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July 2022

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The Golden Age of Light Music: The 1930s revisited


Experience Classicsonline

Eric COATES (1886-1957) The Merrymakers – Miniature Overture [4:21]
London Symphony Orchestra/Eric Coates (from HMV C 2449, 1932)
Cecil Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960) Fancy Dress – Suite: Hurly Burly [1:43]
Fancy Dress – Suite: Dusk [1:26]; Pageantry [2:58]
Regent Concert Orchestra/William Hodgson (from Boosey & Hawkes BH 1935, 1939)
Henri PIERNÉ (1863-1937) (arr. MOUTON) Entrance Of The Little Fauns (from the ballet Cydalise et la chèvre-pied) [3:22]
Jack Payne and his BBC Dance Orchestra (from Columbia DX 273, 1931)
Jerome KERN (1885-1945) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (arr. Peter YORKE) [2:56]
Louis Levy and his Orchestra (from HMV BD 723, 1939)
Music In The Air – Selection [7:09]
New Mayfair Orchestra/Ray Noble (from HMV C 2561, 1933)
Charles ANCLIFFE (1880-1952) The Liberators – March [3:18]
London Palladium Orchestra/Jack Frere (from HMV B 8662, 1937)
Theofore Moses TOBANI (1855-1933) (arr. WILLOUGHBY) Hearts and Flowers [3:06]
J.H. Squire Celeste Octet (from Columbia DB 690 1931)
ESSLINGER Forest Idyll [4:23]
Marek Weber and his Orchestra (from HMV C 2451, 1932)
John ANSELL (1874-1948) Windjammer Overture [3:14]
Regent Concert Orchestra/William Hodgson (from Boosey & Hawkes BH 1907, 1937)
W C POLLA (1876-1939) Dancing Tambourine [3:11]
Jack Hylton And His Orchestra (from HMV B 5362, 1927)
Harold (Hal) MOONEY (1911-1995) Swamp Fire [2:34]
André Kostelanetz and his Orchestra (from Columbia DB 1837, 1938)
Sid PHILLIPS (1907-1973) Escapada [4:08]
Ambrose and his Orchestra (from Decca K 849, 1936)
Henry STEELE Knave of Diamonds [2:45]
Commodore Grand Orchestra/Joseph Muscant (Piano: Louis Mordish) (from Regal Zonophone MR 1240, 1934)
Irving BERLIN (1888-1989) Waltz Medley [2:59]
Coventry Hippodrome Orchestra/Charles Shadwell (from Regal Zonophone MR 2089, 1936)
RIVELLI Cupid’s Parade – Fantasy [3:05]
The Little Salon Orchestra (from Columbia DB 459, 1931)
Joseph LANNER (1801-1843) Court Ball Dances (Hofballtänze, Op.161) [3:06]
Orchestra Mascotte (from Parlophone R 1087, 1931)
Ivor NOVELLO (1893-1951), arr. Charles Prentice Glamorous Night – Selection [8:38]
Drury Lane Theatre Orchestra/Charles Prentice (from HMV C 2756, 1936)
Carl ROBRECHT (1888-1961) Fata Morgana [3:00]
Louis Voss Grand Orchestra (from Bosworth BC 1013, 1937)
Eduard KÜNNEKE (1885-1953) Finale – Foxtrot (from Dance Suite) [6:42]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Eduard Künneke (from Telefunken E 2494, 1938)
Mono. ADD.

This is a veritable feast for lovers of light music and a worthy follow-up to Guild’s earlier CDs of 1930s light music (GLCD5106 and GLCD5116). There are several recent recordings of the repertoire, notably on Marco Polo. Some of it is also available in anthologies on the sister budget Naxos label, and Hyperion, but this recording brings us the real McCoy, with Eric Coates and Eduard Künneke conducting their own music on the opening and closing tracks and featuring such well-known band leaders as Jack Payne, Ambrose and André Kostelanetz. I was even more delighted to make the acquaintance of orchestras and conductors of which I had barely or never heard.
With hindsight the thirties seem to have been an era of perpetual gloom, a view largely induced by the likes of W.H. Auden who sat:-

