This CD is a great joy. It’s especially good for me and, I hope,
for potential buyers and listeners, to find on it at least two
composers who are little represented in catalogue. The first
is Mansel Thomas - a few sacred works have been recorded - and
the other Carey Blyton whom I knew as a friend and teacher.
The disc starts with Hedges’ Saturday Market, a bright
and breezy piece, which perhaps repeats itself a little much
but is good fun. It started life as a brass band showpiece but
has been newly orchestrated by the composer. Hedges has been
based in East Yorkshire for most of his life and the market
in question is extant in that beautiful town of Beverly.
The first of the Welsh pieces comes next. About it there is
little to be said, except that it is an absolutely delightful
diptych. Alun Hoddinott’s Welsh Nursery Tunes comprise
a Lullaby and a Shoeing Song, in Welsh Pedoli. Hoddinott’s serious
work may be more often recorded but a huge amount of occasional
and light music came from his amazingly prolific pen. Beautifully
Philip Lane, who has also written the succinct but handy booklet
notes, likes dances. He’s probably good fun at a party! His
Cotswold Dances are well known (ASV CD WHL 2126). His
Lyric Dances fall into five sections; book-ended by faster
ones. The first is the only dance named - a Waltz. The fourth
is an absolutely gorgeous Adagio sostenuto. Curious
to think that these dances were originally choral settings of
Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll.
Lane has in common with our next composer the fact that he is
not averse to writing music for children. Do you remember Lane’s
ditties for the Captain Pugwash cartoons? About twenty years
ago Carey Blyton, famous for the catchy Bananas in Pyjamas,
sent me a copy of a recording of his Suite: Cinque Port
which the Bromley Symphony Orchestra had played modestly well.
In this way I have got to know it over the years. It has struck
me again what a remarkable a set of miniatures this sequence
is. Blyton had been studying music properly for not even a decade
- after being totally indifferent to music as a young teenager
- when he penned this. Probably because one has so few opportunities
to hear his orchestral works, one easily forgets what a lovely
orchestrator he was and what an ear he had for just the ‘right’
sound. In fairness Dutton did record with this same orchestra
Blyton’s other suite ‘The Road to Samarkand’ back in 2007 (CDLX
7190) but that had been written as late as 1991. ASV had recorded
in 2003, in its rather overlooked but immensely valuable British
Light Overtures Series, Blyton’s colourful ‘The Hobbit’. I have
some other recordings but nothing else is generally available.
Let me add that this five-movement suite, representing the Cinque
Port of course, has no wasted notes. The opening Prelude (Daybreak
over the Harbour) paints a wonderful Turneresque landscape.
The middle Interlude (The Beach - Midwinter) presents
a mood of unpeopled mystery. The finale, a Postlude called Dusk
over the Harbour, offers a nocturnal horizon of faded colours
and gently blowing waves. In between we have the sleazy Song
(1) entitled Captain Bowsprit’s Blues, which says an
awful lot in less than two minutes, and a swaggering Seadog’s
Song, which is even shorter. The recording for this work
is especially atmospheric and the orchestra play with a real
character. A joy to hear!
In addition we are offered a chromatic tango El Tango Ultimo
that I think I have seen in various, what Percy Grainger called
flexible scorings. It’s an attractive and fun chipping from
the workshop and all too short.
I first came across David Morgan’s music on a single Lyrita
LP of the late 1970s. It contained the Violin Concerto (review)
and a piece I really took a shine to: his Contrasts for
These are available, reissued misguidedly I think, on two CDs.
Anyway I later discovered that there was also a Cello Concerto
and one for Clarinet. A pupil of Alan Bush, he died too young,
having come to music late. He has been all but forgotten - until
now that is. His Music for Children is so very short
but it was broadcast many times in the 1960s and 1970s when
BBC Radio 3 took Light Music seriously. There are four colourfully
orchestrated movements: Out for a stroll with its lolloping
rhythm, the evocative Pony Trap, an impressionist and
delicate Sweet Dreams and a very short Rustic Dance.
Let’s hope that these pieces produce a revival of more of his
I have to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable about John
Fox’s Portrait of Diana. It has a beautiful falling sequential
melody and is a charming piece of orchestration. I‘m sure it
was written from a genuine standpoint to express “her beauty
and the effect she had on all who knew her”. However the somewhat
smoochy back-row of the cinema mood seems to me to be a little
out of place. So I’ll move on.
I first came across the music of Mansel Thomas soon after his
death when I got to know his son-in-law who gave me several
choral scores. These were Christmas Carol arrangements and the
like, mainly for children’s voices for which I then regularly
attempted to find an opening. I tried to find out more about
the composer but never dreamt that I would one day review some
of the orchestral pieces! Thomas liked to base his music around
pre-existing melodies as in the Welsh Dances. However it’s a
surprise to find the Breton Suite, (which uses Folk Songs
from Basse-Bretagne region published in 1885) written when he
was Head of Music for BBC Wales. We have Le Petite Robe
first and Le Sobotier third, both light whimsies as
it were. In between is the mournful Disons le Chapelet
a reflection on the suffering of Christ on the Cross.
The Six Welsh Dances date from 1936 through the 1940s,
1950s and up to 1960. They were orchestrated at different times.
The tunes are real being gleaned from books of popular tunes.
The Dance of the Red Cloak, the second movement, was
published originally in 1896. Particularly affecting is the
quasi-Elizabethan melody and harmony of the third – The
Shepherd of Hafod. There is even a Welsh Hornpipe!
The disc ends with a lovely example of some cabaret numbers.
André Charlot was a London impresario and his ‘show’
in the 1920s - although now forgotten - was hugely popular.
Both Richard Addinsell (of Warsaw Concerto fame) and
the immortal Noel Gay are represented in this typical selection
of tunes from that high-spirited era.
This is all standard fare for the brilliant Royal Ballet Sinfonia
and their conductor. They never put a foot wrong. The recording
is perfect and the whole production is delightful. However I
have to end with a gripe which is that the eight works recorded
almost all unknown, are allocated just three sides of the booklet
and the performers usual dry-as-dust biographies exactly the
same, in fact more, as the print is smaller. Surely this is
the wrong way round.