On this introductory disc we have twenty-five
classic examples of 'light music.' Let us not worry too much at
this stage what we mean by this designation. Most admirers of
this genre know exactly what is implied - if that is not putting
the cart before the chicken's egg. However as a basic rule of
thumb my personal definition of the term ‘light music’
is 'music with a distinctive tune and rhythm, often nostalgic
that does not have pretensions to profundity - and is downright
enjoyable and perhaps even fun!'
This CD presents a variety of different 'light'
genres that fit the above definition. We have arrangements, impressions,
miniature tone poems and novelty pieces. Let us look at some of
these works in a little more detail.
One of the earliest recordings (1935) is by Eric
Coates and is the well known London Bridge March. This is not
quite as popular as Dambusters or Knightsbridge. However, Coates
has done more than almost any other composer to present musical
impressions of London. This march certainly deserves an airing,
if for no other reason than its engaging trio section.
One of the best examples of 'topographical' music
on this disc must be Robert Busby's Paris to Piccadilly; chock
full of tunes and allusions to French and English melodies. It
was written after the Second World War when people were once more
able to travel freely to and from the Continent. It describes
a trip - presumably by train, ferry and perhaps taxi from one
great capital to another. From the pavement cafés to the
French House in Dean Street!
A hop over the 'ditch' brings us to the Big Apple
for the attractive Skyscraper Fantasy by Donald Phillips. This
work opens with an expansive slow introduction before slipping
into a big, romantic tune somewhat influenced by jazz. Of course,
America is the land of opportunity; it has always been possible
to see New York or Newfoundland as the Gateway to the West. The
Canadian-born composer Robert Farnon gives us a memorable piece
that has long been a favourite both here and across the pond.
Once we are in the 'West', there is the Grand Canyon to visit.
Dolf van der Linden presents us with a characteristically bouncy
piece which seems to have little to do with scenic depiction,
but delivers a memorable tune, deliciously scored.
Morton Gould is one of those composers who write
music proficiently in virtually any genre. Here we have a miniature
called Tropical. This is a fine piece that hurries along in a
subtle manner. We are well aware that it is written by the hand
of a master.
The 'big boys' get a look in too. There is a
fine arrangement of Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C# minor by
the redoubtable Robert Farnon with obbligato flute and clarinet
solos by Arthur Gleghorn and Reginald Kell. I still prefer the
original piano version (1835) but this does make a pleasant change.
Arthur Benjamin is a great composer who has been
unjustly neglected. However he is and will always be remembered
for his fantastic Jamaican Rumba. This was originally for piano
and has been re-presented here courtesy of Percy Faith. Listen
out for the Latin-style muted brass -fab! (But do investigate
AB himself and in particular his Symphony on Marco Polo - it really
is outstanding music)
All amateur pianists will have known and loved
Edward MacDowell's wonderful, simple, yet very beautiful 'To a
Wild Rose.' It is given first-rate treatment here by Peter Yorke.
Then there are the novelty impressions. All of
these show that 'light music' does not mean sloppy craftsmanship.
In fact, it implies the very opposite. The orchestration of Sidney
Torch's well known Going for a Ride is masterly. This work epitomises
the light music genre. David Rose - best known for that all-time,
but risqué, favourite The Stripper - can always be relied
on to give a good tune. Here the Dance of the Spanish Onion is
at times quite brash and occasionally reflective. The great Puffin'
Billy is known to generations of British folk who avidly listened
to Children's Favourites on the BBC Light Programme. It has reappeared
in countless adverts and television programmes and has been featured
in many light music anthologies. White is also well remembered
for The Runaway Rocking Horse and Paris Interlude - both fine
examples of his skill and poise.
No collection of light music would be complete
without something by Leroy Anderson. The piece chosen here is
the chipper Plink Plank Plonk - an outing for pizzicato strings
showing just how competent Anderson was as a composer and instrumentalist.
Yet the two pieces that impressed me most were
two works that I had never heard before - Trevor Duncan (of ‘Doctor
Finlay's Casebook’ fame) and his Vision in Velvet. This
is one of those delightfully romantic pieces that makes me think
of a beautiful 'date' turning up at a dinner party arrayed in
all her finery.
The other 'find' is the First Rhapsody by George
Melachrino. It is perhaps the most reflective piece on this CD
- yet it uses the musical language and conventions of the 1940s
to present its nostalgic theme. A truly lovely work that I am
glad to have discovered.
A brief look at the listings of the tracks will
show that many of these pieces were conducted by men who were
composers as well as being competent on the rostrum. A number
of names that are still 'household' raise the baton on these recording
- Frank Chacksfield and Mantovani are two examples.
The programme notes are less comprehensive than
for the two other volumes in the series already issued. However,
with more details promised for future releases and Philip Scowcroft's
'Garlands' on Musicweb, this should not be too big a problem.
The sound quality is excellent, bearing in mind
that a number of the tracks have been culled from the original
78 r.p.m. records.
As I have indicated above, this is a fine introductory
album to the genre of light music. It should be bought by, or
given to, anyone who expresses even the slightest interest in
this tuneful and well-written music. There is no doubt in my mind
that this can only lead listeners to want to explore deeper into
these, by and large, hidden treasures. Let's wait eagerly for
the next tranche in this potentially comprehensive and excellent
See also Jonathon Woolf's review