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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Constant LAMBERT (1905-51)
Volume II - Composer

Horoscope - Music from the ballet (1937)
Apparitions - Music from the ballet (1936)
Dante Sonata - Music from the ballet (1949)
The Rio Grande (1927)
Liverpool Philharmonic (Horoscope: 1, 3, 5) Philharmonia (Horoscope: 2, 4)
Philharmonia (Apparitions; Rio Grande)
Sadlers' Wells Orchestra (Dante)
Louis Kentner, piano (Dante)
Kyla Greenbaum, piano (Rio); Gladys Ripley (con) (Rio), Philharmonia Chorus (Rio)
all conducted by Constant Lambert
rec 15 May 1945 (Horoscope); 14 Jan 1949 (all Philharmonia); 20 March 1940 (Dante Sonata)
PEARL GEM 0069 [70.24]


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Pearl's two volume series of authentic Lambert is completed with what amounts to a celebration of Lambert's love affair with the ballet and with one particular ballerina.

Horoscope and Rio Grande are pure Lambert whereas Apparitions and Dante Sonata are Lambert arranging and interpreting Liszt. Liszt was the composer whose Society Lambert helped found. In this he collaborated with fellow composer, Humphrey Searle, the dodecaphonist, whose opera Hamlet shared its subject with one of Liszt's symphonic poems.

There are five tracks from Horoscope (this is not the complete ballet): 1. Dance for the followers of Leo; 2. Sarabande for the followers of Virgo; 3. Valse for the Gemini; 4. Bacchanale; 5. Invocation to the Moon and Finale. Horoscope has the lucidity and restraint of Ravel (Invocation to the Moon and the Sarabande), the snappy rhythmic interest of Walton and a foreshadowing of Bernard Herrmann's melancholic nostalgia (2.48 track 5). Lambert is frenzied in the Bacchanale and The Dance for the Followers of Leo and light of foot in the voluptuous Valse with its Tchaikovskian abandon. Horoscope with its romantic symbolism parallels similarly symbolic works by Bliss: Colour Symphony and the ballet Checkmate.

Lambert, rather like Beecham, was a happy rummager among dusty disowned scores. Heard influences and his BBC concert programmes are evidence of this (have a look at Robert Shead's Lambert biography, Thames Publishing). This magpie discoverer tendency shows up in the Liszt-based ballets.

Liszt's works were the thematic quarry for the two ballets Apparitions and Dante Sonata. In the case of the former the fact that The Galop is part-Massenet and part-Shostakovich - sardonic and yet affectionate with Hungarian Dance overtones. The Cave Scene speaks of Lambert's love affair with the Russian nationalist school - specifically Balakirev's Tamar, Borodin's Prince Igor and Rimsky's Golden Cockerel. This is Liszt arranged by Lambert and orchestrated by Gordon Jacob. The other Liszt work is the Dante Sonata orchestrated by Lambert effectively as a 'Concertstück' rather than a concerto. Kentner, also well known for his early advocacy of Liszt, takes to it as if it were 'Totentanz No. 2'. It is the oldest recording and the sound comes up, I am sorry to say, as fresh as ... stewed tea. The piano sound fares moderately well but there is some exuberant work for the brass section and they are not flattered by the shattery sound. I am not clear whether this is a problem with the originals or with the first disc of the set of 78s from which Roger Beardsley set down the digital tape. Much of the work is listenable without pain but once the brass becomes obstreperous, in the early part of the work, the seams begin to rip.

The disc is rounded out with the well known and still brilliant Rio Grande in a performance that has been reissued many times during both the LP and CD era. Kyla Greenbaum plays with all the élan of a Martha Argerich or Joanna MacGregor. Lambert and his fellow conspirators must have tapped into something special that day in 1949 for this recording still has the power to draw you in and hold you. If Gladys Ripley's vowels are now dated so what? Her role is brief anyway and few will find this much of a drawback.

Joy would have been unbounded if Pearl had been able to access one of the BBC transcription discs of Lambert conducting his greyly-named but utterly vital Music for Orchestra.

Ballet formed one of the most highly charged themes in Lambert's life. Love (Dame Margot Fonteyn was the object of his affections and played some role in the dance presentation of all four works), music and dance flowed effortlessly and bumped messily together. Even in works such as Music for Orchestra (an unrecorded imperative for the studio and in fact recorded by Lyrita Recorded Edition more than 20 years ago but still unissued - Norman del Mar and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) and Summer's Last Will dance appears either furtively or uproariously.

This balletic compilation is the natural complement to Pearl's volume I. It will go some way to satisfy those fascinated by Lambert the musician (witness Summer's Last Will and Testament etc on Hyperion) and the man (for which you should refer to Andrew Motion's study of the three Lambert generations). Pearl have done generous service to the Lambert cause. I doubt that there is material for a volume III.

Rob Barnett


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