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Kent Sinfonia

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Walter LEIGH (1885-1916)
Jolly Roger Overture (1933) [3:54]
Squadron 992 (1939) [11:03]
Harpsichord Concertino (Allegro [3:58]; Andante [3:21]; Allegro Vivace [2:24]) (1934)
The Fairy of the Phone (1935) [13:06]
George BUTTERWORTH (1905-1942)

English Idyll No. 1 (1910-11) [5:31]
English Idyll No. 2 (1910-11) [5:13]
The Banks Of Green Willow (1913) [6:23]
Kent Sinfonia/Malcolm Riley
rec. no details given

There is a tragic symmetry in juxtaposing music by these two British composers. Each was killed in wartime: Butterworth in the First World War and Leigh in the Second. Butterworth died, the victim of a sniper's bullet on the Somme. Leigh was killed by enemy fire near Tobruk.

Butterworth provides the familiar tracks. The First Idyll in this version has an intimate feeling and a satisfyingly 'tiredness' to the trudging opening theme. Coming as a surprise the harmoniemusik feeling of the wind playing in this case registers strongly. These works together with the lilting Banks of Green Willow can loosely be bracketed with Finzi's Severn Rhapsody and Bridge's Summer. It is interesting but ultimately futile to wonder whether Butterworth's music would have metamorphosed toward dissonance as Bridge's did post-1918.

Leigh is much less known than Butterworth although we have just seen Lyrita's reissue of their Leigh anthology [review]. The Lyrita duplicates Leigh's Harpsichord Concerto and Jolly Roger overture. The unique Leigh tracks offered here by the Kent Sinfonia are the film music from Squadron 992 and The Fairy of the Phone - the latter recalling another telephone promotional piece on the superb Britten film music collection from NMC.

The Squadron 992 music is episodic with its slightly zany Prokofiev-like wit and very English high spirits occasionally melding into epic-heroic. Those high high-spirits are also evident in the little Jolly Roger overture complete with its impudent quote from Rule Britannia. Speaking of Jolly Roger, in Malcolm Riley’s hands it is very much the West End overture a little like Le Cabaret by John Foulds and even more so Dunhill’s Tantivy Towers. It’s all ever so slightly commercial – and no harm done there! The Harpsichord Concertino was recorded in the age of the 78 but in the very early 1970s it returned from virtual oblivion on one of Neville Dilkes’ English Sinfonia English music collections (EMI). Dilkes also introduced the Butterworth Idylls on the same pair of LPs. The Harpsichord Concertino has a romantic euphoric effect which runs contrary to expectations from this instrument. It's certainly not purely neo-classical and has more lyrical zest than the Martinů and de Falla works of this era. It has about it a plangency in its central movement and is business-like fugal in the finale. There it has a real punch-to-the-chest sound. This is concise yet generous-hearted writing; a populist harpsichord concerto!

In The Fairy of the Phone the woodwind communion is schmoozy and up-close. The mix of wind ensemble, piano (played by Malcolm Riley) and female chorus here sounds lightly commercial. When the chorus get going they sound like refugees from The Ovaltinies or a Busby Berkeley chorus-line. Some of the music smacks of Martinů with a dash of orientalism at 9:34 and at other times like Kurt Weill without the acid. Sophie Mansell sings the Fairy Supervisor with operatic aplomb. For authenticity the chorus of ‘faeries’ sing home sung in typically Home Counties 1930s BBC accents. The rather twee-innocent words are not printed.

The original film promoting use of the phone had telephonists with plug-and-wire switchboards and other period paraphernalia. V.C. Clinton Baddeley, with whom Leigh collaborated on various music-theatre pieces, appeared in the film surrounded by nubile retainers.

The notes are by Malcolm Riley who also conducts and has edited and reshaped the film music. I hope that there will be more Leigh from this source. An all-Leigh disc would probably be even more warmly welcomed in many quarters.

Everything is warmly recorded and very close-up with that open air Mozartian cassation feeling. The sound-picture has a strong emphasis on the woodwind presumably because the string complement is smaller in proportion.

Rob Barnett




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