This is an excellent compilation of contemporary
renderings of British light music of the nineteen-forties. Most
of the pieces come from the second half of the decade –
and are therefore post-war although being played in a land where
rationing and austerity were still the order of the day. It is
not necessary to comment on all twenty-three of these evocative
numbers. However a few words on, what to me are, the highlights
will be appropriate.
The pieces which strike me as most evocative
of the age are the ‘impressions’ or miniature tone
poems. We have at least a dozen on this recording – all
of which show considerable resources of melody, instrumentation
Edward White’s Runaway Rocking Horse is
one of my absolute favourites. If any piece proves that the light
music composer was often a superb musical craftsman it is this
piece. It is an attractive nod to a toy that most adults remember
about their childhood – even if they never actually had
one. I can easily imagine the wooden horse cantering off into
some romantic English landscape. We hear the little horse playing
and then beginning to tire. A last frolic and then, as if by a
magic wand, he is back on his wooden frame.
One of the ‘urban tone poems’ that
were so popular with light music composers is Jack Brown’s
Metropolis. It does not matter if this is Manchester or Manhattan
– it has all the hallmarks of a city that does not sleep.
Theatreland by Jack Strachey makes us want to get into that black
taxi cab or get on the Central Line and head off to where the
footlights are blazing and the curtains going up on the very latest
Wagon Lit is a well-loved number by Sidney Torch
that gives an impression of a bouncy trip on French Railways.
Whether the service was better on the trains in 1947 is a matter
of conjecture – but one thing is for sure the post-war,
austerity travellers in those days were trailblazing the way to
the continent by sleeper; soon the hordes that would follow by
jet plane. Of course, another wonderful ‘transport’
image is presented by Clive Richardson’s perfectly scored
Melody on the Move. Now I do not know what mode of ‘movement’
he has in mind – but to me it is a jaunt through the Surrey
Hills on a lovely summer Saturday. Perhaps we enjoy a brief Woodland
Revel with George Melachrino - one of those tunes that seem to
have been at the back of my mind all my life.
Ascot Enclosure moves the imagery away from the
city to the country and the excitement of a day at the races.
It is rather strange that I tend to see all these ‘place’
images in terms of contemporary London Transport Posters.
Another thread throughout this disc is that of
arrangement. Now this does not move me in quite the same nostalgic
manner as the tone poems. However, all of them are attractive
renderings of well known tunes. For example, Ronald Hanmer’s
evocative version of the traditional tune Ten Green Bottles shows
what can be done without simply repeating the tune - louder. As
another reviewer has pointed out – it is not lemon squash
or ginger beer that was in the bottles but possibly Boddingtons
or Bass. I am not so sure about the arrangement of the Golliwog’s
Cakewalk – but I suppose it was for some people their only
venture into the world of Claude Debussy. Cole Porter is represented
with an ‘end of the pier’ arrangement of ‘Just
one of those things’.
One of the features of that long-running BBC
series on the ‘Light Programme’ was Friday Night is
Music Night. This programme usually had at least one medley from
the ‘shows’ or one of their composers. On this disc
we have a lovely selection of tunes by Irving Berlin including
A Pretty Girl is like a melody and Heat-wave and a medley of film
tunes put together by Nicholas Brodszky.
It is not possible to comment on all the performers
on this disc. Suffice to say that they are all contemporary with
the music; many of the names of the orchestras are enough to give
British listeners of a certain age a huge nostalgia trip. A glance
at the track-listing above shows a glittering array of light music
stars. Some of the works are conducted by the composers themselves
and this gives us an opportunity to see how an Eric Coates, David
Rose or George Melachrino approached their own music.
The sound quality is excellent, bearing in mind
that all these tracks are derived largely from the original 78s.
This is a nicely presented CD with some six pages of closely written
NOTE (1..) On a personal note I wish to say that I never really
bought into the Harold Wilson government’s changes to the
BBC Radio network. I cannot forgive them for getting rid of the
‘Pirate’ Radio Stations, especially Radio Scotland
and London. I still refer to the Third Programme or the Light
Programme in conversation. Call me a Luddite if you will.
See also Jonathon Woolf's review