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John Amis – Amiscellany - Music Making
with Old Friends
POULENC, F. / RIDOUT, A. / WALTON, W.
/ NILES, J.J. / MCBROOM, A. / HAYDN, F.J. / GRAINGER, P. / ELGAR,
John Amis (singer with accompaniments)
rec. 1992, BBC Transcription
NIMBUS NI 7720 [72:55]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Babar the Elephant (1945) [25.34]
spoken with Leslie Howard (piano)
spoken with Levon Chilingirian (unaccompanied violin)
Three Poems from Façade; Old Sir Faulk [1.27]; Valse [2.41]; Scotch Rhapsody [1.19]
I Wonder As I wander (N. American folk song) [1.47]
The Rose [2.01]
Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred [1.24]
Jeffrey Tate (piano)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
round: Nicole Tibbels, Thomas Hemsley
The Old Woman at the Christening [2.29]
voice, Penelope Thwaites (harmonium) Leslie Howard (piano)
Ye Banks and Braes [2.06]
baritone, whistler with Ian Wallace, Penelope Thwaites (piano)
Salut d'Amour [1.08]
whistler with Lyn Garland (piano)
Marc BLITZSTEIN (1905-1964)
Emily (from 'The Airborne') [3.30]
Penelope Thwaites (harmonium, piano)
Steve RACE (1921-2009)
On A Sleeping Friend [1.23]
O mistress mine [1.47]
Steve Race (piano)
Theme, slow movement of Trio in E flat, Op. 100 [1.07]
whistler, Jeffrey Tate (piano)
Gardener's Song (from 'A Lambeth Garland') [2.15]
Penelope Thwaites (piano)
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Theme pour mon Ami(s) [1.25]
whistler, Penelope Thwaites (piano)
Donald SWANN (1923-1994)
Joseph Wonders [1.59]
whistler, singer, Donald Swann (piano)
Bilbo's Last Song (1968) [3.36]
sung as a duet with the composer at the piano
This disc was recorded back in 1992 to mark the 70th birthday of John Amis, singer, whistler, chronicler, raconteur, friend and associate of the great and the good, and much else besides. Happily, at the time of writing, he is still with us.
His colleagues rallied round and a number can be heard in the disc, providing fingers and larynxes, and the whole 72 minute recital was recorded by the BBC Transcription Service, and released by Nimbus. It’s been in print ever since.
The main work is Poulenc’s Babar the Elephant, recited very charmingly by Amis, and featuring one of his chums, pianist Leslie Howard. But we also have a programmatic nicety in the shape of Alan Ridout’s Ferdinand, a clever piece written for speaker and violinist – here the excellent Levon Chilingirian. Amis puts on a ‘Western Mediterranean’ accent and Chilingirian plays, when required, with resinous drama. It’s a very enjoyable piece – and genuinely amusingly done. I prefer it to the Poulenc. It’s also a lot shorter.
After which we reach the land of miniatures, a heterogeneous selection of things Amis liked. These range from a recitation of three of Edith Sitwell’s Façade poems to some unaccompanied songs, either traditional or more popular, as in the case of The Rose, where Amis steps into Bette Midler’s boots, seldom an easy feat. He also sings the first song Poulenc set in English, Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred, where his accompanist colleague is Jeffrey Tate. There is a Haydnesque Round, some Grainger with piano and harmonium accompaniment (Penelope Thwaites and Leslie Howard) and a genial summit meeting with his My Music friend Ian Wallace, where Wallace sings and Amis whistles Ye Banks and Braes. Amis does the same in one verse of Elgar’s Salut d’amour – very faint recording this; best to turn up the volume. Another good chum, Steve Race, appears in his own songs. Rather optimistic of him to set O mistress mine. I have to say I prefer George Shearing’s Shakespeare settings, if we’re talking about English jazz pianists doing Shakespeare.
Eerily, Amis’s whistling the theme of the slow movement of Schubert’s E flat piano trio – yes, it’s true – sounds less like a whistle and more like a theremin. This is the apotheosis of Amis’s whistling art. Thwaites’s Gardener’s Song is a cute piece, whilst Malcolm Arnold’s contribution is rather Satie-like. Donald Swann’s Joseph Wonders possess real sly, lyrical charm, and his Tolkien setting has accustomed warmth – it’s funny too.
I’m sure, when the time comes, we’ll remember John Amis for all sorts of reasons, but meanwhile this disc shows us his love of music-making and friends, and his unstuffy, life-affirming spirit in all its many forms.