|Percy WHITLOCK (1903 - 1946)
Concert Overture: The Feast of St. Benedict (1934)
Ballet of the Wood Creatures ((1939)
Wessex Suite (1937)
Suite: Music for Orchestra (1941)
Come along Marnie (1938)
Susan, the Doggie and Me (1938)
Holiday Suite (1938/39)
Balloon Ballet (1938)
March: Dignity and Impudence (1932/33)
Malcolm Riley: organ
RTE Concert Orchestra; conducted by Gavin Sutherland
Rec. 4th & 5th February 2000 at O'Reilly Hall,
University College, Dublin
Every so often a recording is released which reveals a totally different
side to a composer's character. For most music listeners the name of Percy
Whitlock is firmly associated with the organ loft. However the pieces presented
here are from the other side of this versatile composer's output. They are
a superb addition to the great and largely underrated corpus of British Light
When Whitlock was turned down for the post of organist at Rochester Cathedral,
he moved to Bournemouth to take up the post of musical director at the
Anglo-Catholic parish of St Stephens. Soon however, he was finding this
appointment somewhat difficult. In 1936 he was appointed the borough organist
at the Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre. This was a position he would retain
for the rest of his life. It is from his time at this venue that most of
his orchestral music was produced.
However the earliest piece on this CD is a recording of his March: Dignity
and Impudence. This was composed in 1932/33. It is a definite nod in
the direction of Sir Edward Elgar. In fact it has been nicknamed the
6th Pomp and Circumstance March. The title alludes to the sentimental
painting by Sir Edwin Landseer of the two dogs. However, Malcolm Riley assures
me that Whitlock was not a dog lover. We should perhaps read Imperial for
Impudence and Pomp for Dignity. As a march it has everything we could wish
for. A big tune, interesting fanfares and 'minuet' section and of course
fine orchestration. It lies somewhere between P & C No. 4 and
Crown Imperial, as yet unwritten by Walton. If this piece were written
by either of the two mentioned masters it would regularly feature in the
Proms or on Classic FM. It needs and deserves to be better known.
The other work written before Whitlock's Pavilion days was the Concert
Overture: The Feast of St Benedict. This was composed for a competition
run by the Daily Telegraph. Unfortunately Percy was unsuccessful. He did
not even get a 'commended' or mentioned in dispatches. The prize was won
by Cyril Scott with his a-typical Festival Overture. Whitlock was
a little peeved. He appended a note to the score stating that '
arrangement is pending for two toothpicks and a gas jet.'
It is certainly a good overture, if a little diffuse in places. It is very
much in the style of Elgar's In the South. There are three moods presented
in this piece - Festivity, Love and Religious feeling. The score is fine
with many attractive moments.
The Wessex Suite is an excellent example of music evoking holidays
by the seaside. It has three movements - Revels in Hogsnorton; The Blue Poole
and the March; Rustic Cavalry. Hogsnorton was a mythical English village
created by the then popular comedian Gillie Potter. The Blue Poole is a
concatenation of the beauty spot, the Blue Pool on the Isle of Purbeck and
Poole Harbour itself. These are delightful movements, the first being a waltz
in the best of English traditions complete with a 'modern' trio. The slow
movement is to my ears the loveliest thing on this CD. It opens with a short
upward phrase for saxophone followed by the inevitable cadenza for solo violin.
There is a rocking motion accompaniment, and then the truly gorgeous tune
is given to the saxophones. There is some variation and a change in tempo
before the main theme returns, complete with slightly out of tune violins
- a lovely touch that evokes many pier end concerts before slot machines
took over from Palm Court Music.
The movement ends with a quiet chord on the vibraphone. It is a perfect picture
of lazy days by the seaside. Lovers walking hand in hand without a care in
The last movement is a swashbuckling march that seems to me to have more
to do with pirates and things nautical than courtly behaviour.
The latest pieces on his CD are the Suite: Music for Orchestra. This
is perhaps the weakest thing on this recording in spite of the fact that
the first movement, Peter's Tune is an orchestration of the Allegretto from
the earlier Five Pieces for Organ (1929)
The four movements do not seem, to my ears at any rate, to hang together.
The styles are eclectic. And the introduction of the organ into the middle
movements seems to upset the balance somewhat. However the Fanfare on the
tune Song of Agincourt reveals Whitlock moving in a direction away from the
sheer romanticism. There is something in this piece that reminds me of Vaughan
Williams less pastoral music and perhaps even Warlock's Capriol Suite.
