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Jonathan Woolf
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A Little Nonsense
Ronald BINGE (1910-1979)
The Story of Cock Robin [6:16]
The Grand Old Duke [3:21]
Oranges and Lemons [1:48]
Doctor Foster (arr. Herbert Hughes orch. Cyril Watters) [1:13]
The Jolly Beggar (arr. Victor Hely-Hutchinson) [1:55]
A Good Roarin' Fire [0:46]
The Great Meat Pie [1:54]
The Harrin' Heed [1:55]
J Michael DIACK
Sing a Song of Sixpence (arr. Mackerras) [2:20]
Little Jack Horner (arr. Mackerras) [2:05]
Jack and Jill (arr. Mackerras) [1:56]
Liza LEHMANN (1862-1918)
Matilda - (arr. Mackerras) [2:59]
Henry King (arr. Mackerras) [3:00]
Victor HELY-HUTCHINSON (1901-1947)
Old Mother Hubbard (rearranged Mackerras) [2:39]
The Owl and the Pussy Cat [1:58]
The Table and the Chair [2:10]
The Duck and the Kangaroo [2:37]
Owen Brannigan (bass-baritone)
Pro Arte Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
rec. EMI Studio No.1, London, January 1962
DECCA 442 9077 [41:51]

Back in January 1962, with Ronald Kinloch Anderson in the recording box and Abbey Road Studio No.1 at the ready, Owen Brannigan recorded these seventeen “nonsense” songs for EMI. At hand and conducting was Charles Mackerras who also came armed with some arrangements. Together they performed orchestral settings of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs, two of Belloc’s Cautionary Tales and four Handel parodies to nursery rhyme words. Some of Ronald Binge’s fantasies on children’s songs, as well as songs by Herbert Hughes and Victor Hely-Hutchinson, were added to the mix. And there were also some unaccompanied songs, a favourite province of Brannigan’s.
Forty-five years later they’re issued by Decca (apparently exclusively for Australia), which has reprinted the original LP cover and sleeve notes in a fetching and graphically attractive way. It’s true that the results last barely forty-two minutes but at least you know what you’re getting with this straight remastering.
You’re also getting wit, whimsy and some saucy fun. Nothing diminishes the pleasure especially, for me, the Handel parodies which I suppose should pall – but don’t. It’s Binge who emerges as something of a hero for his The Story of Cock Robin, a six minute scena of riotous fun. Portentous and sporting a recitative, habańera and romantic aria, a “Death of Nelson” type recit is thrown in for good measure. It gets things off to a blisteringly enjoyable start. Doctor Foster gives Brannigan the chance to exhibit his Handelian divisions whilst J Michael Diack and Charles Mackerras concoct a veritable Handel-Beecham extravaganza in Sing a Song of Sixpence. Naturally Little Jack Horner is similarly despatched but the funniest parody is undoubtedly Jack and Jill. One appreciates that these kinds of things are not to everyone’s taste – and I think those beyond the Sceptred Isle will probably find it all baffling – but they’re very much to mine. So too is Brannigan’s descriptive and distinguished way with unaccompanied songs.
The perplexed will be find the vaguely Eastern and Mahlerian hues – no, honestly – of Henry King even more of a puzzler though even they might approve of the delightfully arch Hely-Hutchinson setting of The Table and the Chair.
It would be a pity is this kind of disc mouldered away in the “Humour” racks. It had life then and it has life now. I didn’t like all of it – but I did like a lot of it.
Jonathan Woolf


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