Marco Polo's British Light Music series shifts gear as epitomised by the
modern painting (a detail from Ian Steadman's Opus 1) on the CD's booklet
cover instead of the mainly quaint Edwardian-style illustrations to which
we have become accustomed thus far. Yet it should be emphasised immediately
that all these works, although quite recent (composed between 1968 and 1981),
are all very melodic and accessible.
David Lyon, born in Walsall in England's West Midlands studied at the Royal
Academy of Music with John Gardner and was influenced by the works of Mahler,
Shostakovich, Tippett and Britten. He has written many pieces for the BBC's
light music programmes; plus chamber, vocal and orchestral music. In 1978
he became interested in adult education and returned to studies this time
at Bristol University. Since the mid-1980s much of his music has been designed
for school or amateur performance involving voices in one form or another.
The programme commences with the Fantasia On a Nursery Song which
is a cheery, often cheeky, set of variations on Nick, Nack Paddiwack
as they might have been written by other composers such as Rossini, Arthur
Benjamin (his Jamaican Rumba is vividly brought to mind), Sibelius
(of Night Ride and Sunrise), Nielsen, Richard Strauss, Bartók,
Stravinsky and Walton. This work won an Ivor Novello Award.
The enchanting A Farnham Suite for Strings is a beautifully-crafted,
lyrical work written in the style of the great English works for strings
- Holst and Finzi come to mind particularly. I loved thius little piece.
Equally delightful is Lyon's catchy, carefree miniature, Country Lanes
which is a wonderful study in varying cross rhythm and changing key patterns
as the music keeps pace with the pony and cart.
The Concerto for Horn and Strings opens with an energetic Allegro conspirito.
Unusually, the jaunty music winds down through slowing tempos, becoming more
and more dreamily introspective as it does so until it, almost, comes to
a standstill before the cadenza which winds the music up again. The Lento
movement lets the horn weave a sinuous melody over continuous muted string
murmurings leading to an impassioned central climax. The Final movement is
bright and breezy and taken at the gallop. Michael Thompson rises to the
opportunities and challenges of this quirky little work.
The bewitching Fairy Tale Suite is based on Hans Anderson's The
Snow Queen. Its story is about a young boy, Kai, who disappears while
playing in the snow. His friend Gerda sets off to look for him, encountering
on the way, an enchanted garden, a beautiful Princess, reindeer, wood-pigeons,
and a mysterious Ice Palace where Kai is held captive by the Snow Queen.
Gerda melts the Snow Queen with her goodness so everything ends happily.
The first movement, "Once upon a time..". scored for celesta, harp and two
flutes creates a remote icy atmosphere and hidden menace as warmer music
evokes the children at play in the snow. The jolly and melodic "Snow Scene"
complete with sleigh bells, very reminiscent of Prokofiev, continues this
playful mood. The style of the Romantic Russian composers informs "Gerda's
Lament". The lovely Waltz (The Enchanted Garden) is followed by "Song of
the Pigeons", a whirling, gently shrieking little evocation, directs Gerda
to the frozen north. "The Ice Palace: Finale" is narrative music, beginning
with ominous tremolandi on strings and icy treble percussion chords leading
to confrontation and warmer compassionate figures as Gerda triumphs. A very
The Overture to a Comic Opera is a rousing and brisk work, very like
Walton/Stravinsky, which made me think of the commedia del arté tradition
in its impression of merry pranks. Waltz for Strings is an ingenious
little piece requiring great precision work from the violins in their high
register made more difficult by the constantly varying time signatures and
Ballet for Orchestra is the most structurally complex in the collection and
it stretches the term light music to its limits. But it is a high-spirited,
accessible composition nonetheless. Brass, woodwind and strings tend to be
separated out emphasising the contrasts between them and they are often pitched
at the extremes of their range. There is hard, spiky almost aggressive edge
to much of the music but its energy, dynamic rhythms and sharp contrasts
engage and retain the attention.
David Lloyd-Jones told me how enthusiastic he was about David Lyon's music,
and Lloyd-Jones's conviction is clear in brilliant, committed performances.
I was very impressed with this collection.