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
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
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
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