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Bryan KELLY (b. 1934)
Left Bank Suite [11:51]
Epitaph for Peace [6:09]
A Christmas Celebration [12:39]
Concertante Dances [19:44]
Globe Theatre Suite [9:58]
Nativity Scenes [12:22]
Tango [2:43]
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Barry Wordsworth
rec. Angel Studios, London, 16-17 June 2014
HERITAGE HTCD285 [76:18]

A prolific composer of light orchestral music, Oxford-born Bryan Kelly has been writing in many different genres since the 1940s. This Heritage release features some of the music he has composed for orchestral forces, recorded to celebrate the composer's 80th birthday. Kelly's work is under-represented in the CD catalogue and this release of his tuneful, gracious music is very welcome indeed. This is unpretentious, traditional British light music at its best.

The Left Bank Suite is a set of Parisienne musical scenes recalling Kelly's student days in the city. The perky opening prelude is followed by a comical, French-sounding waltz with dashes of humorous dissonance. A languorous depiction of the Seine and a Malcolm Arnold-like Scherzo complete this fun piece. Epitaph for Peace is one of the two movements that form Lest We Forget, written for the Remembrance Day celebrations. It is a wonderfully poignant elegy for strings with the composer in a completely different mood to the one we hear in the opening suite. Barber's famous Adagio springs to mind but Kelly's work is no copy. It is worth hearing in its own right.

A Christmas Celebration is a potpourri of Christmas carols set in five movements. The first four movements are gentle in nature - not serious, but atmospherically gentle. The setting of The Holly and the Ivy is particularly attractive with the melody switching from one instrument to another through the orchestra and a lovely oboe solo. O little one sweet is tenderly played by the strings and solo horn. The last movement finally brings some sparkle to proceedings. On Christmas Night is used in a clever fugue that culminates in an uplifting, joyful finale.

Concertante Dances is a demanding work for strings and woodwind with some exposed writing for the wind section. It strays somewhat from the category of British light music. It is more serious in nature but it is still an approachable work in six sections. The music is rhythmically varied and dance-like in character. A special word here for the bassoon in the third movement but all the wind soloists shine throughout this varied, quirky, interesting piece. The Globe Theatre Suite for recorder and strings was written for one of Kelly's neighbours while he lived in France, the distinguished flautist Atarah Ben-Tovim. The suite is Elizabethan in flavour and conjures up the era perfectly. The CD booklet compares Kelly's modern twist on old themes to the music of Warlock and Poulenc and I have to agree with this assessment. The soloist is the superb recorder player and eloquent champion of so many British composers, John Turner.

Nativity Scenes is an orchestration of a work originally written for organ. It opens in a serious vein on low strings depicting a dark night. A shepherd boy is heard playing his flute. The second movement is a lively, optimistic allegro depicting the rush to see the Christ child in Bethlehem. We then get a short meditation to close the work. The final piece in this fascinating programme is a cheeky little Tango - one of the composer's "sins of youth". The style is reminiscent of the slow movement from Kelly's Cuban Suite, once available on Argo in the early 1970s. It brings the CD to a satisfying conclusion.

The orchestral playing is splendid and full of vitality with excellent solo work and obvious dedication to the music. The recording by producer, Philip Lane and engineer, Gary Thomas, is close, dry and somewhat studio-bound. It lacks a little warmth. All in all this is a winner from Heritage. What about volume 2? Some suggestions: Cuban Suite, New Orleans Suite, Sancho Panza Overture (1969) and Sinfonia Concertante (1967) all from Kelly's time working with the Leicestershire Schools Orchestra. It would be good to hear these pieces again if the scores still exist. For the time being I'm grateful for what we have been given here.

John Whitmore


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