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Walter LEIGH (1905-1942)
Agincourt Overture* (1937) [11:46]
Concertino for Harpsichord and String Orchestra (1934) [9:33]
Music for String Orchestra (1931-2) [6:29]
A Midsummer Night's Dream Suite for small orchestra (1936): Overture, Entry of the Mechanicals, Introduction to Act II, Intermezzo, Introduction to Act III, Wedding March, Bergomask, Fairies' Dance, Finale [14:26]
The Frogs (1936) [5:35]
Jolly Roger Overture* (1933) [3:38]
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Nicholas Braithwaite
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1980; *Walthamstow Town Hall, August 1975. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.289 [51:33] 



The composer, Walter Leigh, is little known today yet was undoubtedly one of England’s gifted and versatile composers. Born in London, he became a brilliant scholar and graduated from Cambridge to study in Berlin with Hindemith. He composed scores for solo instruments, chamber and orchestra in a wide range of genres including panto, operetta, incidental music and film. The GPO film unit was impressed with the descriptive music created by Leigh (and his contemporary, Britten), which was best remembered in the film, ‘Job in a Million’. Most of his output was written in the thirties until interrupted by the war. The war took him to Libya where he was killed in 1942 at the age of 36, at a time before he was able to complete his first symphony. A Sonatina written in 1930 bears the influence of Hindemith and was written for Rebecca Clarke who gave a London performance. The works on this disc were written after the celebrated Sonatina and were equally successful.
 
The rousing overture to the Jolly Roger, a comic opera, hints at the modern style Leigh experimented with in the thirties. To prove its success, the opera ran well at its Manchester opening in February 1933 before transferring to the Savoy Theatre, London for a full six month season.  The vivacious music is most original with twists and turns in key where the strings follow the horns, for instance. Humour is added by certain phrases and the repetition of a false close to the piece. A BBC studio broadcast of the complete opera took place in August 1948. It was later repeated in the 1950s, I think. Surely on this showing the BBC recording is overdue for a fresh airing, though the superb dynamics and energy of this Lyrita recording gives the overture an extra dimension.
 
Agincourt Overture is a long, bright and flamboyant swashbuckling piece that to me conjures up chivalrous men on horseback of an earlier age yet it was written to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. Strong nobility is attached to its opening majestic theme, brightly punctuated by cymbals. Its style is not far removed from ‘Pomp and Circumstance’. Short dialogue between the brass and strings leads into a tranquil theme with a viola and cello prominence that clearly echoes Elgar, and might well have been written by him.
 
The Harpsichord Concertino is a compact work, surprisingly more French than German and shadowing Ravel's style - remember, he had studied in Berlin. I have not been able to discover why Leigh, an organ scholar, had such a fascination with this keyboard instrument since he uses it a lot and yet it is often masked when used with an orchestra whereas a piano isn’t. Here by dispensing with brass and timpani the harpsichord is given a chance to shine through with a certain degree of prominence. A lively opening movement, with the harpsichord providing filigree, is followed by a relaxingly wide theme in Sarabande form, before reverting to another brisk 6/8 final movement containing the added colour of cross-rhythms, where different short themes rapidly follow each other. A final reprise links themes from all three movements.
 
For the Cambridge University production of The Frogs in 1936 with Basil Dean, Leigh produced a score that was impressive and may well have led to his involvement with the GPO Film Unit. The overture’s majestic and somewhat hymnal trumpet-led opening runs into a fugue-like theme. The short Dance that follows is heavily scored and must have accompanied some prominent stage spectacle.
 
Of all Leigh’s compositions found on this disc, the music for A Midsummer Night's Dream is a particularly mature work and demonstrates the skill this composer possesses when writing for theatrical productions. Many of the tracks are short scene-setting introductions with the Introduction to Act III and Bergomask carrying an authentic Elizabethan feel. Judging from the characteristics of the short Fairies' Dance and Finale it seems likely that Leigh had studied the Mendelssohn equivalent. A humble premiere of the excellent score at a Weimar school’s performance in 1936 required it to suit the needs of a reduced orchestra which surprisingly included a harpsichord. Nevertheless, it is lovingly scored and the effect is grand. Here it is played to perfection by the larger forces of a leading orchestra.
 
Music for String Orchestra is a melancholic work, written sympathetically with amateur musicians in mind. Starting with a dark Adagio using rising thirds, it gathers momentum with a short bouncing Vivo before lulling into a doleful Lento, reminiscent of the opening movement. A short Allegro closes the work. I find this the least satisfying of the works represented on this disc.
 
Perhaps it should be mentioned that the only other major commission Leigh undertook before the outbreak of war was to produce music for Eleanor Farjeon's intimate Nine Sharp (1938), a sort of ‘Cambridge Footlights Revue’. Sadly no recording exists of this or anything from his other three stage works, ‘Aladdin’, ‘The Pride of the Regiment’ and ‘Charlemagne’.
 
Raymond J Walker
 



 


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