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Curzon orchestral 8555172
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Frederic CURZON (1899-1973)
The Boulevardier (1943) [3.54]
Punchinello (1948) [3.00]
In Malaga (1935) [9.18]
Dance of an Ostracised Imp (1940) [3.38]
Saltarello (1952) [3.45]
Capricante (1949) [3.59]
Galavant (1949) [3.59]
Pasquinade (1943) [3.15]
Simonetta (1933) [3.53]
Cascade Waltz (1946) [4.44]
La Peineta (1954) [5.28]
Robin Hood Suite (1937) [12.14]
Bravada (1938) [4.39]
Silvia Čápová (piano: Saltarello)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adrian Leaper
rec. 14-19 September 1991,Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava,
NAXOS 8.555172 [66.25]

This is another in the ongoing series of Naxos reissues of the pioneering Marco Polo recordings of British light music made in the 1980s and 1990s; indeed it is now entitled on the CD itself (although not on the cover material) as volume 6 of British Light Music. Welcome as these reissues are, a particular welcome should be extended to this disc of music by Frederic Curzon, since (unlike some of the other composers featured in the series) there have not been any substantive new issues of this music in the intervening thirty years. Apart from the ubiquitous The Boulevardier, and the quixotically entitled Dance of an Ostracised Imp included in one of Ronald Corp’s Hyperion collections of British light music, there seem indeed to have been no further investigations of Curzon’s music beyond occasional reissues of vintage material.

We would in fact be hard-pressed to furnish much more context to the career and music of Curzon who, as Tim McDonald’s extensive and informative booklet notes tell us, showed a “remarkable degree of modesty” in promoting his own music. For much of his life he was occupied as a cinema organist, beginning with the improvisation of accompaniment for silent films and continuing his career as a performer well into the 1950s. He only seems to have taken up composition in the late 1930s, although we are warned that the dates of publication assigned to his scores may be highly misleading since that was “often quite an extensive period between conception and publication.” The two extended suites on this disc – the Spanish suite In Malaga, and the Robin Hood Suite headlined as the principal work on the cover – seem however to have been among the earliest pieces here, with the remaining shorter items (between three and six minutes long) written in the period up to 1954 presumably for specific commercial occasions and performances. He seems to have specialised in writing music with an Iberian tinge – several of the pieces here have Spanish titles, and he was highly prolific, writing not only under his own name but under noms de plume such as Graham Collett and Harold Ramsay. Much of this music was written for radio and television programmes or for specific ceremonial occasions, as well as for generic ‘mood music’ music for publisher’s catalogues, and it comes as something of a surprise to learn from Tim McDonald that “composition didn’t always come easily to him.”

It may be the result of this prolific output that his music has failed to make the impact of his contemporary light music composers such as Ronald Binge, Eric Coates, Richard Arnell, and so on. An obituary written by Bassett Silver of Boosey and Hawkes referred to his “gift for pure melody” but at the same time contained the rather back-handedly waspish comment that he “never showed signs of striving to be original.” Perhaps that was his problem. None of the music here is any way objectionable, but at the same time there is not much apart from The Boulevardier [track 1] which has sufficient distinction to lodge itself in the memory. Most of the music is light-hearted, the vast majority in slow or slowish dance rhythms, and only one piece – the exquisite La Peineta [track 13] – sticks out in any way as unusual, if only because it features a rare excursion into the minor key. The two larger-scale suites fall into a similar category. The Malaga pieces are all investigations of the idioms of Spanish dance, and the claims elswehere by Tim McDonald for occasional deeper elements – hints of Vaughan Williams in the harmony for the Ostracised Imp, for example [track 6] – seem relatively superficial. The Robin Hood Suite is more generic music, even the lyricism of the central Maid Marion [track 15] finding no great emotional resonance; and the once-popular concluding March of the Bowmen [track 16] sounds like an attempt at an Eric Coates pastiche, let down by Curzon’s failure to provide a suitably rousing tune for the trio section – the rhythmic swing of the returning melody at the end simply underlining its unmistakable family resemblance to “There’ll always be an England”. But then even Coates didn’t always get it right first time.

The playing and recording remain excellent, although once or twice I might have welcomed a more forward placement for the castanets in the Spanish percussion effects with which these scores abound. It is remarkable how well these Eastern European orchestral players come to terms with what might be regarded as a peculiarly British style of light music, but they do engage with the idiom to splendid effect. The solo piano of Silvia Čápová sparkles suitably in the splashy Saltarello [track 8], and one only regrets that solo credits are not given to the violin and cello players who feature on other tracks, not least in the whimsical replication of a palm court trio in the serenade Simonetta [track 11]. It is excellent too that Naxos have resisted any temptation to abridge or slim down the original booklet notes by Tim MacDonald, essential for the full appreciation of the composer and his work. It is good therefore to welcome this disc back to the catalogues, even when the music is not of the very first rank; Frederick Curzon is not a name that deserves to be consigned to total oblivion.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

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