British Light Music Premieres - Volume 6
Anthony HEDGES (b.1931) Overture: Saturday Market (1978) [4.33]
Alun HODDINOTT (1929-2008) Two Welsh Nursery Tunes (1962) [3.01]
Philip LANE (b.1950) Lyric Dances (2007) [11.33]
Carey BLYTON (1932-2002) Suite: Cinque Port (1957-58) [13.20]; El Tango Ultimo (Tango Cromatico) (2000) Op 111 [1.48]
David MORGAN (1933-88) Music for Children (1960s) [5.16]
John FOX (b. 1926) Portrait of Diana (1997) [3.16]
Mansel THOMAS (1909-1986) Breton Suite (1949) [9.10]; Six Welsh Dances (1936-60) [13.46]
Richard ADDINSELL (1904-1977)/Noel GAY (1898-1954) The André Charlot show of 1926 [8.49]
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
BBC Concert Orchestra/ Barry Wordsworth (Addinsell only)
rec. Angel Studios and BBC Studios, Maida Vale, London, February 2006 – June 2010
World Premiere Recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7283 [77.48]
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 played.
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 Orchestra (review). 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 output.
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.