere north of Crewe.
This present CD does have a few fine railway-inspired pieces included in the track listings, however the basic premise of this release is to include a pot-pourri of all kinds of ‘light’ music.
Beginning with the travel-themed pieces, the album’s title track refers to a bouncy number by Tony Hatch. Older listeners will readily associate his name with Petula Clark and Jackie Trent. Hatch has had a long successful career writing a wide variety of ‘popular’ and ‘light’ music, including a huge number of TV theme-tunes. His work as a producer included the ‘fab’ Merseyside group, The Searchers. ‘Non-Stop to Nowhere’ was written under the pseudonym of Mark Anthony. 
I enjoyed George Siravo’s musical picture of a taxi journey through the streets of New York or Chicago. ‘Hey Taxi’ makes use of motor horns and muted trumpets to give it that frenetic mood. We are back on the railways again with Ernest Tomlinson’s (Alan Perry) ‘Starlight Special’. Not too sure whether this train leaves from Crewe or Clapham Junction, but progress seems smooth and uninterrupted by red signals or leaves on the line. It is a classic piece of transport music. I must confess I expected something a little more romantic: Tomlinson has actually given us a jaunty dash along the tracks by night.
I am not sure if Arnold Steck’s (Leslie Statham) ‘Ten to One’ is meant to refer to a train time or good odds on a horse. In actual fact it is a worthy march tune. But as Major Statham was director of The Band of the Welsh Guards, it is safe bet that this tune certainly makes the running.
Alec Rowley is best known for his massive output of piano music, much of it designed for teaching purposes. But there is serious side to this composer. Listeners may be aware of his Piano Concerto released on Naxos a number of years ago. Then there is a fine corpus of organ music that warrants exploration. Included in his output are a number of orchestral suites and overtures. ‘Down Channel: Overture’ is a nautically inspired piece: it makes use of two or three shanties including ‘A-Roving’ and ‘Shenandoah’. This overture is an attractive work that cries out for a modern day recording. Certainly there are a number of other striking pieces in Alec Rowley’s repertoire that could form part of a ‘retrospective’ CD of orchestral music –these include the evocative sounding ‘From a Devon Headland’, ‘Miniatures in Porcelain’, and the ‘Nautical Suite’.

The opening track on this CD is a big romantic piece that reflects what it is like to be ‘On the Side of the Angels’. I have not heard of Sheldon Harnick (and the other co-composers) however this American is quite capable of writing great film music. Alas, this is what this piece never was. Made up from cuttings from a projected movie score it makes use of orchestral and big band pyrotechnics.
Another American is the well loved Andre Previn who presents the darkly named 'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.’ It is not quite as dramatic as the title suggests. A good, well written piece that is just a little different to most of the works on this CD.
The CD contains a good clutch of breezy, jolly tunes that largely epitomise the world of light music in the 1950s and 60s.  Peter Dennis’ (Dennis Arthur Berry) ‘Candy Floss’ most likely describes a vivacious lady at the Opera House in Blackpool rather than the delicious spun sugar served along the Golden Mile. This mood is repeated in Van Phillips’ ‘Twinkle Toes’. This certainly does not refer to my attempts at the foxtrot or the tango on the floor of the Tower Ballroom. Yet there is something warm and comforting about this carefree music.  In the same vein is Onslow Boyden Waldo Warner’s (quite a mouthful and better ‘kent’ as Ken) ‘Poppet’. She is very definitely a classic example of a late ‘fifties miss.
Florian ZaBach hailed from the good ole’ US of A and gave the world considerable pleasure with his fiddle playing. He had a million selling hit in 1951 with ‘The Hot Canary’. The present ‘Harum Scarum’ defies analysis – it is just a good romp with a superbly challenging violin part.
‘Frantic Fiddles’ by Johnny Gregory is exactly what is written ‘on the tin’ – there is a definite touch of Leroy Anderson here; I am not quite sure if they are Scottish or bluegrass fiddles.  Cyril Watters is a name that crops up quite frequently in the annals of light music and ‘Folies Parade’ is typical of his ‘bright and breezy’ compositional style. ‘Folies’ I guess refer to theatrical ‘types’ specialising in variety – I think of Caitlin’s Folies in Llandudno. Not convinced that there is a Parisian connection here…
‘Badinage’ means playful of frivolous repartee or banter. Roger Roger’s piece fits the bill. Lots of twittering woodwinds, good string tunes and the occasion blue-note gives the piece pizzazz. I enjoyed the Netherlands composer Dolf Van Der Linden’s ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ – this is lovely hoe-down music that crosses the ‘herring pond’ in its mood and is certainly appealing. Equally diverse is Ray Martin’s ‘Piccadilly Hoe-Down’ which balances the American exemplar with a lush romantic tune more appropriate to the West-End by night. Look out for ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and ‘London Bridge is Burning Down’.  A great piece. Still in The Smoke (I assume) is Roger Barsotti’s ‘Metropolitan March’. This is hardly ‘pomp and circumstance’ but a good tune that could have been used as a TV Sports theme. In fact it was used in the BBC series ‘Blott on the Landscape’.

