> British Light Overtures [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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British Light Overtures
William BLEZARD (b.1921)

Caramba (1966)
Stanley BLACK (b.1913)

Overture to a Costume Comedy (1955)
James LANGLEY (1927-1994)

Overture and Beginners (1965)
Thomas DUNHILL (1877-1946)

Tantivy Towers Overture (1931) arr P. Lane
Herbert CHAPPELL (b.1934)

Boy Wizard (2001)
Walter CARROLL (1869-1955)

Festive Overture

Michael HURD (b.1928)

Overture to an Unwritten Comedy (1970)
Lionel MONCKTON (1861-1924)

The Arcadians (1909) arr A. Wood
Philip LANE (b.1950)

A Spa Overture (1982)
Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999)

Concert Overture (1950)
Paul LEWIS (b.1943)

Sussex Symphony Overture (2000)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec 21-23 Feb 2001, Henry Wood Hall, London
recorded with financial support from the Ida Carroll Trust
ASV CD WHL 2133 [66.27]


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This is a promising start to a series and leaves us in positive hope for later volumes.

Blezard (whose piano music is represented by a CD from Shellwood) wrote his Caramba in the mid-1960s when the sun had set on British light music. I know it from a broadcast from BBC Radio Three's Matinee Musicale series. Caramba delectably mixes rumba, tango and havanaise in a sultriness that has about it enough of the sea air to keep things from falling into Siesta. The piano and the bass line are extremely well caught in vintage quality. Dark colourations from the brass are one of the strengths of the piece. The music has the same lively airiness as Williamson's opera Our Man in Havana and if it cannot help referring to Constant Lambert's Rio Grande or Berner's Caprice Péruvien. The work stands at the intersection between Copland's El Salon Mexico (lacking its grandiloquence) and Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole (lacking its saturated impressionism).

Stanley Black is best known as a light music conductor. His Overture to a Costume Comedy is a buzzing and proud echo of Mozart's overture Nozze di Figaro and Symphony No. 40.

James Langley's Overture and Beginners smacks of Walton in its tightly wound ceremonial bravado and warm romance. It also has some of the effervescence of Samuel Barber's ballet suite Souvenirs (delectably done by Marin Alsop and the RSNO on Naxos).

Dunhill's light opera Tantivy Towers was his most successful work though it sank after the 1950s only to be resurrected fleetingly in a 1970s BBC studio revival. Dunhill's concert works including a 1920s Symphony associated with Serbia and a set of Elegiac Variations have remained unrecorded. The Overture, as arranged by Philip Lane, dances along in the best traditions of the My Fair Lady race scene with the odd reminiscence of hunting calls, Beethoven's Pastoral and Do ye ken John Peel.

Chappell's Boy Wizard fizzes and shivers along in recall, sometimes in strongly Arnoldian garb, of an academy of wizardy. Sounds rather as if Mr Chappell might have been at work at some stage on a score for the Harry Potter series. Chappell wrote the signature tune for BBCTV's 1970s costume drama The Pallisers.

If Black's overture smacks of Mozart Walter Carroll's sounds like a Haydn or early Beethoven tribute. It is the longest piece here and does not deliver pleasure with as much natural ease as the other overtures. Michael Hurd's overture is lightly romantic with some strong cheeky references to Rawsthorne - I am sure I recognise Street Corner in there.

Stepping back to the first decade of the last century Monckton's overture to The Arcadians is a rather heavy Mascagni-like confection at first then gathers itself for rum-ti-rum episodes evocative of the 'Merry, merry pipes of Pan', 'I've got a motto' and such-like from the show. The arrangement is by light music composer Arthur Wood.

A Spa Overture, by all-round light music champion, Philip Lane (who also contributed the liner note) was written to picture Cheltenham Spa. This it does with industrious seriousness as well as some heroic contemplation for Edward Wilson the Cheltonian arctic explorer.

Tom Pitfield's overture is folksy, busy, bucolic, reflective and high-spirited with Gallic rustic references of the type that you find in the Walton post-Agincourt music in Henry V.

Paul Lewis has clearly learnt from the light music of Malcolm Arnold. The music of the Sussex Symphony Overture might sometimes be mistaken for Arnold's - especially in relation to the English Dances. However he is no mere epigone for the central silvery poem wells up in a serene splendour that might almost be Ravelian. It refers to the South Downs while the framing rumbustiousness points towards the pageantry (but none of the bloodletting - not that sort of overture folks) associated with the great castles at Hurstmontceux, Arundel and Bodiam.

The heritage of British film music 1940-70 is never far away from the music in this collection. Extremely welcome and done with panache.

Rob Barnett

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