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Reginald KING (1904-1991)
see track listing below review
Mark Bebbington (piano)
rec. Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 5-6 January 2012
SOMM SOMMCD 0125 [76.25]

Reginald King had a solidly classical training. His Piano Concerto was first conducted by no less a figure than Sir Alexander MacKenzie, and a broadcast recording of his 1945 Fantasy for piano and orchestra played by Philip Fowke is available on the internet. He made his reputation almost entirely in the field of light music, conducting his own orchestra and working for the BBC until his retirement in 1964. Some of his own recordings have been made available in the Golden Age of Light Music series, and his piano music has been recorded by both Eric Parkin and Alan Cuckston. Both these latter recordings are no longer available, so Mark Bebbington’s new collection has the field entirely to itself.
It is perhaps significant that there have been no modern recordings of King’s orchestral music, neither by Ronald Corp in his series for Hyperion nor in any of the Marco Polo/Naxos collections nor in the ASV series featuring the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Indeed King’s music may fairly claim to have been neglected in more recent times; and one suspects that the lack of sheerly catchy melodies may have told against him, especially when producers came to selecting signature tunes for television programmes. There is something slightly withdrawn about his music, a hint of impressionist influence which undermines the purely popular nature of the ‘light music’ repertoire. This makes it all the more desirable that an artist like Mark Bebbington has taken it upon himself to investigate the music.
I have listed the music above which lacks opus numbers - the assignment of such references itself an earnest of King’s serious intentions - in the order of composition insofar as I have been able to ascertain this; one or two of the dates are speculative. The disc opens with the track Song of Paradise, Reginald King’s ‘signature tune’ and the piece that gives its title to this recital. It is the earliest work on this disc, which covers the whole of King’s career right up to the Meditation written a year before his death. The booklet gives us a personal appreciation of the composer by Allan W Hughes as well as an extensive biographical sketch by Robert Matthew-Walker, but says very little about the music in its own right. That said, the latter draws our attention to the contrasting developmental passages in several of these pieces “placing them on a higher level of interest than the ‘novelty’ numbers of many of King’s contemporaries”.
That indeed proves to be the case. It is not until we get to the Toccatina which forms the first of the Three miniatures (track 3) that we encounter something that is indisputably light music in the purely popular sense. Money spider is definitely in the form of a ragtime which recalls the music of Scott Joplin (little-known at the time of composition) or Billy Mayerl – who, it is interesting to know, admired King’s music. At other times, such as the opening of Spring meadows (track 13) we are suddenly given a jolt as King begins in a sternly classical style before remembering that he is supposed to be writing music for a popular audience. Dreamy willows (track 20) has a real barnstorming finish, and Passing clouds (track 21) opens with a passage that comes straight from Debussy. It has to be said that I found my attention beginning to wander as one delicately scented piece succeeded another, and there was nothing in the music which immediately grabbed the attention. Now if only he could have found a catchy tune such as one finds in the work of other ‘light music’ composers such as Binge, Haydn Wood or a number of others one could name. Maybe King’s classical credentials loomed just too large in his sights to allow him to unbutton fully.
This is not perhaps a disc to be listened to at one sitting. Nevertheless there is much here to delight and to charm, and one hopes that Bebbington’s disc will not be allowed to slip into oblivion like its predecessors. The playing, it need hardly be observed, is excellent throughout and Bebbington clearly loves the music. He is given an ideal recording, not too closely observed but not too distant either.
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Track Listing

Three Impressions, Op.3 [4.26]
Humoreske, Op.4/1 [1.57]
Beside the lake, Op.4/2 [2.42]
Three miniatures, Op.8 [3.41]
Song of Paradise (1934) [4.03]
Moonlight Reverie (1935) [4.31]
Passing clouds (1935) [4.09]
Windflowers (1935) [4.29]
Summer breezes (1936) [5.39]
June night on Marlow Reach (1937) [4.31]
In the shade of the palms (1937) [3.50]
A prayer at eventide (1938) [3.02]
Melody at dusk (1938) [4.44]
Pierrette on the balcony (1941) [3.46]
Lilacs in the rain (1942) [5.09]
Spring meadows (1946) [4.52]
Money spider (1955) [2.37]
Dreamy willows (1958) [3.32]
Meditation (1990) [4.31]