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British Celebration Vol 4
Eric HUGHES (1924-2000)
Prelude to a Festival (1972) [8:52]
Howard BLAKE (b. 1938)
Four Miniatures, Op 7 (1958) [8:30]
Symphony No 1: Movement for Orchestra “Impressions of a City”, Op 42 (1967) [12:19]
Matyas SEIBER (1905-60)/Johnny DANKWORTH (1927-2010)
Improvisations for jazz band and symphony orchestra (1959) [10:32]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
The Judgement of Paris (1938) [13:09]
Geoffrey WRIGHT (1912-2010)
Three Neapolitan Dances (1960) [9:02]
Adam SAUNDERS (b. 1968)
The Magical Kingdom (2003) [4:59]
Carlo MARTELLI (b. 1935)
Jubilee March (2002) [9:54]
RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra/Samo Hubad (Hughes/Blake)
The Johnny Dankworth Band, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Hugo Rignold (Seiber/Dankworth)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Barry Wordsworth, Gavin Sutherland (Berkeley, Wright, Saunders)
Neil Thomson and his Orchestra (Martelli)
rec. 1972-2004
HERITAGE HTGCD165 [79:08]

This fascinating CD is the fourth volume of a British Celebration series. The first was reviewed here. I have only heard Volume 3, reviewed here. The present disc seems to be a compilation of pieces from various sources. See below for a wee bit more detail.

Proceedings get off to a great start with Llandudno-born Eric Hughes’s Prelude to a Festival (1972). This piece won the second prize in the Light Music Society competition held that year. The style, wholly approachable, balances joie de vivre with a wistful romanticism. Now and again, there are moments that suggest influence of one of Hughes’s composition teachers, Franz Reizenstein.

Howard Blake is best known for his television and film scores, including A Month in the Country and most especially The Snowman. Yet there is another side to his work: concertos for a variety of instruments, an oratorio The Passion of Mary and a Sinfonietta for brass. Amazingly, his opus numbers currently stand at 722. His latest piece, The Enchantment of Venus for bass trombone and piano, was completed in April 2021. The Four Miniatures are the work of a 20-years-old composer. The first miniature, a charming little Pastorale, ticks the boxes of a country ramble. Then, a cheeky little March, complete with “wrong notes”, more for toys than for soldiers. The Interlude is sometimes moody and smoky, with hints of jazz, but otherwise just beguiling. Blake’s orchestration is especially telling here. The suite closes with a spirited Finale.

We are fortunate in having on this CD Howard Blake’s 1967 Symphony No 1 Op 42, subtitled Movement for Orchestra “Impressions of a City”. Opening quietly, with a wide string cantilena, the music picks up rhythmic intensity. There is a quiet, romantic interlude. An adventure in pizzicato leads into more intense and serious matters, before bringing this absorbing twelve-minute symphony to a conclusion with a jazzy swing. There is a good balance between light and “filmic” music, and occasional irruptions of something a little more profound.

I am delighted to find on this disc the Hungarian émigré composer Mátyás Seiber’s legendary collaboration with the jazz legend Johnny Dankworth. Both composers were able to step outside their normal aesthetic boxes. Let us also not forget that Seiber composed for jazz piano and ensembles, and majored in serialism. The Improvisations were first heard at the conclusion of a 1958 series of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s concerts. The plan was to devote a concert to each decade of the 20th century. The 1950s event featured jazz. Malcolm Rayment explained that the work is “emphatically not a composition by Dankworth arranged and orchestrated by Seiber, nor one in which Dankworth has written for his band and Seiber for the symphony orchestra exclusively … each contributed individual ideas and sections for both ensembles.” The result is a splendid fusion of symphonic music, jazz and Latin-American idioms. I understand that the pianist in the jazz band is the late Dudley Moore.

Next up is Lennox Berkeley’s ballet score, The Judgement of Paris, premiered at the Vic-Wells on 10 May 1938. The ballet was choreographed by the celebrated Frederick Ashton. Berkeley’s score is neo-classical with some delicious scoring, and not a few twists and turns in its stylistic parameters. It is strange that this composer only produced a single dance score. The liner notes mention that Berkeley’s Divertimento in B-flat was used for a ballet called The Lovers’ Gallery, performed in the United States during 1947.

Geoffrey Wright’s Three Neapolitan Dances, completed in 1960, are remarkable for their inventive orchestration. The composer has not used any traditional tunes but has paid homage to the general style of the exemplars. It should be in the repertoire of all orchestras who play light music.

I have often wondered where Adam Saunder’s Magical Kingdom was located. I tend to think Tinseltown rather than Narnia, 'A Wood near Athens' or Prospero’s Island. Here and there, sweeping tunes evocative of Hollywood blockbusters emerge. There are some rumbustious moments and a tender bar or two. It is an attractively scored piece.

The last work is Carlo Martelli’s wonderful pastiche of English march tunes, the Jubilee March. William Walton, Edward Elgar and Eric Coates are fused into one spectacularly impressive tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, during her Golden Jubilee. According to the liner notes, it was premiered at Glamis Castle during 2002.

All these pieces are given exemplary performances. Paul Marden-Taylor has done an excellent job with the remastering process. Philip Lane’s liner notes are helpful but could have been a bit more detailed. They are printed on flimsy computer paper. I am not sure where all these tracks have come from. Some would seem to have been issued on the first of Dutton Epoch’s British Light Music Premieres series in 2004. I believe that the Seiber/Dankworth was originally released in 1963 on the Society record label (SOC 963), where it was coupled with Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, and Leonard Salzedo/David Lindup’s stunning Rendezvous for jazz and symphony orchestra.

I enjoyed this new compilation of light-ish music. It is a most varied and engaging programme. I genuinely look forward to subsequent volumes in this series. Perhaps the above-mentioned crossover Rendezvous could be included?

John France



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