Novelty pieces include the anthropomorphic ‘Poor Butterfly’ by Raymond Hubbell and John Golden. This is lovely romantic little number with sweeping strings and electric guitar obligato.  Herbert W. Spencer’s ‘Grasshopper’ is a skittish little number. I have never really studied the habits of grasshoppers but I guess this is probably the kind of music they will party to.
A couple of Latin American inspired pieces include the fine ‘The Awakening of Pedro’ by Mitchell Ayres – sounding a bit like Henry Mancini’s voluptuous strings and comes complete with choral backing. Jacques La Rue takes the listener down to the Dutch ‘Antilles’ in the Caribbean with a catchy little number. Still on the briny is Joe Reisman’s ‘Ballad of the Sea’: it is a little bit of a mixed bag. Nothing to do with nautical types, Bantockian seascapes or ‘jack the lad’. This is mermaids singing in a summer night somewhere quite unspecified. ‘Desiree’ by James Kriegsmann is just a pen portrait of a lovely lady that composer must have met. Pleasant music.
Clive Richardson is well-known to light music fans. Best recalled for his ‘London Fantasia’ depicting the war-torn Capital, the present ‘Jamboree’ seems to have little to do with boy scouting. More likely a trip to the seaside with a lot of fun, fish and chips and fresh air.  It certainly zips along at a fair pace.
Gilbert Vinter is best recalled for his contributions to the world of brass bands. His early ‘Salute to Youth’ and ‘Fancy’s Knell’ are still played. From his orchestral works his ‘Waltzing with (Arthur) Sullivan’ is one of my favourites. ‘Toward Adventure’ is a big powerful number. What the adventure is, I am not sure, but it is definitely some ‘Boy’s Own’ type of heroics.
The final number on this CD is Percy Fletcher’s ‘All the Fun of the Fair’ from his ‘Rustic Revel’s Suite’. It is a cheerful piece that gloriously lives up to its title.
It seems superfluous to say that I enjoyed every bar and every moment of this CD. All the pieces are designed to give pleasure, raise the spirits and make the listener feel optimistic, if sometimes just a little sentimental for past times. The quality of the sound is superb. I hardly realised that I was listening to a so-called historical recordings. The liner notes are outstanding and give all the information that the listener requires.  Once again Guild, the recording engineer Alan Bunting and producer David Ades have dipped into the vast treasure store of light music, In fact, it is more a cornucopia: it never shows any sign of drying up – thank goodness! 
With thanks to MusicWeb Internatioal where this review first appeared

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Richard Addinsell: Listings of Music recorded on the Guild Light Music Series.

There are currently some 44 CDs featuring the music of Richard Addinsell listed in the on-line Arkiv Music Catalogue. However, this is not quite as impressive as it seems. At least 30 of these discs feature the ubiquitous Warsaw Concerto, the work by which Addinsell in known to millions of listeners. The two major explorations of his music are the Chandos CD of film music and a retrospective on the Marco Polo label. Two further important releases from the ASV label appear to be deleted, although they are available from a number of on-line sources. Virtually every other listing is a single track on samplers of light music.
Surprisingly Richard Addinsell does not feature quite as extensively on Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music series as his popularity would suggest.
Apart from the Warsaw Concerto, there is Addinsell’s score to the delightful David Lean film Blithe Spirit featuring Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings and the sophisticated Kay Hammond. The waltz theme is one of those tunes that everyone knows but just cannot quite place.  Other works included the delicious Festival, although the version on Marco Polo is by far the best: it is an ‘infectious beguine’ which was originally composed for a play called ‘Trespass.’ It is surprising that this number is not heard on Classic FM.

