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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]
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Nicholas Braithwaite
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1980; *Walthamstow Town Hall, August 1975. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.289 [51:33]

This is a fair conspectus of Lyrita’s endeavour on behalf of Walter Leigh. The Leigh discography has been increasing, if not swelling, in the last decade – I’m thinking in particular of Dutton’s ambitious chamber music disc on CDLX7143 (see review) – but going back to the LP fons has been both pleasurable and enlightening.
I came to the Concertino, by a discursive and frankly strange route, via pianist Kathleen Long’s 78s and the first time I heard it played on a harpsichord it came bizarrely as a shock. In whatever form one hears it, though clearly we’re not going to hear it much for piano these days, it never loses its genial and Francophile charge. In the same way that Christopher Hogwood responds so well to Martinů, his erstwhile colleague Trevor Pinnock does the honours with crisp zest and no little poetry. The vivacity of the finale is never impeded in this glittering performance but of course it’s the slow movement that most casts a spell – beautiful as ever.
The Agincourt Overture was commissioned by the BBC for George VI’s coronation. It’s a genuine concert overture, confident, muscular, breezy and fashioned from Elgarian seedbed maybe a touch infiltrated by contemporary Waltoniana. This is Imperial Englishness but one too that relaxes gently into a diaphanous flute and harp melody which swells into the Agincourt theme and has some classic history-minted cadences that sing down the Ages.
The Music for String Orchestra is the earliest here, written when Leigh was twenty-seven in 1932. It’s a brisk six-minute affair predicated on a neo-baroque plan of four movements alternating slow-fast. Yet how accomplished and affecting are those rising thirds in the opening Adagio, with their grave and sonorous beauty. And how well Leigh judges matters of sentiment in the Lento – expressive but not straying beyond pertinent bounds. Two fizzing fast movements balance the gravity with serene brio. 
A Midsummer Night's Dream Suite is an example of happy and practical music making for a school production in Germany. Here Leigh summons up big band Purcellian shades, strongly evoking ceremonial pomp and stately authority, though there are prefigurings of things like Rubbra’s Farnaby pieces in the Bergomask. The Frogs comes from the same year, an overture and dance of invigorating and tuneful geniality, elegantly crafted.  And finally there’s the Jolly Roger overture deriving from the 1933 comic opera. The cast was led by none other than George Robey and the brief overture is suitably and commendably jaunty and light. What’s the rest like, one wonders?
Hugo Cole’s notes are top notch, telling us just what we want to know, and the recording is cut from Lyrita’s finest cloth. The Dutton chamber release and this Lyrita make the sadly short-lived Leigh live again in immaculate style.
Jonathan Woolf
see also reviews by Raymond Walker, Gary Higginson and Rob Barnett

Lyrita catalogue 


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