Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


Overture The Bird Actors
Romeo and Juliet

State Orchestra of Victoria/John Lanchbery

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 neo-classical works.

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 time.

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 affectionate readings.

Hubert CULOT

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.

Rob Barnett

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