> Philip LANEOrchestral Music [JQ][HC]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Philip LANE (b. 1950)
Orchestral Music

London Salute [3.08]
Diversions on a Theme of Paganini [13.40]
Cotswold Dances [14.53]
Divertissement for clarinet, harp and strings* [9.49]
Three Christmas Pictures [11.41]
A Maritime Overture [7.58]
Three Nautical Miniatures for strings [8.33]
Prestbury Park [3.16]
*Verity Butler, Clarinet
Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Gavin Sunderland
Recorded in the Henry Wood Hall, London, 19 – 21 February, 2001
MARCO POLO 8.225185 [72.57]


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Philip Lane was born in Cheltenham and has spent much of his life there. After studying at Birmingham University (though he is largely self-taught as both a composer and orchestrator) he returned to Cheltenham and between 1975 and 1998 he was on the music staff at the town’s Ladies College.

Among his many accomplishments he is a noted authority on the eccentric English composer, Lord Berners and is also recognised as something of an expert on the music of Richard Addinsell. He has been in much demand to reconstruct the scores of the music for several celebrated British films where the paper scores have been lost and this work has led him into a good deal of original composition work for television and the stage. All this information, and much more, is contained in the liner notes by conductor Gavin Sutherland who writes about Philip Lane as well as he conducts his music.

Now it’s confession time. I have lived for sixteen years within a dozen miles of Cheltenham but, to my shame, I had never heard any of Philip Lane’s music until this CD arrived. However, I am glad to have had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of music which is expertly written and very enjoyable.

This programme includes a variety of works and it is launched in splendid style by the short, celebratory London Salute, which was written to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the BBC. Appropriately it contains a suitable whiff of pomp and circumstance.

Two of the works on the CD have titles which derive from the word "divert" and this seems to me to be highly appropriate and significant. I suspect Philip Lane regards entertainment as an important factor in music, and quite rightly so. Thus the expertly constructed Diversions on Paganini’s celebrated 24th Caprice are there to be enjoyed and, with the help of an exuberant and affectionate performance from Gavin Sutherland and his players, the listener does indeed enjoy himself. So too, I suspect do the performers. This piece was originally written for brass quintet for the 1989 Three Choirs Festival but was orchestrated in 2000. I haven’t heard the original version but I’m sure the greater range of colour available with orchestral forces is a bonus.

By coincidence it was also in 2000 that Lane orchestrated the other ‘diverting’ work in this programme, the Divertissement for clarinet, harp and strings. Originally this had been written, presumably with piano accompaniment, for the 1994 Cheltenham Festival. Then, as now, it was performed by Verity Butler and she gives a winning account of the piece. Cast in four short movements it gives the soloist opportunities both for agility and for lyricism. It is a most attractive work which apparently contains quite a number of self-quotations from earlier works.

I could not detect if any of these quotations came from the Cotswold Dances but apparently this work, which dates from 1973, is the earliest orchestral work which Lane is still prepared to acknowledge. There are five short dances, all most engaging, four of which are inspired by and named after landmarks in the Cotswolds area. The final dance is based on the traditional Gloucestershire Wassail Song and it provides a boisterous conclusion to the set.

The Three Christmas Pictures were written at various times between 1981 and 1990 and can be performed separately (as they were originally) or as a set. They seem to me to be ideal fare for Christmas concerts when one wants some variety from the usual diet of carols. All three are delightful, the final Christmas Eve Waltz in particular.

I confess I was a little less engaged by A Maritime Overture (1982). It just seems to me to try a little too hard but perhaps it will grow on me. The Three Nautical Miniatures, which are based on well-known sea-faring songs, seem to me to be more successful. This short work comprises two outer movements originally written for brass band in 1980 and a central movement written for strings twenty years later when, I assume, its two companions were reworked for strings.

The final work in the concert, Prestbury Park, also originated as a brass band piece, in 1975. It presents a portrait of Cheltenham Racecourse on race day. Anyone who has braved the crowds there, particularly on Gold Cup day will recognise the hustle and bustle of large numbers of people out for a good time.

Marco Polo have done Philip Lane proud. This is a most enjoyable collection of high quality lighter music recorded in good, bright sound. It is played with brio and expertise by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and Gavin Sutherland conveys his enthusiasm for this music just as effectively with his baton as he does with his pen.
John Quinn

and Hubert Culot adds

I have been waiting for this CD for many years indeed; for although it has been recorded from time to time, Philip Lane’s music had been rather overlooked for too long. Indeed, Lane devoted much time and talent in preparing performing editions of other composers’ music, e.g. film scores by Addinsell, Alwyn, Arnold and Auric. So, this disc entirely devoted to his music was, to my mind, long overdue.

The present selection offers an enjoyable survey of Philip Lane’s colourful, tuneful and superbly crafted music, rather ‘light classic’ than ‘light music’, for such is the quality of the works.

London Salute, composed for the sixtieth anniversary of the B.B.C., is full of Waltonian swagger and appropriately festive. The jolly and very entertaining Diversions on a Theme of Paganini (guess which?) sounds more as improvisations on bits and parts of Paganini’s theme than as fully developed variations, such as in Blacher’s celebrated Paganini Variationen. The music however is full of humour and often surprises by some unexpected twists, e.g. in the first variation in which the jazzy, rather tongue-in-cheek variation is accompanied by an undulating string phrase reminiscent of Smetana’s Vltava. Diversions were originally composed for brass quintet and orchestrated in 2000. The Cotswold Dances (1973) are more in the nature of gently nostalgic vignettes, though the beautiful Cleeve Idyll really is a small-scale tone-poem, than of real dance movements. The last movement Wassail Song is a colourful, unidiomatic arrangement of the well-known carol. (Incidentally this is a different work from the Suite of Cotswold Folkdances of 1978, available on ASV WHL 2126.) The Three Christmas Pieces were written in the 1980s and may be performed separately or as a set, as here: the delightful Sleighbell Serenade was written in 1981 whereas the Starlight Lullaby and the beautifully nostalgic Christmas Eve Waltz date from 1989 and 1990 respectively.

A Maritime Overture is the longest single item here. It evokes various aspects of the sea, "from the gentle lapping of waves at the start to the storms and battles later on". The Three Nautical Miniatures, originally written for brass band, were scored for strings while the central slow movement The Spanish Ladies was added in 2000. The movements are based on sea songs, and the concluding Portsmouth cleverly and brilliantly juxtaposes that fine tune (also used in the trio section of Vaughan Williams’ march Sea Songs) with the celebrated Hornpipe (of Sir Henry Wood’s fame).

Divertissement, originally written for clarinet and piano for the present soloist, was orchestrated in 2000 for harp and strings. This short, delightful work often recalls Malcolm Arnold’s wonderful Clarinet Sonatina.

This enjoyable release ends with another entertaining romp Prestbury Park (i.e. Cheltenham racecourse); and "if the subject is not immediately obvious, it should be by the last page of the score".

Everyone here seems to enjoy him- or herself enormously, and so do we. Excellent performances of these entertaining, attractive pieces; and this most welcome release is a pure delight from first to last.

Hubert Culot

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