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Albert KETÈLBEY (1875-1959)

In a Monastery Garden; Characteristic Reflection (1915)
Chal Romano – A Gypsy Overture (1924)
The Phantom Melody 91912)
By the Blue Hawaiian waters – Tone Picture (1927)
Three Fanciful Sketches (1928)
In a Chinese Temple Garden – Oriental Fantasy (1923)
Will You Forgive? (1923)
In the Moonlight – Poetic Intermezzo (1919)
The Clock and the Dresden Figures (1930)
Sanctuary of the Heart (1924)
Peter Dawson (bass baritone), Albert Sandler (violin), Len Fellis (Hawaiian guitar), Arthur Jordan (tenor), Albert Ketèlbey (piano) and an unknown contralto soloist with various bands and orchestras conducted by Albert Ketèlbey, Ray Noble and Richard Crean.
Recorded 1924-32
NAXOS 8.110174 [59.02]


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Multi-instrumentalist, piano soloist, theatre director, film and concert suite composer, Ketèlbey was a versatile man. And his brother Harold were, in the family tradition, violinists of distinction. The second volume in Naxos’s British Light Music series devoted to the composer contained a high quotient of exotica – Egyptiana, cod Eastern paraphernalia, ballet music, sub-G&S stuff (though not sub by much), eighteenth century pastiche, operetta, waltzes as well as vocal "effects" – all wonderful. This – the first volume – doesn’t range quite so quixotically or delve quite so eccentrically and comically into Ketèlbey’s legendary arsenal of compositional wit.

Nevertheless once more I succumbed to his particular brand of melodious charm. Peter Dawson is joined by a gallant chorus for In a Monastery Garden and seldom has its Mussourgskian antecedents seemed clearer. And, yes, that is organist Herbert Dawson joining in the fun (he recorded Elgar’s Organ Sonata six months later in April 1933). If Chal Romano celebrates the Gypsy life (it’s subtitled A Gypsy Overture) it’s a rather metropolitan and discreet affair and more briskly melodious than rhythmically galvanizing and brash. Ketèlbey’s breakthrough piece The Phantom Melody is here, played not on the cello as originally intended but by Albert Sandler. Intended for the Dutch cellist-actor Auguste van Biene (star of countless postcards and theatrical runs and battered old Zonophones) it was recorded by him shortly before his death (on stage, playing the cello). Sandler’s characteristically small, sweet portamento-laden tone is perfect for its salon expressivity (and it was in fact dedicated to the composer’s brother, violinist Harold). The star of many a dance band, Len Fillis, is on hand for the Hawaiian excursion – Ketèlbey certainly kept up to date – but this five-movement suite treads a dangerous and ultimately unsuccessfully schizophrenic path between the hula and urbane romanticism.

What follows is far more convincing. The Three Fanciful Sketches of 1928 take in Pastoralism and mildly bucolic peasant merry-making. The first movement, A passing Storm Cloud on a Summer’s Day, sets the scene – drum roll, menacing lower brass; vivid, pictorial, rather charming. The Ploughman’s heavy weather-beaten plod is suitably suggested by the orchestra in the second sketch and good humour releases instrumental frivolity in the Elgarianly titled Quips and Cranks and Wanton Wiles, though Ketèlbey adds the bracketed (Scene de Ballet Russe) just in case. Much groaning and exotic sawing In a Chinese Temple Garden – these are sturdy Buddhists – before the only acoustic recording here, tenor Arthur Jordan, sounding suitably stricken and earnest, in a November 1924 recording of Will You Forgive? In the Moonlight is a delicious intermezzo and few could bring off rococo pastiche as well as Ketèlbey – and for good measure he turns up as pianist in The Clock and the Dresden Figures to prove the point (he is otherwise generally the composer-conductor on these recordings). We finish, book-ended with another big hit, Sanctuary of the Heart. The following year this was re-recorded with contralto Nellie Walker but in 1926 we have an unnamed contralto much in her mould.

An hour’s worth of well-transferred Ketèlbey, with concise notes by Peter Dempsey; this is probably a more consistently musically successful selection than Volume 2 – if one excepts the Hawaiian jaunt. And as such this is heartily recommended to his once more growing band of admirers.

Jonathan Woolf

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