Overture The Bird Actors
Romeo and Juliet
State Orchestra of Victoria/John
This must be the third recording of Lambert's 1926 ballet Pomona.
It was recorded in the early 1980s by LYRITA (SRCS 110 - an LP - not re-issued
in CD format at the time of writing, December 2000). Incidentally this LYRITA
LP had the same coupling minus the overture of which this must be the first
recording in its orchestral version (a recording of the piano duet version
is available on ALBANY TROY 142).
All this is as surprising as it is heartwarming for Lambert's music has been
overlooked for many long years. Now almost his entire output is commercially
available and Lambert's music may now be re-assessed although a major gap
in his present discography is the absence of his finest orchestral work
Music for Orchestra (1927).
All three works here clearly belong to the immediate post-War years in the
same way as music by Berners, Poulenc, Milhaud and Sauguet. They all have
that carefree "insouciance" sometimes tinged with bittersweet
nostalgie that informs many works from that period. They also owe
much to Stravinsky's neo-classical music such as Pulcinella. The paradox
is that Lambert was later to have some unfriendly comments about Stravinsky's
The short overture The Bird Actors dates from 1925 and comes from
a discarded suite Adam and Eve. It was reworked as the finale for
Romeo and Juliet, though it does not seem to have been used in that
ballet either. Romeo and Juliet, written in 1925/6, was one of the
two English ballets commissioned by Diaghilev, the other being Berners' The
Triumphs of Neptune. The score used parts of the earlier Adam and
Eve as does Pomona completed in 1926 and premiered in 1927 in
Buenos Aire with choreography by Nijinska. As was the case with many ballets
from that period, the scenarios, based either on mythology (often parodied)
or any other subject, are mere pegs on which to hang the music. Some may
have found more subliminal implications in them, such as in Poulenc's Les
Biches, but I think that the aim was obviously to entertain and, by so
doing, to exorcise the dreadful images of the Great War rather than to plumb
any great psychological or dramatic depths.
Both ballet scores are suites of classical dance numbers "showing Lambert's
influences fully assimilated into a personal kind of English neo-classicism"
(Peter Dickinson). One may think that Lambert's scores were meant as homages
to composers of the Classical era whereas Stravinsky's Pulcinella was
experienced, at least by Lambert, as parody; which may explain his subsequent
attacks in his book 'Music Ho!' The important thing however is that these
youthful works exhibit a remarkable assurance and an extraordinary orchestral
masterly. The more so bearing in mind that Lambert was nearly twenty at the
These scores, much as those by Berners, may sound somewhat dated but when
heard afresh they still provide much pleasure. However, it would be as idle
to consider them as masterpieces as it is to disregard them as mere trendy
examples of a somewhat old-fashioned ballet music. They are best appreciated
as the expression of a one-time aesthetic but for all that may be enjoyed
for what their intrinsic worth.
John Lanchbery, who was conductor of the Sadler's Well Theatre Ballet and
of the Royal Ballet, has an obvious natural empathy with the music which
he conducts with evident relish and the State Orchestra of Victoria, new
to me, obviously share his views. Their own enjoyment shines through these
and Rob Barnett adds:-
Lambert's brief comet of a life (he died aged 45) continues to yield charm
and delight through the medium of his music.
These three works date from much the same period and are testimony to his
devotion and ultimately servitude to the world of ballet. You need to think
in terms of Stravinsky (tracks 2 and 9 for example - there are plenty of
other instances in the ballets), Berners, early Walton and Poulenc to get
some bearing on the music. The Pulcinella element rides roughshod
through the Pomona except in the cool woodwind-led pastoral idylls.
The overture (receiving its world premiere recording in orchestral form)
is brief, cocky and flighty. A jazz sensibility crackles through these pages.
The orchestration is crystalline throughout with every detail registering
and this is as much a tribute to Lambert's technique as to Chandos's lucid
and impactful recording.
Romeo and Juliet receives its initiation into the world of the compact
disc. This work is even more deeply immersed in the brusque helter-skelter
charms of Pulcinella and Symphonies of Wind Instruments. There
is even a sourly engaging touch of Weill in the Alla Marcia. Despite
the subject matter this is not a grand romantic score. Lanchbery is well
attuned to Lambert's emotionally-straitened style making the music leap and
hop with some abandon while saving the shadows for several movements such
as the Siciliana. The manic flourishes of the Rondino and
Sonatina recall the vigour of the Moeran Serenade.
There was space for two works whose absence from the shops I continue to
lament: Music for Orchestra and Dirge from Cymbeline. The gap
is made all the more poignant by the near quote in the Passacaglia
(Pomona) from Lambert's own Music for Orchestra. It had
become traditional to write off this work as academic. Nothing could be further
from the truth. It is a work of symphonic stride running to circa 17 minutes
and its standing has been confirmed by BBC Radio 3 broadcasts conducted by
Maurice Handford, Norman Del Mar, Barry Wordsworth and Lambert himself. The
other 'missing work' is the five minute Dirge from Cymbeline (which
would, it is true, have required a choir).
There is no similar coupling. Both ballets were recorded by Lyrita on the
LP SRCS 110 back in the late 1970s. That recording, like so much in the Lyrita
treasury, has never been reissued so comparisons are largely academic. For
what it is worth I do not recall Del Mar's versions as having the alacrity
and tension of this Chandos version although anything by that fine conductor
deserves closer attention than I have given it. Pomona (the stronger
work) has been recorded by the English Northern Philharmonia with David
Lloyd-Jones on Hyperion coupled with the late ballet Tiresias. I would
not rate one above the other for interpretative values however the immediacy
of the Chandos recording is undeniable. There you have it. Chandos shortish
on playing time but superbly recorded. The Hyperion differently coupled but
with two superior works and with a more generous playing time if not quite
so vivaciously recorded.