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Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951) Piano Concerto, Merchant Seaman Suite; Prize Fight; Pomona   BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth.  ASV White Line CD WHL 2122 [67:26]
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These are all premiere recordings with the exception of Pomona

Lambert worked on his Piano Concerto in 1924 but completed only a short-score sketch but stated his preferred scoring: two trumpets, in B flat, timpani and strings. Giles Easterbrook (who contributes his usual lucid and informative notes) edited the sketches, first with Geoffrey Bush, and then with Edward Shipley. It is an astonishingly assured work for a 19-year-old. There are superficial influences of Prokofiev, Ravel, Poulenc, Stravinsky and Delius but the overall effect is undoubtedly stamped with Lambert's individuality. The music is often boisterously colourful and kaleidoscopic; there are pre-echoes of Rio Grande (1927) and the Andante is meltingly beautiful - for me, it evoked sunset in a water garden.

Halliwell's Film and Video Guide mistakenly lists Lambert's only film score as Anna Karenia (the 1947 version starring Vivien Leigh, Kieron Moore and Ralph Richardson; a wonderful score recorded by Bernard Herrmann on his album Great British Film Music - Decca London 448 954-2). In actual fact he made his debut in 1940 with the documentary Merchant Seamen from which the suite on this recording was derived.

The Merchant Seaman suite commences with a bold, salty movement entitled 'Fanfare', heroic and virile. 'Convoy in fog' is an atmospheric piece suggesting the convoy groping its way forward through the mists with ominous pedal notes on low groping clarinets that might suggest lurking enemy submarines. The powerful and intense 'Attack' begins with agitated scurryings before explicit suggestions of explosions and fire. 'Safe Convoy' sees the return of the convoy to more serene waters with an imminent promise of landfall suggested by the cries of 'gulls. The final movement, 'March' is a stirring conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable and evocative suite.

Prize Fight was music for a ballet but it could easily have underscored a silent slapstick comedy with its banana-skin style of broad humour. It is suggestive of Milhaud's Le Boeuf sur la Toit. Its an anarchic romp with swaggering off-the-beat and across-the-bar rhythms and, in honour of the American victor of the fight, snatches of ragtime and a brilliant piece of pastiche Sousa

Lambert's ballet Pomona was premiered in 1927 in Buenos Aires. It was choreographed by Nijinska. It began life as a little Champêtre for piano and this is evident in movements like the lovely and often delicate, Intrata that nods a little towards both Ravel and Poulenc. The ballet is based on the legend of Pomona and Vertumnus. The God Vertumnus and his demi-gods are bent on seducing Pomona goddess of the fruits and her nymphs. At first they meet feminine resistance but eventually their ardour triumphs. This is a ballet written in the neo-classical idiom. The Minuetto (in parts not far from RVW country) for the pairing-off of the lovers is delightful, full of love-bird cooings, Rigadoon is a dreamy sultry dance and the Siciliana, Lambert's own favourite movement, is a joyful, high-spirited dance.

Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra are on sparkling form.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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