in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade: [September 1, 1939]
In fact, as a recent book points out it was a period in which the standard of living improved for a very large section of the population. (Juliet Gardiner, The Thirties: An Intimate History, Harper Press). It was the age of the great depression and mass unemployment, of wars and rumours of wars, but it was also the age of Betjeman’s Metroland and of two great avenues of escape from the worst of life, the cinema and light music.
All the music on this new CD can be broadly characterised as cheerful, though there is a great deal of variety within that overall category. The contrast between the jolly Dancing Tambourine (tr12), the moody Swamp Fire (tr.13) and Escapada with its Spanish title and Latin American influence (tr.14) demonstrates how well the programme has been arranged.
André Kostelanetz, who performs Swamp Fire with his Orchestra (actually the New York Phil?) was to go on recording light-classical music for many years after 1938; in fact until shortly before his death in 1980. Not surprisingly, this track is one of the highlights of a delightful CD.
Three of the pieces inhabit the borderland between the ‘light’ and the ‘classical’ and show how meaningless those labels can be. The LSO of the day get us off to a good start with Eric Coates conducting his own Merrymakers Overture. At 4:21 it must have been a bit of a squeeze to get onto 78s, but there is no sense of scramble – it’s just a few second faster than the version on the modern 2-CD collection on budget price Classics for Pleasure. If you haven’t yet purchased that set, with wonderful performances directed by Sir Charles Groves, Reginal Kilbey and Sir Charles Mackerras, you ought to do so (3523562); this 1932 recording makes a wonderful supplement to it. Sir Adrian is a trifle slower on his Lyrita CD Boult Conducts Coates (SRCD.246).
I guarantee that track 5, The Entrance of the Little Fauns from Pierné’s ballet Cydalise et la chèvre-pied will make you sit up and take notice; if you don’t already know the piece, or the ballet from which it is excerpted and arranged, you may well wish to obtain it. Jack Payne and his Orchestra’s performance is good enough to make you go for the recommendable modern recording on Timpani (1C1059 – see review and review and my October, 2009 Download Roundup).
The Court Ball Dances on track 18 are billed as by ‘Jos Lanner’. That’s Joseph Lanner to you and me, the arch-rival of the Strauss family, whose music is sometimes programmed by the Vienna Philharmonic for the New Year’s Day concert. I don’t think Lanner or the Strausses would recognise the arrangement here, with its exotic orchestration – try to spot the instruments – but it’s all great fun in the hands of Orchestra Mascotte, of whom I hadn’t heard. They appear to have been an ad hoc ensemble, known by different names in different countries. Viennese it ain’t, but I’m not complaining.
Not everything here is big-band. Hearts and Flowers (tr.9) is made all the more affective (sentimental, even) by being performed by a smallish ensemble, the J.H. Squire Celeste Octet. Actually, I think it just avoids being over-sentimental, but it’s hard to forget that the piece has so often and so successfully been parodied.
The bird-song on tr.10, Forest Idyll, may not be to all tastes – it is a bit twee – but I went for it, as I always do for the similarly extraneous effects in Ketèlbey’s music - and in Respighi’s Roman Trilogy, for that matter.
The recordings all sound very acceptable, even track 12 which dates from 1927 – can it really be that old? Guild have not achieved the same level of technological miracle as Pristine Audio on their 1938 recording of two Schubert quartets to which I listened immediately prior to this (PACM066) but they have tidied the crackle and surface noise up very effectively without apparently losing any of the musical information.
If you want modern sound, you’ll have to go for one of those Marco Polo and Naxos recordings or for one or more of the volumes in Hyperion’s Light Music series (CDA44261/4 or separately – see review). a quick check shows that there’s actually not a single overlap between this Guild CD and the four excellent Hyperion discs.
That reference to Joseph Lanner as ‘Jos Lanner’ is a rare lapse, when the information is so detailed that we are given the matrix numbers and years of release of the original recordings. Some of the composers are left as shadowy figures, with no first names or dates given; for the most part, I was unable to add to the information which Guild gives for these. It’s the enjoyable quality of their music that counts.
The notes are otherwise detailed and informative – you can read them and hear excerpts from six of the tracks on the Guild website – and the whole presentation, including the front cover, helps to recapture the spirit of the age. The only reason not to buy this excellent CD immediately would be the desire to obtain Volume 1 or 2 first (GLCD5106 – see review; GLCD5116 – see review and review). It’s almost wholly escapist and very sweet, but it makes a wonderful 79-minute respite from the present.
Brian Wilson


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