Blithe Spirit - Music from the Film: Waltz - London Symphony Orchestra / Muir Mathieson (GLCD 5195) 
Blithe Spirit - Waltz Theme from the Film - Mantovani & his Orchestra (GLCD 5110)
Festival - Mantovani & His Orchestra (GLCD 5103)
Invitation Waltz (From "Ring Round the Moon") - Semprini, Piano and Orchestra (GLCD 5173)
One Magic Wish (On an Evening Star) - Mantovani & his Orchestra (GLCD 5113)
Out of the Clouds: Theme from the Film - Joe Henderson, Piano - with Laurie Johnson & his Orchestra (GLCD 5119)
Passionate Friends, the: Music from the Film - The Philharmonia Orchestra / Muir Mathieson (GLCD 5152)
Waltz of the Toreadors, The: Theme from the Film - Pinewood Studio Orchestra / Ken Jones (GLCD 5202)
Warsaw Concerto - The Melachrino Orchestra / George Melachrino & William Hill-Bowen (Piano) (Stereo Recording) (GLCD5162)


Saturday, 9 November 2013

‘Record Society’ Classical ‘Wish List’ from 1947

In the April 1947 edition of the Gramophone Magazine Mr. F.G. Youens presented the results of a survey of members of the National Federation of Gramophone Societies who had been asked to submit lists of works that they ‘wished to be recorded of re-recorded’. The top twenty works were as follows:-
      Bach: Mass in B minor
Bax: The Garden of Fand (Beecham and the RPO or Barbirolli and the Hallé)
Elgar: Symphony No. 1 in A flat (Boult and the BBC Symphony Orchestra)
Mozart: Requiem
Moeran: Violin Concerto (Sammons)
Holst: Egon Heath
Strauss: Tod und Verklarung
Franck: Le Chasseur Maudit
Kodaly: Hary Janos Suite (with Hungarian cimbalom)
Faure: Pianoforte Quartet in C minor, Op.15
Beethoven: Mass in D
Strauss: Ein Heldenleben
Saint-Saens: Symphony No.3
Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor
Schubert-Liszt: Wanderer Fantasia
Milhaud: Scaramouche (Cyril Smith and Phyllis Sellick)
Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ
Brahms: German Requiem
Bax: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony 
At a distance of 65 years it is hard to imagine that these works were either then currently unavailable on disc or had never been recorded.  Youens was surprised by the number of major choral works represented in this list.  But what impressed me was that over quarter of the list was requesting British composers. Most of the works included in this list currently have multiple recordings available, however the exceptions to this appear to be one or two of the lesser known British numbers.
Vaughan Williams has fared best with some 22 recordings currently listed in Arkiv of his beautiful Mass in G minor. Egdon Heath has a comfortable 15 listings; however this pales into insignificance when compared to The Planets which has passed the 100 mark.
Sir Adrian Boult duly obliged the Record Society with his 1949 recording of Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No.1 in A flat. He was to return to the recording studio with this work in 1967 and finally in 1976. All three versions are currently available.

Sir Arnold Bax’s The Garden of Fand has some 11 recordings in the catalogues, including editions of the ‘requested’ versions from Barbirolli and Beecham. More about these two recordings in subsequent posts
The Moeran Violin Concerto fares well with the Lyrita Edition (SRCD248) featuring John Georgiadis and Chandos with Mordkovitch (CHAN8807). The Albert Sammons rendition with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult notes above was recorded in 1946, and is available on Symposium (SYMPCD1201).  However, this was a concert performance and never went on general release. Finally Divine Art (dda27806) has released the live Festival Hall broadcast of Alfredo Campoli and BBC Symphony Orchestra under Boult from 1954.
Bax’s attractive Violin Concerto has only a single example – Lydia Mordkovitch with the LPO conducted by Bryden Thomson on Chandos (CHAN9003).
Finally, it is up to other analysts to examine the success of the non-British works; however it is good to note that the Sellick/Smith 1948 recording of Milhaud’s Scaramouche is still in the catalogue. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Charles Williams: Tone Poem –‘Lizard Point’

It is many years since I sat above Lizard Point looking far out to sea. After enjoying the view, of the cliffs, the rocky islets, the lighthouse and the Lifeboat Station, I made my way back to a hostelry in Helston where I enjoyed a pint or two if St Austell Brewery’s best bitter. According to Wikipedia, with the exception of some parts of the Scilly Isles this is the southernmost part of England.  Historians will know that Marconi carried out some of his wireless experiments at this location. Nearby is the beautiful beach at Kynance Cove with the attractive Mullion Cove a few miles further along the coast.  I do not recall when I heard about Charles Williams’ miniature tone-poem describing musically this particular landscape; however it is title that I seem to have known of for years. It was not until 2005 that a recording of this work appeared on CD.

