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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Romeo and Juliet - A Ballet in two Tableaux (1924-26) [30:00]
Pomona - A Ballet in one Act (1926-27) [20:36]
Music for Orchestra (1927) [13:19] *
King Pest: Rondo Burlesca (1932-35) [9:14] **
English Chamber Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth *
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Joly **
rec. July 1977, Kingsway Hall, London (Romeo and Juliet, Pomona); unspecified (Music for Orchestra, King Pest). DDD*; ADD. Notes in English
LYRITA SRCD215 [73:14]



Constant Lambert’s Pomona has fared well on CD. It received two recordings made within four months of each other in 1998: David Lloyd-Jones’s account on Hyperion with the English Northern Philharmonia and Barry Wordsworth’s BBC Concert Orchestra recording on ASV. A year later John Lanchbery recorded it (and Romeo and Juliet) with the State Orchestra of Victoria for Chandos. All three versions are beautifully and idiomatically played and enjoy superlative recordings.
 
Norman Del Mar’s pioneering recording comes from more than twenty years earlier and makes a welcome return to the catalogue with the overdue resurrection of the Lyrita label. Lambert’s was a prodigious talent and in 1926 Pomona was already his fifth ballet score. Its commission came hot on the heels of Romeo and Juliet, for which he received the commission when still only twenty. The relationship with Diaghilev had not been an easy one but Bronislava Nijinska, who had choreographed Romeo and Juliet, recognised Lambert’s gift and asked him for a ballet for a performance at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires on 9 September 1927. Pomona started life as a Divertimento, which itself had grown out of a little movement called Champêtre. This movement became the opening Intrata, while the remainder of the existing Divertimento was augmented by the Passacaglia from the earlier ‘suite dansée’ Adam and Eve. The movements were then re-ordered into the form we hear on this disc. The music has a marked neo-classical flavour with Stravinsky (Pulcinella), Poulenc (Les biches) and even a splash of Milhaud being brought to mind and, as a whole, reveals Lambert’s interest in French music at the time. Only the Passacaglia and Marcia sound vaguely English - à la Finzi and Walton/Bliss respectively.
 
In 1925 Lambert had received that aforementioned commission from Diaghilev for a ballet for his company. They had agreed that Lambert’s third balletic score, Adam and Eve, would form the basis of the new Romeo and Juliet ballet. Lambert excised the Passacaglia which found its way into Pomona and added a new finale. The main cause of friction between Lambert and Diaghilev was the impresario’s wish to turn Romeo and Juliet into a fashionable ‘cocktail ballet’ where the incongruity between subject matter and its treatment was considered part of the charm of the form. Lambert ultimately lost his battle and the ballet was premièred on 4 May 1926. The music of Romeo and Juliet is sharper and zestier than that for Pomona and makes for entertaining and rewarding listening for its own sake – especially when as infectiously performed as it is here.
 
The English Chamber Orchestra performs energetically but I occasionally wished the engineers hadn’t compensated for the lack of orchestral size with a slightly close recording. I find the more spacious recordings of the later versions of these ballets more pleasing on the ear.
 
Of special interest on this disc are the two pieces appearing on Lyrita for the first time are Music for Orchestra and the Rondo Burlesca, King Pest. Dedicated to his friend and colleague Lord Berners, the Music for Orchestra dates from the same period as Pomona. The Andante contains some beautifully hushed writing … and playing!, while the second movement starts with a fugue. I was occasionally reminded of Walton – particularly at 1:43 in track 23. It is hard to believe that Lambert intended these colourful and well-crafted movements as purely ‘abstract’ music – accounting, no doubt, for the rather unimaginative title. This is very Romantic music and far removed from the neo-classicism of the two ballets heard earlier on the disc. Both pieces are moulded with great skill by Barry Wordsworth and the London Philharmonic Orchestra with very fine recording to match.
 
The Rondo Burlesca: King Pest is the sixth of the seven movements that comprise the work many people hold up as Lambert’s masterpiece Summer’s Last Will and Testament, written 1932-35. This is a scherzo-like movement and to, my ears, a sort of danse macabre, full of mischief, menace and barbed humour in equal measure. The closing bars remind me just a little of the conclusion of Holst’s Uranus from The Planets. Simon Joly and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are treated to a sumptuous and transparent recording with a very natural balance and presence.
 
This collection shows why Lambert was one of the most promising and accomplished composers of the first half of the twentieth century, making his early death all the more regrettable.
 
Derek Warby

see also reviews by Rob Barnett and Ian Lace 

Lyrita Catalogue



 


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