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Hubert CLIFFORD (1904-1959)
The Cowes Suite (1958) [13:22]
Dargo: A Mountain Rhapsody (1929) [14:06]
An Irish Comedy Overture (1930) [4:42]
A Pageant of Youth (1926) [9:35]
Left of the Line - Suite from the Canadian Army Film Unit documentary (1944) [8:57]
Victorian Polka (1939) [3:16]
Hunted - Suite from the film (ed. Graham Parlett) (1952) [14:17]
Voyage at Dusk - Fantasy for Orchestra (1928) [8:50]
BBC Concert Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. Watford Colosseum, February 2016
DUTTON CDLX7338 SACD [77:38]

Prior to his move to the UK in 1930 Clifford's music received performances in Melbourne. His English years were tied up with various senior BBC posts. Dutton have done Clifford (and us) proud. There's a String Quartet and a Serenade. In the early 2000s Chandos gave us his war-time Symphony and a selection of toothsome smaller pieces. Now Dutton greatly expand the picture with these eight orchestral pieces, early, late and from both film and concert folios. They are all performed with gusto and every sign of affection for the idioms.

The Cowes Suite was commissioned by the BBC for its 1958 British Light Music Festival. It was inspired by yachtsman Uffa Fox (1898-1972), a fellow resident on the Isle of Wight. Its invincible confidence speaks for the top-end of the light music genre. Cowes Roads has a big-hearted singing marine keening which reminded me of Aubert's gorgeous French Atlantic seascape, Le Tombeau de Chateaubriand. That salty impressionistic romance is diluted a little by a trace of jack tars' heel-and-toe. That's a pity given that Clifford clearly had a gift for seriously rapturous nature portraits (see Dargo). The Buccaneer (the next movement) is a jolly fellow who must have given up his slaughterous ways years ago in favour of a more sedate, aristocratically bewigged life. Going by Clifford's evidence this did not rule out indulging in swing. Carnival and Fireworks is all elegance, delicate and feathery. The stylishly regal march that is Royal Visitor draws on Clifford's all-purpose gift for 1950s pageantry and documentary film music. It's crackingly done.

From 29 years before comes Dargo: A Mountain Rhapsody which would sit nicely alongside Moeran's orchestral rhapsodies and In the Mountain Country (review) and Vaughan Williams' music for the film The 49th Parallel. If you know those works this piece speaks in familiar nature-world accents that are sweetly sad, good-humouredly brusque and heroic. One can easily imagine the short An Irish Comedy Overture as a chip from the sketchbook Clifford used for Dargo. The overture is not a long stretch from Stanford (Shamus O'Brien) and Harty (Comedy Overture and An Irish Symphony) - smilingly good-natured stuff prepared to flirt with shamrock caricature. A lovely silvery 'blade' to the violins' tone at 1:06 adds distinction.

A Pageant of Youth is another overture-scale piece with a somewhat stodgy 1920s/1930s title but sparkling life-aplenty. Its territory is not childhood or nursery rhymes. There's more here of late-teens' delight teetering on the edge of adulthood but once or twice chilled by enigmatic regret (9:01). It is dedicated to the composer-conductor Fritz Hart (a friend of Holst) who conducted the Pageant's premiere in Melbourne.

Left of the Line was a war-time film by the Canadian Army Film Unit. The music for this D-Day documentary has been crafted into a continuous concert piece by Ronald Corp, the conductor here. Clifford's music fits the bill, being dark in tone and rife with tension and conflict. Add to this a sturdy skirling march in the manner of Bliss's earlier Things to Come and Howard Ferguson's Overture for an Occasion (1953).

Back to Edwardian fluff and feathers for the Victorian Polka written as library music ready to be reached down from the shelf for film or radio. Think in terms of Herrmann's Magnificent Ambersons and Barber's Souvenirs suite.

The music for the film Hunted (1952) has been skilfully developed into a three- movement suite by Graham Parlett. It starts like one of Rozsa's Jules Dassin 'films noirs' scores of the 1950s. The plot is recounted in Lewis Foreman's, as ever, indispensable liner essay. While cross-cut with playful innocence and some tenderness, this music is adroitly gritty, especially at the start and during the third and final section.
The Fantasy, Voyage at Dusk, is the epitome of relaxed poetic spindrift - an insubstantially floating piece inspired by part of a poem by the long unfashionable Humbert Wolfe (1885-1940). Wolfe's poetry was set by Gustav Holst (review review) and Roger Sacheverell Coke. His slim volumes used to crowd secondhand bookshop shelves not so very long ago. Wolfe's time may yet return.

This disc of tuneful imaginative music on occasion tends towards the lighter side. The freshness-imbued performances work superbly well as does the engineering. It lulls and sparkles with the delightful best. It brings back memories of the BBC Concert Orchestra's adventurous glory days with Stanford Robinson and Ashley Lawrence. Composer-conductor, Ronald Corp is one of Dutton's treasurable players.

Rob Barnett



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