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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Constant LAMBERT (1905–1951)
Romeo and Juliet - Ballet in Two Tableaux (1924/5) [29'51]
First Tableau
1 Rondino The dancers arrive late for class [2:02]
2 Gavotte and Trio - Women’s dance [2:14]
3 Scherzetto - Men’s dance [1:43]
4 Siciliana - The professor teaches a pas de deux [2:58]
5 Sonatina - The lovers are separated [2:29]
Second Tableau
6 Entr’acte - The stage is prepared [1:36]
7 Sinfonia - Romeo and Juliet meet at the ball [2:50]
8 Alla Marcia - The nurse and the servant [1:49]
9 Toccata - The duel between Romeo and Tybalt [2:35]
10 Musette - The balcony scene [2:29]
11 Burlesca - Paris enters, searching for Juliet [1:26]
12 Adagietto - The death of Juliet [1:54]
13 Finale: Presto -The curtain falls [3:21]
Elegiac Blues - In memory of Florence Mills (1927, orch. 1928) [2:54]
Piano Concerto for piano solo, two trumpets, strings and timpani (1924) [17:07]
(Allegro risoluto [2:56] —Presto [4:03] —Andante [5:14] —Allegro [4:53])
The Bird Actors Overture (1925, rev. 1927) [3:18]
Prize Fight: Ballet in One Act (1924, rev. 1927) [9:12]
Jonathan Plowright (piano)
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
rec. Clothworkers’ Hall, University of Leeds, 19-20 Dec 2004. DDD
HYPERION CDA67545 [62:52]

 

This is David Lloyd-Jones’s fourth Lambert CD for Hyperion. I hope that it is not the last although the Lambert catalogue is not large.

Right from the start of this disc the artists communicate Lambert's characteristic blend of touching poetry and jazzy exuberance. Conductor and orchestra fully capture the brilliance of the Romeo and Juliet score which was written for Diaghilev. Lambert was in fact one of only two British composers who had Diaghilev productions: the other was Lord Berners.

The playing is spot-on at all times. This is very much to the point in the thunderous jazzy Sonatina of Romeo and Juliet which rattles with jazzy echoes of Lambert’s Rio Grande. The Sinfonia (tr. 7) has all the expansive grandeur of Lambert’s Horoscope ballet score. This contrasts with a Stravinskian Alla Marcia (tr. 8) and that strongly neo-classical approach also surfaces in the finale (tr. 13). The Toccata (tr. 9) also carries occasional pre-echoes of Moeran’s 1944 Serenade and of Lambert’s own Music for Orchestra (1927). In the Adagietto (tr. 12) The Death of Juliet is portrayed through plaintive slow motion for strings. There is no sobbing; all is bleakly understated in a manner familiar from Roy Harris. The score has no pretensions to the exalted emotionalism of Prokofiev in his Romeo and Juliet. It si nevertheless a better than interesting score and it is not without emotional content even if it is in water-colour tints.

The Elegiac Blues was written in memory of Florence Mills whose Dover Street to Dixie revue was seen by Lambert with his friend the pianist Angus Morrison at least four times. The piece is fleetingly brief - like a Liadov tone poem - and wears a slow and sour jazz age smile. It’s notable amongst other things for its Delian fanfare à la Appalachia - not a shred of vainglory ... just a melancholy gesture.

The Piano Concerto here is a full concerto and is not to be confused with the much better known Lambert concerto for piano and chamber ensemble. The composer here uses an orchestra lacking only a full wind complement. It is for two trumpets, timpani and string orchestra and has four movements. The work is well worth hearing with its first movement characterised by insistently hammering rhythmic material and just the hint of a Scottish skirl which reappears in the finale amid ruthless Prokofiev-like energy. There’s very little in the way of jazzy voicing. Instead the piece comes up bright as a sixpence in the manner of the wonderful and under-recognised Walton Sinfonia Concertante. Lambert takes his eyes off the ball only in the Andante where the emotional material fails to engage the listener.

The Bird Actors is chipper and Milhaud-bright with much use of castanets and tambourine. There are fugal echoes at 1.30 again recalling the Music for Orchestra. This is fun with some characteristic touches but not from the top drawer. A privilege at last to hear this earlyish piece.

Prize Fight is a knockabout satirical piece that takes on the wildness of Havergal Brian's The Tigers. It has the tumultuous activity of Chisholm’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Grainger’s The Warriors but is more frivolous than either score. The cartoon style fight between Bug the American bruiser and the black man is relentlessly insistent complete with bell to mark the end of the round. Other disparate presences include a satirical echo of Petrushka’s negro, a shard of the march Johnny Comes Marching Home and that Scottish snap again.

The booklet note hits all the right bases and is faultlessly communicative. The author is Stephen Lloyd who is working on what is likely to be the Lambert biography. It should be out next year all being well.

The booklet carries a 1926 portrait of Constant Lambert by Christopher Wood (1901–1930).

After this let's have a further Lambert CD including Green Fire, the Dirge from Cymbeline and the superb Music for Orchestra. I have heard the latter in off-air recordings conducted by the composer, by Maurice Handford and by Norman Del Mar. Forget the grey Hindemithian title, this is a work that describes a glorious symphonic parabola of about 18 minutes duration. Poignant, dramatic and not at all academic its absence from the catalogue is yet another incomprehensible omission.

This is Lambert’s centenary year but the celebrations have been a pretty muted affair. No performances of Tiresias or Music for Orchestra and none of Summer’s Last Will and Testament. Surely one of the Prom concerts should have been devoted to him. There has however been no shortage of performances of Rio Grande which in the popularity stakes stands to Summer’s Last Will in much the same relationship as Bax’s Tintagel to the seven symphonies. Hyperion can claim credit for this disc not simply for the transient accolade of a CD entry during the composer’s centenary year but also because the music has intrinsic attraction. Romeo and Juliet has been recorded before but not with such elan and the other pieces receive their premiere recordings.

Rob Barnett

 

LAMBERT ON HYPERION
Horoscope - Suite
BLISS Checkmate - Suite
WALTON Facade - Suite
English Northern Sinfonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Compact Disc CDH55099

Mr Bear Squash-you-all-flat
Piano Concerto
Piano Sonata
Eight poems of Li-Po

Nigel Hawthorne narrator, Philip Langridge tenor, Ian Brown piano, The Nash Ensemble/Lionel Friend
Compact Disc CDA66754

Summer's Last Will and Testament
The Rio Grande
Aubade Héroïque

Sally Burgess mezzo, William Shimell baritone, Jack Gibbons piano, Leeds Festival Chorus/Chorus of Opera North, English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones
Compact Disc CDA66565 Review

Tiresias A Ballet in three Acts (1950/1)
Pomona A Ballet in one Act (1927)
English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones conductor
Compact Disc CDA67049 Review



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