Two ballets from Constant Lambert; both enjoying their premieres on CD and
in the case of Tiresias its premiere in any commercial medium.
Orchard serenade - sweet as a nut. Links with Finzian woodland inspirations.
The coranto is very neo-classical. Taps into a vein explored by Warlock in
the almost contemporaneous Capriol Suite. Lambert conducted one of the earliest
recordings of Capriol. There are also parallels with Moeran's orchestral
Serenade from twenty years later. The Passacaglia is very Finzian indeed
and an easily accessible track with a cleanly emotional message with a climax
almost identical to his other strong work dating from the same year (Music
for Orchestra). Gently rocking siciliana. Very much a ballet of serenading
woodwind tuning not so much a merry note as a contentedly sad lyric note.
The slashed and chivalric Marcia has a busy Portsmouth Point dash
but with echoes of neo-classical Stravinsky.
Tiresias is an enigma and a major one. Except for those who have memories
of the performances during the 1950s the work remained a closed book until
it was opened by the BBC. This revival took place during at a BBC Concert
Orchestra studio recording conducted by Barry Wordsworth on 8 November 1995.
Almost a quarter of a century on from Pomona and his best known works Lambert's
accent, rather than his language, had changed. The vowels are slightly more
clipped and in place of the more relaxed open-ness of Rio Grande there is
a tightness and concentration which is not as immediately attractive as the
language he uses in Music for Orchestra and the ballet Horoscope.
This is accentuated by the scoring. The orchestra has no violins or violas.
Instead the rich tones of the woodwind, glorious brass and tempered percussion
(including two orchestral whips) dominate. The first five minutes are as
marked maestoso, grand and commanding. The work opens with a grim fanfare
and a piano flourish topped off with a whipcrack. The piano plays an important
and prominent role in the 50 minute score. Falla in the scene 1 vivo. Typical
jazzy dance in Bacchanale  very much à la Horoscope - and this
really dances. Various tributes are noticeable throughout the work.
I certainly heard references to Bax (Winter Legends), the Hanson symphonies
(could Lambert really have heard symphonies 1-3 or is it just a coincidence?)
and in Interlude  there plain as anything is Walton's dizzily virtuosic
Sinfonia Concertante for piano and orchestra. The music is so vividly
pictorial I wondered whether Bernard Herrmann had ever seen the score. The
orchestration is typically Herrmann in its challenge to accepted instrumentation
and the clanging piano reminded me of Havergal Brian also. This is a rich
work but one which requires some persistence to pierce the initially unpromising
The exemplary notes are by Lewis Foreman who reminds us how exciting the
BBC programmes conducted by Lambert during the period 1930-1951 were. What
a tragedy that they do not survive on transcription discs although Mr Foreman
does mention that the odd fragment does exist.
The cover art from the original production of Tiresias is by Isabel Rawsthorne
A small point which shows Hyperion's attention to detail. They seem to have
chosen a supplier of jewel cases who has solved the problem of fragile broken
central stems. The circle of 'pegs' are supported by a central o ring. It
looks a good design to me and shows some thought for customers.
This CD belongs in the collection of every serious collector of British music,
of ballet music of the 20th centruy and of anyone at all entranced
by Lambert's muse. If you do not know Lambert's voice then start with Rio
Grande and then move onwards to the ballets. His masterwork is Summer's Last
Will and Testament and conveniently both Rio and Summer are coupled on another
Hyperion CD (CDA66565).
Now Hyperion how about Lambert's succinctly symphonic but hideously titled
Music for Orchestra? It plays for only 18 minutes and could be coupled
with the brief Dirge from Cymbeline plus Merchant Seaman with as much
of the music as you can trace and reconstitute, the orchestral Elegiac
Blues and a suite of music from Anna Karenina.
The strongest recommendation for a generous CD and one in the forefront of