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British Ballet Music
CD 1
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842-1900)
Pineapple Poll arr. Charles Mackerras (1950) [45:44]
Lord BERNERS (1883-1950)
A Wedding Bouquet – Tango and Waltz (1937) [4:44]
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Checkmate (1937) [26:15]
CD 2
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade (1923) [19:54]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Enigma Variations (1899) [30:01]
Gavin GORDON (1901-1970)
The Rake’s Progress – Sarabande and Orgy (1935) [9:17]
Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Horoscope – No.3 Valse for the Gemini (1938) [4:44]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Perfect Fool (1923) [10:42]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Mackerras (Sullivan) rec. 1960, Abbey Road, No.1 studio, London
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Robert Irving (Berners) rec. 1956, Kingsway Hall, London
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vernon Handley (Bliss) rec.1978, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux (Walton) rec.1976, Bedworth Civic Centre
London Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Boult (Elgar) rec. 1970, Kingsway Hall, London
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Robert Irving (Gordon, Lambert) rec. 1956, Kingsway Hall, London
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn (Holst) rec. 1974, Abbey Road, No.1 studio, London
EMI CLASSICS 9498192 [76:58 + 75:12]

Experience Classicsonline

There are some old friends in this nicely nostalgic trawl through EMI’s back catalogue. The recordings date from the days of Robert Irving’s Covent Garden LP of 1956 to the most recent, which is Vernon Handley’s recording of Bliss’s Checkmate from 1978.

There are no sub-par recordings here, and newcomers will enjoy the selection, whilst old stagers can, if they’ve lost copies through attrition, reacquaint themselves. The running order starts with Mackerras’s Pineapple Poll orchestrations, and they remain a delight. If you’re coming afresh to this, remember that Mackerras did re-record the work many years later with the Philharmonia. What we have here is the earlier 1960 RPO LP version, more venerable, less well recorded but really just as delightful interpretatively. The theme of this twofer is the ballet, British ballets, and the names of Cranko, de Valois, Vic-Wells, Ashton, and Sadler’s Wells loom large. It was at the Vic-Wells that Berners’ A Wedding Bouquet was first seen and heard, and we hear the lively Tango and Waltz. Robert Irving directs this as he does the Sarabande and Orgy from Gavin Gordon’s The Rake’s Progress – the first evoking a rather lovely melancholy, the second brassy, and woozy. Malcolm Arnold might have appreciated it. And Irving is also on hand to do the honours for Lambert’s Gemini movement from Horoscope. I wish we’d had more from this fine conductor, and maybe his discs of pieces by Turina, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky and many others will be heard again.

Checkmate was also first heard at in a Vic-Wells performance, in Paris in 1937, and is an assured masterpiece. Handley’s excellent recording holds up extremely well. Elgar’s Enigma Variations is here – a bit of a cheat this, really – because of the Ashton ballet production, first performed in 1968. Never mind, I’m not complaining. Boult finds the right tempi for pretty much everything and his noble reading has precision, gravity and stirring power. Frémaux’s Façade is a colourful and hugely attractive one, and reminds one tangentially of this excellent conductor’s work in Birmingham. And we also have André Previn chipping in with some Holst; the ballet music from The Perfect Fool, which is a one-act opera and therefore slips in under the radar, perhaps.

This is an attractive compilation, though obviously the big works are balanced by isolated movements from others, which may not be to everyone’s satisfaction. And of course none of the recordings is new; some are vintage 1956-60, but then that was something of a vintage time for recording standards.

Jonathan Woolf