> British Light Overtures [RJW]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 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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I picked up this CD because of a curiosity over one of the titles. Once or twice I had been encouraged to listen to Tantivy Towers, but where to find a recording? The BBC had apparently produced a performance some decades ago, but like much in the BBC archive it rarely ever sees the light of day again. Here at long last we now at least have Tantivy Towers’ overture.

All but one of the pieces on this disc receive their first recordings: the only exception is The Arcadians with two recordings already in existence (Sadler’s Wells and Ohio Light Opera), but it is such a good piece, it can certainly stand another airing.

The composers’ works, all 20th Century, span from 1920s to 2000. The styles of composition are largely split into two groups; the Black, Dunhill, Carroll, Hurd, Monckton overtures provide a traditional approach while the Blezard, Chappell, Lane, Langley, Pitfield and Lewis overtures offer a more modern sound (often in the brass chords and catchy rhythm). This makes me think these works might have been better provided on separate discs. This said, all are interesting well constructed pieces that give a valuable listening experience.

The Overture to a Costume Comedy offers more than a passing resemblance to Rossini and Mozart. This charming piece flows with engaging magentism of its main theme. Do not mistake Stanley Black for Sidney Torch: his compositional skills are elegant and focused.

Overture and Beginners is a more modern piece that is pleasant enough and particularly energetic. Chirpy passages and syncopated effects provide an undercurrent of activity over which a predominantly brass theme holds one’s attention.

Dunhill is an intriguing musician – composer and commentator on music. Of all the pieces on this disc Tantivy Towers is the one piece I most wanted to hear because the 20s/30s period in which Dunhill, like Walter Leigh and Geoffrey Toye, were industrious has been totally overlooked in an assessment of British theatre music. The loss of the full score has meant that the orchestration is not authentic. This has been painstakingly recreated by Philip Lane. He opens with a frolicky theme that owes much to Edward German in style and orchestration. More of a scherzo it moves into a relaxing waltz. The BBC has a recording of the full operetta and one now wonders why it has never been re-run in recent decades.

Boy Wizard is a bustling overture full of fun and interesting diversions, not dissimilar from Tam O’Shanter, before it moves into a mood that could have come from the pen of Bernard Hermann (with Hitchcock and North By Northwest in mind), and later Gershwin.

A lovely piece with engaging melodies, Carroll’s Festive Overture (no date given) has traditional Beethoven and Brahmsian charm. Powerful chords and a haunting horn line sets up a dialogue with the strings that involves some delicate tripping measures. I certainly would like to hear more music of this composer. After two initial hearings I wanted to hear the piece again and again.

Unmistakably modern in outlook Hurd’s Unwritten Comedy is more romantic than comic. A hint of Saint-Saëns and Doctor Finlay’s Casebook add to the enjoyment.

The Arcadians is an excellent ‘Lollipop’ to include and is played with the theatricality expected of it. But since the overture has been twice issued as stated above it would have been interesting to choose an unknown overture made up from a published selection of The Quaker Girl, Our Miss Gibbs or Cellier’s Dorothy. (Many of the turn of the century musicals had introductions rather than discrete overtures.) Their catchy tunes and rhythms are always a delight to hear.

A Spa Overture relates to Cheltenham Spa, the home town of Philip Lane its composer. From an initial awakening into a pastoral rustic scene, it opens up to reveal the imagery and splendour of Cheltenham’s promenade. The development tends towards a modern style with its engaging rhythm and unashamed momentum.

Pitfield’s clockwork Concert Overture with swelling brass chords and minimal development is perhaps overlong at 9 minutes and the many slow-arched phrases tend towards some monotony.

The Sussex Overture is delivered with panache. Lewis holds our attention from the outset with a fresh sounding, energetic dialogue between brass and strings. A bubbling over of emotions eventually runs into a cheerful theme before dissolving into a pastoral harp and wind passage that echoes the opening melody. The work is as much a tone poem as an overture. Good scoring provides plenty of layers of colour and confirms to us the excellent quality of playing throughout this disc by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

Recording clarity is good, particularly in the Sussex Overture, but in some tracks the first strings tend to be unnecessarily suppressed. As many of the composers are not widely known, I had hoped for fuller notes on backgrounds and pieces rather than a 12 line paragraph, albeit small print. Some overture titles are not dated. With so much which could have been said, ASV allot one page for advertisements on other ASV discs. The notes are provided in English.

Raymond J Walker

see also review by Rob Barnett

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