Walter LEIGH (1905-1942) Agincourt Overture* (1937) [11:46]
Concertino for Harpsichord and String Orchestra (1934) [9:33]
Music for String Orchestra (1931-2) [6:29] A Midsummer Night's Dream Suite for small orchestra(1936): Overture,
Entry of the Mechanicals, Introduction to Act II, Intermezzo, Introduction to
Act III, Wedding March, Bergomask, Fairies' Dance, Finale [14:26] The Frogs (1936) [5:35] Jolly Roger Overture* (1933) [3:38]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Nicholas Braithwaite
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1980; *Walthamstow Town Hall, August 1975.
Walter Leigh, is little known today yet was undoubtedly one
of England’s gifted and versatile composers. Born in London,
he became a brilliant scholar and graduated from Cambridge
to study in Berlin with Hindemith. He composed scores for
solo instruments, chamber and orchestra in a wide range of
genres including panto, operetta, incidental music and film.
The GPO film unit was impressed with the descriptive music
created by Leigh (and his contemporary, Britten), which was
best remembered in the film, ‘Job in a Million’. Most of
his output was written in the thirties until interrupted
by the war. The war took him to Libya where he was killed
in 1942 at the age of 36, at a time before he was able to
complete his first symphony. A Sonatina
written in 1930 bears the influence of Hindemith and was
for Rebecca Clarke who gave a London performance. The works
on this disc were written after the celebrated Sonatina and
were equally successful.
The rousing overture to the Jolly
Roger, a comic opera, hints at the modern style
Leigh experimented with in the thirties. To prove its
success, the opera ran well at its Manchester opening
in February 1933 before transferring to the Savoy Theatre,
London for a full six month season. The vivacious music
is most original with twists and turns in key where the
strings follow the horns, for instance. Humour is added
by certain phrases and the repetition of a false close
to the piece. A BBC studio broadcast of the complete
opera took place in August 1948. It was later repeated
in the 1950s, I think. Surely on this showing the BBC
recording is overdue for a fresh airing, though the superb
dynamics and energy of this Lyrita recording gives the
overture an extra dimension.
Agincourt Overture is a long,
bright and flamboyant swashbuckling piece that to me conjures
up chivalrous men on horseback of an earlier age yet it was
written to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. Strong
nobility is attached to its opening majestic theme, brightly
punctuated by cymbals. Its style is not far removed from ‘Pomp
and Circumstance’. Short dialogue between the brass and strings
leads into a tranquil theme with a viola and cello prominence
that clearly echoes Elgar, and might well have been written
a compact work, surprisingly more French than German and shadowing Ravel's style
- remember, he had studied in Berlin. I have not been able
why Leigh, an organ scholar, had such a fascination with
this keyboard instrument since he uses it a lot and yet it
is often masked when used with an orchestra whereas a piano
isn’t. Here by dispensing with brass and timpani the harpsichord
is given a chance to shine through with a certain degree
of prominence. A lively opening movement, with the harpsichord
providing filigree, is followed by a relaxingly wide theme
in Sarabande form, before reverting to another brisk 6/8
final movement containing the added colour of cross-rhythms,
where different short themes rapidly follow each other. A
final reprise links themes from all three movements.
For the Cambridge University production of The
Frogs in 1936 with Basil Dean, Leigh produced
a score that was impressive and may well have led to
his involvement with the GPO Film Unit. The overture’s
majestic and somewhat hymnal trumpet-led opening runs
into a fugue-like theme. The short Dance that
follows is heavily scored and must have accompanied some
prominent stage spectacle.
Of all Leigh’s compositions found on this disc,
the music for A Midsummer Night's Dream is
a particularly mature work and demonstrates the skill this
composer possesses when writing for theatrical productions.
Many of the tracks are short scene-setting introductions
with the Introduction to Act
III and Bergomask carrying an authentic Elizabethan
feel. Judging from the characteristics of the short Fairies' Dance and Finale it
seems likely that Leigh had studied the Mendelssohn equivalent. A
humble premiere of the excellent score at a Weimar school’s
performance in 1936 required it to suit the needs of a reduced
orchestra which surprisingly included
a harpsichord. Nevertheless, it is lovingly scored and the
effect is grand. Here it is played to perfection by the larger
forces of a leading orchestra.
Music for String Orchestra is a melancholic work,
written sympathetically with amateur musicians in mind. Starting
with a dark Adagio using rising thirds, it gathers
momentum with a short bouncing Vivo before lulling
into a doleful Lento, reminiscent of the opening movement.
A short Allegro closes the work. I find this the least
satisfying of the works represented on this disc.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that the only other
major commission Leigh undertook before the outbreak of war
was to produce music for Eleanor Farjeon's intimate Nine
Sharp (1938), a sort of ‘Cambridge Footlights Revue’.
Sadly no recording exists of this or anything from his other
three stage works, ‘Aladdin’, ‘The Pride of the Regiment’ and ‘Charlemagne’.
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