I must admit that arrangements
of original works have never been one
of my great enthusiasms. I accept that
it has a long and distinguished history
in music. Sometimes the vogue has favoured
the reworking of original material and
sometimes the prevailing view has been
In the early years
of the 20th century, most
organ recitals for example, featured
a number of transcriptions. Pier-end
orchestras more often than not played
arrangements of light opera and music
from the shows. Today these venues are
few and far between. There are not many
palm court orchestras and most organ
recitals are sophisticated. However,
in the time of Liszt, piano arrangements
were the order of the day. In fact it
was the only way that many people ever
got to hear the big orchestral or operatic
works. The salons of the wealthy were,
in effect, the concert halls of London
and Berlin moved to Harrogate and Heckmondwike.
First a few definitions
from a music dictionary.
An 'arrangement' is
defined as:- A re-write of an existing
piece of music into a different style
or combination of instruments or voices.
In another volume, 'transcription' is
explained as 'to rearrange music
for instruments other than those for
which the work was originally written;
such an arrangement is called a transcription'
To anyone other than
an expert in semantics there does not
seem to be much to choose between these
definitions. But there is more to this.
If we consider Bach in relation to Vivaldi,
there was a sense in which the younger
man was re-inventing the Italian for
a new audience. It is possible to bring
tunes from a past age into our own.
They need to be represented in a style
which is commensurate with modern day
expectations. Sometimes it means taking
something that is effectively folk music
and re-scoring it for the sophistication
of a full orchestra. Just occasionally
it can mean simplification of an original
composition. Very often it can mean
taking a pedestrian tune and turning
it into a little masterpiece. Sometimes
it seems as if it is a partnership between
original composer and arranger. All
of these modes of working are reflected
in this CD.
In principle, we have
here a collection of established names
that do the arranging. They build on
music: popular, folk and classical.
Perhaps the best example
of what this CD is all about is the
13th track. This has a complex
history! The original underlying this
is the phrase B-A-C-H. This was a common
motif for use as the basis of a work.
In this case it is the foundation of
the great organ work by Franz Liszt,
the Fantasia and Fugue on the theme
B-A-C-H. S260. However, we
must first of all note that it was originally
written in 1855 and then revised by
the composer himself in 1870. The version
on this disc is by a composer whom I
have not heard of before - Christopher
Whelps. I am not sure how I feel about
this 'arrangement.' To me it just does
not work. There is no need for it; the
organ version is one of the great masterpieces
of the literature. It does not need
any help to establish it in the repertoire.
I find this version quite boring, whereas
the original stuns me every time. So
this work does not really fit my criteria
Normally I like the
work of the Lancastrian, Ernest Tomlinson.
However, I have to make an exception
with his longwinded Fantasia on Auld
Lang Syne (1976). As a Scot I know
all about sentimentality. But it is
just too long and does not achieve anything
- least of all a development of Burns’
great song. Twenty minutes is far too
long for a work of this type. Of course
there are nice moments, including many
spurious references to other pieces
of music including Elgar's Enigma
Variations and Beethoven's Ninth
Symphony. But on the whole it is
a work that I need never hear again.
I do not like a medley of dozens of
tunes wrapped up as a Fantasia.
Peter Hope is perhaps,
over-represented by four works on this
disc. His 'The Lark in the Clear
Air' (circa 1960) is an attractive
arrangement of the well-known Irish
folksong. And it is short and sweet
so avoiding too many repetitions (à
la Constant Lambert's famous dictum)
and contrived variations. There is a
kind of Delian climax before the work
The Mexican Hat
Dance (circa 1960) is one of those
works I know that many people love.
I don't. However the arrangement is
masterful. The composer's use of orchestral
colour is excellent. I could almost
be tempted to listen to this again!
Hope uses Spanish folk
material for his Majorcan Fantasy
(circa 1980). This is a well-crafted
work that explores a typically Iberian
sound complete with ubiquitous castanets.
However it has its quieter moments that
are attractive and create a Mediterranean
mood. Yet much of this is rather predictable
music. Ravel's Bolero is never
far away from the more rumbustious moments
in this work.
The American Sketches
(1960s and 1980s) rehearse Marching
through Georgia; Black is the
Colour and Camptown Races.
These are well wrought pieces, however
somehow they do not have an all-American
feel even if they use Yankee folk music.
Eric Wetherell's Airs
and Graces (1967) are based on tunes
drawn from a German album of recorder
tunes dating from 1740. Apparently his
children had been playing them whilst
studying the instrument. There are five
movements here: Round Dance,
Gavotte, Air, Trumpet
Minuet, Mill Dance and
Finale. This to me is the
masterpiece on this CD. It fulfils all
the criteria alluded to above - representation
of older music for a modern audience,
the taking of teaching music and turning
it into an art form and finally applying
considerable orchestral skill to create
a complete new work from unpromising
material. There is a definite echo of
the method and technique of Respighi's
Ancient Airs and Dances.
The last work I want
to mention is a little gem. It should
be played on Classic FM on a regular
basis. I did not know that Malcolm Arnold
arranged Isaac Albeniz's Tango.
Originally written for piano as part
of his (Albeniz) España
suite is has been arranged many times.
However no-one has brought such panache
to this work as Sir Malcolm. It has
all the Arnoldian fingerprints, yet
remains the Tango. This, as a
friend of mine once said, is the kind
of music that you could lick the ice
cream off. It is an Englishman's view
of the Mediterranean; a perfect fusion
of original composer and arranger.
Now for a couple of
practical matters. The sound on this
CD is great; the playing is excellent.
The programme notes could have given
a bit more background information. However
as a whole this is an attractive presentation
of little known music.
I suppose my bottom
line is that most of the pieces on this
CD are worth a very occasional airing
if not regular playing. Yet if I am
honest I really do wonder if this CD
is worth the effort that has gone into
its production. There are so many pieces
of 'light' music by a vast number of
British composers that better deserve
to be recorded than some of the works
on this disc. The exception to this
is of course the Airs and Graces
by Eric Wetherell and the confection
arranged by Sir Malcolm Arnold.