> London Landmarks [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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London Landmarks
David WATTS (b.1952)

Metropolis (1999)
Angela MORLEY (b.1923)

Rotten Row (1960)
Philip LANE (b.1950)

London Salute (1982)
Christopher GUNNING (b.1944)

Saxophone Concerto On Hungerford Bridge (1998)
Phyllis TATE (1911-1985)

London Fields - suite (1958)
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959)

London Landmarks - suite (1946)
Paul LEWIS (b.1943)

Festival of London March (1970)
John Harle (saxophone)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Gunning/Lewis
rec 20-21 June 2001, Angel Studios, London; 11 Oct 1999, Lansdowne Recording Studios

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.

Rob Barnett

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