The remainder of the pieces on this recording can be considered together.
They all derive from music written for a 'play' for children produced at
the Pavilion called the 'Day Dream Family'. It was a kind of 'Little Lord
Fauntelroy' production that would certainly not bear a revival in our own
days. However much of the music has survived. And this is certainly quite
The main event is the Holiday Suite. This work once again expresses
much of the emotions aroused by the thought of 'an English holiday at the
seaside.' The suite is in three movements: the first being an attractive
waltz in the style of the best of Eric Coates. The second movement is a
delightful miniature with the back to front title of 'Spade and Bucket Polka.'
In amongst the fun we hear the English Tune Cherry Ripe. The last
movement is another march - Civic March. However there is some discussion
as to whether this was originally meant to be the Picnic March. There is
an open-air quality to this tune. Perhaps it is easier to imagine the Famous
Five off on a picnic with their ginger beer and jam sandwiches. To my mind
it fits in with the idea of 'being at the seaside.' The last thing I would
want to do as a child is watch a lot of old fogeys dressed up in outdated
clothes shamble along the High Street! However, I will defer, for scholarship's
sake and concede that this last movement is a rather bright and gay 'civic'
The other pieces of music which derive from the music to the 'Day Dream Family'
is the delightful Mendelssonian 'Ballet of the Wood Creatures.' This
is so short, at only three and half minutes. What a pity Whitlock never composed
a full-scale ballet score. Yet this is gem. We cannot help imagining these
woodland animals talking. The Balloon Ballet is an attractive tune with a
'spinning wheel' quality to it; well orchestrated with just the right amount
of diversity for short movement.
The two arrangements of the songs Come Along Marnie and Susan,
the doggie and Me are neat and accomplished orchestrations by Malcolm
This is great CD. One which all enthusiasts for light music will appreciate.
Yet much of this music actually goes well beyond what is normally regarded
as appropriate for this genre. Certainly the Overture and the Dignity
& Impudence March could take their places along side most English
music of the period. They are fine, competent pieces.
Light music should be tuneful, well wrought and approachable. Whitlock's
works are all these things and more.
The sound recording is excellent, as we expect for Marco Polo. The programme
notes could be more fulsome - but no doubt all Whitlock enthusiasts will
own the fine biography by Malcolm Riley and published by Thames (1998). The
cover picture is truly evocative of the period of these compositions. It
derives from an old Bournemouth Pavilion programme.
All I can add is that hope Marco Polo will consider recording the few remaining
orchestral works that are still extant. And perhaps there is room in the
repertoire for the Phantasy Quartet in A minor, the Quintet in
g minor for Piano & String Quartet and the Movement for String
When Whitlock left St Stephen's Parish to go to the Pavilion, a fellow organist
is reputed to have said, 'It's a pity he is giving up such a good Church
post to go to a place where organ playing is merely an accompaniment to eating
We must surely be glad that Whitlock did make such a move.
Stephen Lloyd has also listened to this disc:
The heyday of light music was when spas and seaside resorts sported municipal
orchestras and parks, piers and promenades resounded to the sound of military
or brass bands. Gone are the municipal orchestras and decaying bandstands
stand empty. In their place noise blares from loudspeakers and competing
'ghetto-blasters'. And while light music once formed a substantial portion
of broadcast music, today it is a seriously endangered species. When Radio
3's Matinée Musicale ceased, a death knell was sounded. So
it is to record companies with such enterprising series as Marco Polo's 'British
Light Music' that we have to turn to sample music that is in no way inferior
to more serious music but offers a charm and a relaxed style that is less
demanding on the intellect and sings of happy times.
Eric Coates, the acknowledged 'king' of light music, has been well served,
and so have composers like Haydn Wood, Frederic Curzon, Ernest Tomlinson
and Edward German (in light music mode). Many others have been represented
in collections like Hyperion's 'British Light Music Classics' and EMI's 'British
Light Music'. Great credit, then, to Marco Polo for giving over a whole CD
to a much less-known figure, Percy Whitlock (1903-1946), less-known, that
is, unless you happened to live before the Second World War in Bournemouth
where he was a familiar figure not just as composer but as borough organist.
