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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



ELIZABETHAN SERENADE: CLASSICS of BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC
Ronald BINGE
(1910-1979) Elizabethan Serenade
Eric COATES
(1886-1957) Knightsbridge – March The Man about Town London Calling – March Dancing Nights – Concert waltz
Edward ELGAR
(1857-1934) Chanson de Matin
Frederick ELLARD
(fl. 1840-1855) Lady O’Connell (arr. Richard Divall) Albert KETÈLBEY (1875-1959) In a Persian Market
Kenneth ALFORD
(1881-1945) Colonel Bogey – March
Leslie STUART (1863-1928)
Soldiers of the Queen – March (arr. William Motzing)
Ron GOODWIN (b. 1925)
633 Squadron – Main Theme
The Barbican – Hornpipe
Richard ADDINSELL (1904-1977)
Warsaw Concerto
Archibald JOYCE (1873-1963)
Remembrance – Waltz
Ronald HANMER (1917-1994)
Pastorale
John LENNON (1940-1980) and Paul McCARTNEY (b. 1942)
Nudging Dance/Michelle Pas de Deux
The Yesterday Concerto (arr. John Lanchbery)
Sydney SO/Patrick Thomas (Binge)
West Australian SO/David Measham (Coates, Elgar, Goodwin)
State O of Victoria/Richard Divall (Ellard) 
New SO and Chorus of London/Robert Sharples (Ketèlbey)
Australian Army Band, Perth/Captain Craig Johnston (Alford, Goodwin)
ABC Philharmonic O/William Motzing (Stuart)
Melbourne  SO/Patrick Thomas (with Isador Goodman, piano) (Addinsell)
Sydney SO/John Lanchbery (with Isador Goodman, piano) (Coates, Lennon/McCartney)
Queensland SO/Ronald Hanmer (Hanmer)
Sydney Balalaika Orchestra/Victor Serghie (Joyce)
Rec. Australia 1980-2002 ADD/DDD
ABC CLASSICS 472 509-2 [76.21]
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What is light music? Lyle Chan, in an exceptionally interesting and informative essay which accompanies this issue, helps us out. Light music as we understand it today has its origins in the entertainment provided for well-off and well-to-do people in the latter part of the nineteenth century, which was to be heard primarily in the foyers and lounges of the quality hotels where these kind of people went on holiday or to “take the waters”. From this world comes the expression “Palm Court”, which has entered the language without most of us knowing what it means or where it appeared from. The proliferation of this kind of music was far from being an exclusively English phenomenon, but it’s true to say that as the new century became established there was a huge increase in its popularity and demand in England, even as it declined elsewhere. We learn that in the 1920s, each time a patron of the Lyons chain of restaurants settled his bill he was contributing to the estimated cost of £150,000 per year to keep the musicians in work. In the decades before 1950 the BBC employed no fewer than eight full-time light orchestras, and the enormous amount of work available meant that the best musicians managed to earn a very good living indeed.

It’s interesting to see the name Edward Elgar on the list of composers featured here. I don’t think anybody would cite even the “Enigma” Variations is an example of light music, and certainly not the symphonies or Gerontius, to stay only with the better known works. But Chanson de Matin more than earns its place in the present company. First of all, it isn’t too long: at three and half minutes it can hold the attention of even the most fidgety person. Secondly, it is melodious and easy to take in at a single hearing; in a word, undemanding. Listening to this relatively early work of Elgar’s, one is struck, all the same, by the fact that there is a different level of musicianship at work here than in many of the other pieces, and I think this has to do with development. Truth to say, by Elgar’s own standards, there isn’t much in the way of development in this little piece, but when he brings back a theme he is perfectly capable of embellishing it or drawing it out with a sequence or two, or perhaps, as in a charming moment just before the end, surprising the listener by taking the end of the phrase up an octave. Almost without exception development even of such rudimentary kind is absent from the music in this programme, and it is this which tends to discourage me from wanting to play the whole disc in one sitting.

Take as an example the very first piece on the disc, the Elizabethan Serenade by the wonderfully named Ronald Binge. The opening provokes a smile of recognition: how familiar this melody is – why? the Light Programme? the test card? – and how reassuring, taking us back so far and so effortlessly! But then of course it’s a most beguiling tune, and one which defies analysis, since its contours, relying as they do on simple arpeggio figures, could scarcely be simpler or less, seemingly, original. Yet, once heard, the tune stays stubbornly in the mind. So it does in the piece, too, however, and this is the first manifestation of what seems to me the main weakness of the music on this disc, for there is little or no development. Binge has conjured up his lovely melody but then either can’t or doesn’t want to do anything with it apart from play it again with limited changes of instrumentation.

The programme seems to have been well chosen to reflect a wide range of British music of the period. As with Elizabethan Serenade, many readers will recognise the pieces by Eric Coates, perhaps, like me, without knowing why. Surprisingly, perhaps, in a collection like this, we get no Dam Busters but we do get Ron Goodwin’s 633 Squadron, its cross rhythms reminiscent of America from West Side Story. Other highlights include the same composer’s “wrong note” sailor’s hornpipe and of course the Warsaw Concerto, so well done, the writing for the solo piano in particular, that you can almost see the long, gloomy frame of Rachmaninov himself seated at the instrument. On the other hand, the Beatles arrangements with which the disc ends are very saccharine and did absolutely nothing for this particular child of the sixties.

This is a compilation album of performances recorded in Australia between 1980 and 2002, plus one performance, the Ketèlbey, which is taken from a Decca album released in 1959. For the most part the performances are accomplished and convincing, though I was surprised by the less than taut rhythms of the Australian Army Band in 633 Squadron, as I also was by their rather cosy romp through Colonel Bogey. And though I was happy enough to rediscover In a Persian Market, a piece I used to fumble my way through on the piano as a boy, I do wonder if the New Symphony Chorus of London singing “Baksheesh, baksheesh, Allah!” down their noses is acceptable nowadays.

William Hedley


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