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Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Façade Suites Nos. 1-2 (arr. Constant Lambert) [8:44]
Four Songs: No. 4 The Winds [1:42]
Three Songs to Poems by Edith Sitwell: No. 1 Daphne [2:53]
Tritons [1:54]
Siesta, for piano four hands [4:41]
Under The Greenwod tree [1:49]
Beatriz’s Song (arr. C Palmer) [2:47]
Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Trois pieces nègres pour les touches blanches [8:44]
8 Poems of Li-Po 15:46]
James Geer (tenor)
Andrew West, Ronald Woodley (piano)
rec. 2019, Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK

Another fascinating and illuminating album from SOMM combines Walton’s well-loved Façade Suites with less known Walton pieces, and with works by the brilliant, multi-talented Lambert himself. He may well be little known nowadays beyond his ever-popular The Rio Grande or his much admired yet controversial book, Music Ho (published in 1934 and suggestively subtitled A Study of Music in Decline).
SOMM’s title for his album is Façades. Its highlight is the pair of Walton’s Façade Suites in Constant Lambert’s arrangements for piano duet. Ronald Woodley observes in his notes for this album: “Constant Lambert was intimately involved [in Façade]… from its inception… as a vehicle for the narration of Edith Sitwell’s poetry… through its numerous reworkings… to its final forms… for either narrator(s) and small ensemble or as two orchestral suites without poetic recitation.” Lambert was himself involved as co-narrator with Edith Sitwell. His narration through the complexities of the verses showed his flair and “virtuosity of vocal inflection and crispness of enunciation…”

Old-timers like this reviewer, now in his 80s, may affectionately remember the popular BBC Radio music quiz programme, Face the Music, hosted by Joseph Cooper. Its signature tune was Popular Song from the second Façade Suite. In Lambert’s arrangements, the First Suite’s opening Polka has Poulenc-like insouciance, the Valse gets an almost Ravel-like pastiche treatment, the Swiss Jodelling Song includes cuckoo-clock tones and a reference to Rossini’s William Tell. The Tango-Pasodoblé refers to the popular refrain ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…’, and the Tarantella Sevillana with its castanets allusions is just so redolent.

The Second Suite’s opening Fanfare is a brief festive piece. The Scottch Rhapsody is lively and breezy, with an intimation of bagpipe inflections. Country Dance is a rather lugubrious drone before it becomes more rustically joyous; I was reminded of French and Spanish forms. Noche Espagnola has appropriate Spanish dance rhythms, and the concluding Fox Trot subtitled ‘Old Sir Faulk’ brings the suites to a colourful conclusion. Andrew West and Ronald Woodley clearly relish the opportunity to appreciate the humour of these wry pieces, and play with commitment and zest.
In the context of Lambert’s Trois pieces nègres pour les touches blanches for piano duet, nègres refers to Afro-Caribbean and Latin-America cultures. The ‘black’ pieces are written only for the white keys of the piano, a nicely wry humorous touch. The jazzy Aubade is reminiscent of the Golliwogs Cake Walk; Siesta is languid and sultry; and Nocturne is a noisy dance celebration. Of the Li-Po poems settings – just to mention a few – I was impressed with the languorous A Summer Day contrasted with the chilly, detached desolation of Lines and a similar mood of despair pervading The Long Departed Lover. James Greer brings scholarly empathy and conviction to these songs. (The Li-Po songs were dedicated to Lambert’s unrequited obsession with the 1920s Hollywood actress Anna May Wong.)

Walton’s songs are equally fascinating. The Winds, composed when Walton was just 16, is swirling, blustery and finely attuned to the feelings of Swinburne’s weary sailor, seasick and obsessively lovesick. Daphne is a setting of an enigmatic Edith Sitwell verse about a love for a quite unattainable beautiful maiden; it is contrasted by the muscular and slightly discordant Tritons. An unrestful Siesta, for piano duet, has a sort of Poulenc-like nonchalance. The Under the Greenwood Tree setting is, in Greer’s reading, cheeky and slyly mischievous. It is nice to see the late and lamented Christopher Palmer (champion of British music and film music) credited with his arrangement of Walton’s Beatriz’s Song. Walton composed it in tribute to America’s entry into World War II (Beatriz was Christopher Columbus’s lover who missed him on his endless voyaging).

This is a fascinating combination of unusual Walton and intriguing Lambert pieces. Adventurous British music lovers should love this.

Ian Lace

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