A reviewer has alluded to Arnold Bax’s glorious tone-poem Tintagel in connection with Williams’ Lizard Point, and I believe that this is a good comparison. Whilst not being as complex as Bax’s work it is still a fine achievement that paints an effective musical picture of one of England’s great topographical landmarks. However, the big difference between the two pieces is in the dramatic sense. Bax has created a physical and emotional storm scene which is barely resolved, whereas Charles Williams has fashioned a picture of a fine summer’s day with hardly a care in the world.
Lizard Point opens with an almost Delius-like tune, but soon resolves into a ‘lighter’ style with a sweeping, romantic melody. There is a slightly more urgent middle section, before the ‘big’ tune re-establishes itself.  It is a well-balanced, finely scored work. Unfortunately it is too short in duration to develop the mood of the moment:  it was most likely designed to fit onto a single side of a 78rpm record.
The exact date of composition of Lizard Point is not known however, the date of the recording was 1954. The original catalogue number was Chappell C445.  The ‘A’ side was a Golden Trumpets by Roger Barsotti.

Charles Williams’ Lizard Point is available on The Golden Age of Light Music: Reflections of Tranquillity, GLCD5112. It is performed by the Danish State Radio Orchestra conducted by Robert Farnon. The record label states that is by the Melodi Light Orchestra conducted by Ole Jensen. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s First Appearance in London, 1899

This ‘blog’ is always prepared to look beyond music by British composers. It is fascinating to look at conductors, soloists and institutions. One of the most venerable of these latter is the Philharmonic Society which was founded in 1813. A major highlight of their history was the welcoming of Sergei Rachmaninoff on 19th April 1899. From a British music point of view, it is interesting to note that the great Scottish composer and academic Sir Alexander Mackenzie was the conductor of the Society at this time. He was noted for introducing many new works – both British and European. Reference is also made to the British composer Luard-Selby in these notes.
The definitive and comprehensive text on this event is Geoffrey Norris’ ‘Rachmaninoff in London’ which was published in The Musical Times (April 1993).

At the end of 1898, Rachmaninoff was invited to play at a London Philharmonic Concert in London the following year. This was to be the composer’s first appearance outside of Russia.  The Philharmonic Society had hoped that he would perform his ‘new’ Piano Concerto No.2 however this work was not completed until the following year. In fact Norris points out that the Society minute-books show that this work was expected.  The Musical Standard (28 Jan 1899) categorically states that ‘Rachmaninoff will make his first appearance in England, playing his new Pianoforte Concerto and his hackneyed Prelude in C sharp minor, thus in the latter case, settling a vexed question of its proper reading: for as a rule the Prelude is almost unrecognisable, so differently is it played by amateur and professional pianists.’

In return, Rachmaninoff suggested to the Philharmonic Society that was prepared to conduct one of his orchestral pieces. At this time that would have meant the First Symphony, the ‘Prince Rostilav’ Overture, the ‘Caprice bohemian’ or the symphonic poem Utyos ‘The Rock.’
Naturally the Society wanted to hear him play the piano, so a counter suggestion was made that he play his Piano Concerto No.1 which had been written in 1891 (it would be revised in 1917) The composed declined this suggestion, saying that he considered it a student work. A compromise was eventually agreed where he would conduct an orchestral work and play two piano solos.
The concert at the Queen’s Hall on 19 April 1899 therefore included of ‘The Rock ‘which is based on literary themes by Lermontov and Chekhov. Rachmaninoff played his ‘Elegie’ and the ubiquitous Prelude in C# minor, both from the ‘Morceaux de fantaisie’ Op.3. They were performed on a Bechstein piano.  Other works included at this concert were the long-forgotten ‘Idyll’ (for small orchestra) by B. Luard-Selby, the Recitative & Cavatina, 'Slowly fades the day’ from Borodin’s Prince Igor with Christanne Andray as soloist.  The concert concluded with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 in C minor.  Sir Alexander Mackenzie conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra for the remainder of the programme.
Interestingly, Rachmaninoff’s ‘Trio élégiaque' has been performed in London on the previous day and had received less-than-positive reviews. Norris quotes the Daily Telegraph reviewer as saying he 'would burn the scores of half-a-dozen such oddities as the Rachmaninoff Trio, to pre-serve intact the exquisite song-cycle which adorned the second part' which was Liza Lehmann's then popular, but now forgotten, song-cycle In a Persian Garden (1896),   It is assumed that the composer did not attend this chamber concert.
There were a number of reviews of the Philharmonic Society concert in the following days. These included The Times, the Daily Mail, the Pall Mall Gazette, the Musical Times and the Musical Standard. It is fair to say the critics were less than enthusiastic about ‘The Rock’. According to Max Harrison’s Rachmaninoff: Life, Works, Recordings published in 2008 this was due to a ‘suspicion if not hostility’ regarding anything Russian. It was as if ‘British music was something that needed protecting from anything foreign, especially, it seemed, things Russian.  If anything there was a touch of ‘hostility’ rather than the ‘lionisation’ that would follow in coming years.