These Conrad Leonard songs declare a talent unabashed
by sentimentality. The songs are often bluff, exhorting laughter, and
hymning music and life. The style is light and ballad-like. The genre
fits well into the more serious end of the music-hall manner or the
lighter end of operetta. In the UK you can imagine these songs (all
for voice and piano) fitting like a glove into a BBC Radio 2 playlist
(once upon a 1950s time, the Light Programme).
Leonard was born in the London suburb of South Norwood
on 24 October 1898. He served in the trenches with the Middlesex regiment
during the Great War being demobbed in April 1919 with the rank of Second
Lieutenant. Two years at the Guildhall School of Music prepared him
as a professional musician engaged in the touring life of summer seaside
shows and pantos. He had a ten piece orchestra in Eastbourne. London
musical-theatrical life beckoned and showland became his home in the
1930s and 1940s. His work brought him into contact with Peter Dawson,
Ann Ziegler, Webster Booth and Gracie Fields and latterly with Petula
Clarke, Fred Astaire and Cole Porter. Composing all the while he penned
in total some four hundred songs as well as many orchestral sketches.
Perhaps one of these days Campion or Marco Polo will treat us to a selection
of the orchestral genre pieces. Every Thursday lunchtime he can be found
playing his compositions at the Plantation Centre at Squireís Garden
Centre, Twickenham, UK. See also www.conradleonard.com although currently
the only thing you will find there is the cover of this CD.
This Leonard collection mixes songs with pieces for
the piano. The songs predominate. Life Can Be a Song (reprised in the
final track) is a hymn to enjoying life ringingly done by Stephen Gadd.
In much the same stream we hear the brazen heroics of The Clouds
Are Horsemen -a fine noble song in the stream of John Irelandís
ballad Great Things. The Light Of The Sun is a duo all
exultant with a smile and a chuckle. There is a touch of Richard Rodgers
here and at least equal to his lyric strengths. Shelagh is an
isolated example of Leonardís distinct novelty song. It marries Sullivanís
Titwillow with Molly Malone and a host of Leprechaunery.
It would fit like a glove into a McCormack recital.
I Heard A Robin Singing arrives complete with
melisma imitative of the song of the robin and catching, on the wing,
something of Rachmaninovís Vocalise. It also sports a smartly turned
out second subject. Claire Rutter gives it the full operatic treatment.
Leonard reserves a romantic sensibility for the beguine style of the
marvellous In The Depth Of My Heart to words by Ronald Frankau.
This fine song really suits Ms Rutterís voice and is one of the highlights
of this disc. There are weaker moments as well; such as the light operatic
duo Only For You in a style crossing Lehár and Julian
Slade style - though hearing it for the third time I have come to like
it. Much more refined and yet touching is Whispering Dreams which
lightly explores the edge of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov song heritage.
The Lone Fir Tree is a piano solo; a genre piece
with a soothing and sinuous oriental sway. Leonardís solos, on this
showing, are more often skilfully written to provide a modest and gentle
sentimental backdrop - a skill all its own fully on show in the gentle
and artlessly fluent Noonday Sun and the modest True Devotion.
No traces of ragtime or jazz here - rather expect something closer to
a Tchaikovsky salon piece crossed with light popular romance.
These performances have the authority of the composerís
accompaniment - spry and skilful at the age of 102. The notes are rather
scant and I could have done with more about the context of the songs
and about their history. A pity also that the words are not given though
they can be heard well enough.
If you know that you like the sentimental approach
and appreciate the repertoire associated with Peter Dawson or the young
Julie Andrews and the musicals of Richard Rodgers and the operetta of
Lehár you are very unlikely to be disappointed. There are some
really lovely songs here.
£11.00 (inclusive of p&p in the UK)
cheques made payable to ĎA Startled Chameleoní
C/o 39 Thetford Road
SURREY KT3 5DP