Successive Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra conductors - founder Sir Dan Godfrey,
Richard Austin and Montague Birch - encouraged Percy Whitlock to write works
which they programmed. Not all Whitlock's works are 'light'. Besides a large
number of works for solo organ there is an impressive Symphony in G minor
for Organ and Orchestra that Richard Austin premièred in 1937 (it
had a broadcast in March 1991 with Graham Barber (organ), and Grant Llewellyn
conducting the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra).
Many of Whitlock's lighter pieces were written under the pseudonym of Kenneth
Lark, and - here's a lark - he was an occasional music critic for the local
press and it was not unknown for Kenneth Lark to review a work by Percy Whitlock
or for works by Whitlock and Lark to appear in the same programme. Taking
the joke one step further, according to the title page, his Wessex Suite
was composed by Kenneth Lark and orchestrated by Percy Whitlock. His sense
of humour pervades his music as well.
The most substantial work on this CD is the concert overture The Feast
of St. Benedict (that Robert Tucker included in his 1996 Windsor
Sinfonia programme at Eton). Composed in 1934, this is an easy-going melodious
piece, with hints here and there of that splendid nautical overture Plymouth
Hoe by John Ansell (quite often played at Bournemouth). It was
premièred in September 1934 by Sir Dan Godfrey in his last season
as conductor of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, and repeated eleven
days later. Whitlock had entered the work for The Daily Telegraph
overture competition that was to be won by Cyril Scott's Festival
Overture (when is that heard today?). At nearly twelve minutes' duration
it might perhaps have benefited from some structural tightening but it is
nonetheless a pleasant enough piece and, like nearly all the works on this
CD, it grows on you with repeated hearing.
Other works, if not always displaying great individuality, are equally melodious,
just the sort of pieces that would have charmed seaside audiences, reflecting
as they do popular styles of their period. Is there any work more danceable
than The Blue Poole from the Wessex Suite (1937) that
boasts alto, tenor and baritone saxophones? Inspired by a beauty spot on
the nearby Isle of Purbeck known as 'The Blue Pool', it punningly alludes
to Bournemouth's neighbouring Poole and the piece's 'blues' feeling. It might
just as easily conjure up an image of couples moving at a leisurely pace
across a smoke-filled Pavilion ballroom. The Suite's cheerful concluding
march, Rustic Cavalry, ventures closer to Coates or Haydn Wood territory.
Melody is the key to most of Whitlock's pieces. His suite Music for
Orchestra, introduced by Montague Birch on 20th February
1941, has an innocent simplicity, the second movement Caprice opening
very much in the mood of Edward German. Its concluding section is based on
the Agincourt Song (declaimed on organ) which Whitlock had heard in
a broadcast three years before Walton took it for the film Henry V.
The oddly-named items Come along, Marnie and Susan, the
Doggie and Me are short songs dating from 1939, both tastefully
orchestrated for oboe and strings. The Holiday Suite dates
from the same year and was performed on 29th January, Richard Austin conducting.
This suite is not quite up to the level of the other suites, although the
central Spade and Bucket Polka that uses the tune Cherry Ripe
stands out from its companion movements.
The last piece, the March Dignity and Impudence (1933), a gem,
takes its title from a Landseer painting. It has a certain dignity, while
the impudence is surely in lifting the theme of the trio from Elgar's fourth
Pomp and Circumstance march. But anyone who likes marches will be
playing this track more than once - no wonder this work became a favourite
at Bournemouth in the popular light music programmes!
Almost all the works include a part for organ, no doubt so that Whitlock
could play along in his own compositions. In this recording the organist
(on an electronic instrument, sadly not one comparable with the Pavilion's
Compton piped organ) is Malcolm Riley who almost single-handedly is responsible
for the revival of interest in Whitlock's music and deserves the greatest
credit and thanks for doing so. Secretary and founder-member of the Percy
Whitlock Trust, he is author of Percy Whitlock - organist and composer
(Thames Publishing 1998), an authoritative study of the man and music that
is indispensable to anyone wanting to learn more about Whitlock the man and
his works. As for this CD, like chocolates or ginger biscuits it is very
moreish! Whitlock had an ear for a catchy tune and his scoring is sweet without
being syrupy. Anyone who has a soft spot for light music will not regret
snapping up this delightful confection. Gavin Sutherland, already responsible
for some notable discs of British light music, coaxes some eloquent performances
from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.
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