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Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)

The Rio Grande [14.25]
Concerto for Piano and Nine Players [31.00]
Horoscope [27.13]
Kathryn Stott (piano)
Della Jones (mezzo)
BBC Singers
BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, June 1991. DDD
DECCA The British Music Collection 473 424-2 [69.12]


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This disc makes a very welcome return to the catalogue after its first issue on Argo in 1991-2 and subsequent nose-dive into deletion purgatory.

The BBC Concert Orchestra have this music (Rio and Horoscope) in their blood and must have performed it time without number under Vilem Tausky and Ashley Lawrence long before Barry Wordsworth became their principal. This is jazzy, nostalgic, piercingly poignant, bluesy, rhythmically vital and louche. Lambert can be devastatingly effective - listen for example to the way the Concert Orchestra's trumpet principal plunges and weaves with a triumphantly emotional scalpel at 9.13 in Rio Grande. Kathryn Stott is alert and vivaciously responsive to the mercurial mood-swings of this work. Della Jones is also magnificent as you can hear in the way she rolls, as no-one else has, the words 'the soft Brazilian air' at 12.27.

Next comes the Piano Concerto - a concerto for piano and nonet - written in memory of Peter Warlock. It too has its darkly jazzy side as well as Hispanic and Moorish inflections, There are heroic moments in the first movement often redolent of Ravelian orchestration but in its last two movements Lambert pushes the boat out into the self-same astringent waters where we find Goossens and Van Dieren. This is a work of a quite different cloth than Rio Grande. The soloists in the Concerto are all principals from the Concert Orchestra. They are; Ileana Ruhemann (fl), Michael Pearce (cl), Michael Angress (cl 1), Ruth McDowall (cl 2), Robert Ferriman (trpt), James Casey (tromb), Nigel Blomiley (vc), Christopher Westcott (dbl bs) and Alasdair Malloy (perc).

After the sobering yet probing douche of the Concerto we move on to the world of ballet which Lambert helped transform through the 1930s and 1940s. The transition is however smooth. Horoscope's Palindromic Prelude emerges from lichen-shaded brackish waters as if from Goossens' By the Tarn and Frank Bridge's There is a Willow. The Dance for the Followers of Leo is effervescently put across going at a rate faster than the Robert Irving's classic account that used to be found on old Decca Eclipse LPs. This is a concert-hall approach rather than being danceable. The Gemini waltz is quickly pulsed.

The Concert Orchestra are not the first nor yet the second BBC orchestra. While they are well inside the idiom there are rough edges here and there in ensemble especially in some of the quicker passages in Horoscope. This ballet score allows them opportunities (well taken) for ballroom grandeur. At those moments a bigger string section would have helped.

The notes by Calum Macdonald are good though one or two sentences have become garbled. Good to see the full text of Sacheverell Sitwell's Rio Grande poem given complete in the booklet.

Rob Barnett

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