ASV have hit their stride at fast tempo. British light
music is fired off every month. This CD is part of that rolling barrage.
Everything must have a theme and these genre pieces
lend themselves to anthologising. In fact it would not surprise me if
there were not another few volumes worth of Metropolitan material in
the publishers' archives.
Let's deal with the smaller pieces first. Angela
Morley's Rotten Row is frilly and flouncy piece of pink 'fifties
fluff. It is suggestive of debonair horsy folk taking the air - elegant
and superficial. Lane's London Salute was written for
the 60th birthday of the BBC. It is a light concert march whistlingly
ebullient with fluty jollity, strong rhythmic material and a touch of
Arnold about it. The march by Paul Lewis ends the disc rolling
and swaying with Handelian breadth but without the crushing Germanic
weight of that composer.
Then to the three suites. Watts rustles up brilliance
as well as the snort and sneer of truculent brass. This is the personification
of the rude and cruel vitality of the city. Stravinsky (Firebird)
and Copland are also presences. Not everything is brassy and brilliant.
There is a haunting oboe solo threnody giving a filmic touch to the
proceedings. In Street Scene the quiet sizzle of the drum-kit
prepares the way for blat and blare that is more New York than Horse
Guards. Haydn Wood's piece is the oldest here. It is one of three
works Wood wrote with the Metropolis in mind. The other two are London
Cameos and London Snapshots. The Nelson's Column, Trafalgar
Square movement is jaunty. Tower Hill plays as if for a lover's
tryst between an Islington Sheherazade and a Hackney Aladdin.
The Horse Guards movement is bustlingly optimistic with overtones
of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky - known to UK radio listeners of a certain
age as the music for the long-running Down Your Way programme.
Phyllis Tate was not particularly prolific but at BBC Concert
Orchestra level she has had a steady though hardly liberal stream of
performances on UK radio. The London Fields suite is in four
movements. Springtime at Kew: a 1950s scene for fashionable sophisticates
- remember the stylised Horse Race scene in My Fair Lady. Then
to Hampton Court, The Maze which is a scherzo-chase - like Saint-Saëns'
Fossils on speed! The elegance of St James's Park, a Lakeside
Reverie is followed by Hampstead Heath, a Rondo for Roundabouts.
This is no Rawsthorne-like Street Corner romp. At this pace no-one
will have been breathless.
Christopher Gunning has written some outstanding
music for film and television. He is, in my opinion, one of the UK's
strongest cards and it is well past time that he was snapped up by the
major studios for grand symphonic scores. His Saxophone Concerto is
in a single continuous movement lasting almost twenty minutes. It starts
in wisps and elegies rising through allusions to The Lark Ascending
via moments that had me thinking of Copland's score for The Tender
Land. The score subsides satisfyingly into the same rustlings and
warmth that you find in the meditative musings of Vaughan Williams'
A London Symphony. Throughout John Harle, forever locked in the
memory as the capricious virtuoso player in Michael Nyman's Where
the Bee Dances, remains bullion-secure, producing a flow of clarion-tones
- with the aureate liquefaction of the best coffee.
The notes are useful but are given only in English.
This has many and varied attractions but in addition
it should find a ready tourism market in and around London. The Gunning
is no easy listen but remains one of the highlights of the disc. Add
it to your ASV British Light Music shelves.