Ivor Novello was much loved as composer, playwright,
actor, producer and matinee-idol. His songs and shows highly popular
in the 1930s and 1940s. It is often forgotten that he was once a successful
film star and was perceived as a likely successor to Richard Barthelmess
or Ramon Navarro. His silent screen appearances included: The Man
Without Desire (1923), The Rat (1925), The Constant Nymph
and The Vortex (both 1928). But it is for his tremendously successful
stage productions that he will be remembered. His first great musical
success came in 1935 with Glamorous Night followed by The
Dancing Years (1939), Perchance to Dream (1945) and King’s
Rhapsody (1949 later filmed with Errol Flynn and Anna Neagle).
Jeremy Northam’s impressive impersonation of Ivor Novello
in the film, Gosford Park, has naturally focused attention
again on Novello’s music. It has often been stated, quite rightly, that
Ivor Novello’s work represents the last link in the chain of the grand
19th/20th century operetta; music worthy to be
considered beside Franz Lehár etc (consider how much of his music
is waltz song in the grand Viennese manner).
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of
Ivor Novello’s death and it is scandalous that there were no visible
revivals of his theatrical triumphs. It is to be hoped that his time
will come again.
This new Naxos release follows hard on the heels of
a similar album released by ASV last year (reviewed on this site) as
a 50th anniversary (of his death on 6 March 1951) tribute.
Both discs were produced by Peter Dempsey. He was responsible for the
digital transfers and restoration for this Naxos release.
Alas, when so many Ivor Novello songs are crying out
to be covered including the divine ‘Fly Home Little Heart’ from King’s
Rhapsody, this new album covers too much of the same ground of the
ASV release. Indeed, there are exact duplications: Mary Ellis singing
‘Deep in My Heart’, ‘When the Gypsy Played’ and ‘My Dearest Dear’ (with
Novello himself accompanying and in a speaking role, this duplication
can readily be forgiven); Trefor Jones’ rendering of ‘Shine through
my Dreams’ and Elisabeth Welch singing ‘Dark Music’. That is five numbers
out of eighteen, nearly a third of the album. Really too much!
Granted there are different interpretations of some
Novello favourites as listed in the heading so one has the opportunity
of comparing, for instance, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth’s ‘Deep in
My Heart’ with the singing of Mary Ellis and Trefor Jones.
Lest it seems that I am all carp, there are, on the
credit side, several numbers that are less familiar and therefore of
greater value in this collection. Peggy Wood enchants in ‘Give Me Back
My Heart’ (with the delicious ironic last line "…you might be wanting
it again") from Symphony in Two Flats which was filmed
in 1930. ‘The Radiance in Your Eyes’ is sung in the ‘stuffed-shirt’
drawing room style of the period caught in this 1917 recording, the
earliest in the compilation. ‘Every Bit of Loving’, is warbled sentimentally,
in 1921, by Frances Alda with the typical accompaniment of the period
that sounds like a scaled down, bottom-heavy town band. Then from 1929,
in immeasurably better sound, we hear Winnie Melville and the ‘terribly,
terribly’ Derek Oldham (sounding more like Noel Coward than Noel Coward)
in ‘The Thought Never Entered My Head’; a real hoot this one! Elisabeth
Welch is all of a quiver ("…close to youoooo…") through ‘The
Girl I Knew’ - one of the jewels from Glamorous Night. Nevertheless
this is another haunting number appreciated more and more on successive
hearings. Dorothy Dickson (with male chorus), effulgent and sounding
like something from an MGM musical, sings ‘If You Only Knew’ from Crest
of the Wave, one of Ivor’s lovely lush waltzes. Gisèle Préville’s
slight accent and lilt lifts ‘Waltz of My Heart’ and ‘I Can Give You
the Starlight’ both from The Dancing Years. With the latter
we are back to Jeremy Northam and Gosford Park.
One of the most interesting tracks is an excerpt from
Act I of Murder in Mayfair with Ivor at the piano and in amusing
dialogue with Edna Best: "Are you here for long?" "No
just two or three days. I shall visit my tailor. He must think I am
dead…" and a discussion about the merits of Fauré’s and
Ravel’s Pavanes before memories of concerts and kisses.
A very acceptable modern recording of twenty Novello
favourites sung by Marilyn Hill Smith with the Chandos Concert Orchestra
is available on CHANDOS FBCD 2006.
Despite the duplications with last year’s ASV Novello
release, this is a highly recommended nostalgic wallow. But when is
somebody going to recognise the real worth of these lovely melodies
and revive Novello’s great theatrical triumphs recognising them as in
the tradition of the great 19th/20th century operettas.
See also review by Tony
Duggan (and his mother)