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A compendium of reviews of the Music of Carey Blyton by Gary Higginson

CAREY BLYTON Sherlock Holmes meets Dr.Who. Music for brass and saxophone. UPBEAT CLASSICS URCD148 featuring The Fine Arts Brass Ensemble The Phoenix Saxophone Quartet with Jennifer Partridge piano  purchase

This is the fifth disc of Blyton's music to have emerged in the last eight years on either the Upbeat label or on Apollo Sound distributed by Fand Music, (the latter having advertised their Blyton discs quite extensively in the last year) and very welcome it is too.

It is worth saying again that Carey Blyton is not a man to waste a good tune (and he has written many of them) so there are pieces here which we have met before on the other recordings in different arrangements. For example, the Six Epigrams Op. 7, here arranged deliciously for alto sax and piano, are found in their original form for solo piano on Apollo Sound (ASCD 204). The ubiquitous In Memoriam Scott Fitzgerald can also be heard most beautifully in a version for solo guitar on Apollo Sound (ASCD 203). Saxe Blue, here for tenor sax and piano is on 'The Return of Bulgy Gogo' arranged for Saxophone Quartet (Upbeat URCD 106) and Mock Joplin under its other name Piano Man for voice and piano on the 'The Folksong Arrangements' (Upbeat URCD 131). With the exception of say Peter Warlock (the original Bulgy Gogo) I can think of no other composer who so readily and idiomatically arranges and re-arranges his own music. Yet this CD offers a considerable amount more.

During the 1970s Carey Blyton was involved in the writing of incidental music for the BBC's 'Dr.Who' series. Most composers would have allowed the music to moulder forgotten on a shelf but not our Mr. Blyton. He has taken sections of this music and arranged it into various suites for differing combinations and I must say, having gone over the pieces on the piano with players as well as heard them, they are entirely and brilliantly successful. It seems incredible that they were published in 1993 (by AV Music) and yet the Examination Boards either know nothing of them or have stoically ignored them. The teenage brass players I have tried them with, all about Grade 5 standard, find them nicely written, good fun and just the right level of 'coolness' for a school concert.

The Vogan Suite, for Horn in F was originally scored for a weird combo' including an Ophicleide! The Silurian Suite now for trumpet and piano was originally and especially scored for medieval instruments, various clarinets, horn, cello, piano and percussion. The Dalek Suite for Saxophone Quartet was originally for this grouping plus various clarinet doublings. These original scores can be heard on the Dr.Who videos which are available from BBC Enterprises.

The other interesting work which helps to give this CD its title is A Sherlock Holmes Suite for Brass Quintet. Especially fun here is the sixth movement Professor Moriarty 'the Napoleon of Crime'.

Throughout, the performances are faultless and expressive. The composer, who could not be at the recording sessions, must be overjoyed by the commitment of the team involved and it is obvious how much the players must have enjoyed these colourful scores. But I do advise that you do not listen to the CD through at one sitting. What did St. Augustine say about too much pleasure at once?

The 15-page CD booklet is wonderfully presented as ever, with this time, a clearer track list. This is particularly important as there are 31 tracks, many quite short. The extensive notes are again by the enigmatic Mary Q. Palimpsest.

CAREY BLYTON THE GUITAR MUSIC: Bach-Chat / In memoriam Scott Fitzgerald / In memoriam Django Reinhardt / Saxe Blue / The Oceans of the Moon all for guitar duo. Patterns / Pantomime, 2 Japanese Pieces / Pastiches / For the Delight of Shiva / The Bream for guitar solo Yugen for 3 guitars  The Hand/DUPRÉ Guitar Duo Apollo Sound ASCD 203

If you had a musical time machine and could choose some exciting and historic event from the past, where would you travel? What about the 1st performance of the St. Matthew Passion? Or, that extraordinary concert in 1808 when the 1st performances of Beethoven's 5th and 6th symphonies as well as the Choral Fantasia took place? Well, I would add to those events, an all-night party in downtown Beckenham, circa 1951, when Carey Blyton would improvise for hours, producing the initial ideas for some of the gorgeous pieces found on this CD, and on "The Return of Bulgy Gogo", music for Saxophone Quartet. (Upbeat URCD106)

Then a teenager, and by no means certain of a musical career, Blyton already had an uncanny knack of evoking a past era, here the 1920s and '30s, reflecting on the age of early Jazz. Little did he know but that a real vogue for the period was to start in the 1970s. At first he did not write his melodies down, but had them recorded privately on shellac! Some of these tunes can be heard in the guitar transcriptions made in the early '70s, when nostalgia was at its height. These include the delicious In Memoriam Scott Fitzgerald Op. 60 and the delectable In Memoriam Django Reinhardt Op. 64. Carey Blyton's skill is to create a perfect cradle for his ideas in whatever medium he chooses. The above pieces can also be found on the "Bulgy Gogo" disc, arranged idiomatically for saxophone quartet. The tripartite Patterns was originally published as piano pieces in 1961, but it appears arranged for saxes, and here for guitar duo, sounding as if it was originally conceived for those instruments. Blyton has had what the excellent booklet describes as "a love affair with the guitar for almost 30 years". It is a difficult instrument to write for, and many better known composers have struggled with it. However we have here works for solo guitar (divided happily between Richard Hand and Tom Dupré), guitar duet (Pantomime - also on the Saxophone disc) and guitar trio (Pastiches - an arrangement by Keigo Fujii).

But behind these gentle pastiche works, where is the real Blyton? Only rarely can we find him, but in The Bream Op. 51 there he is. It was written for Julian Bream who has never performed it! Why ever not? It is gratefully written and is original in its gentle evocation of a mystic almost eastern sound-world. Blyton has, in fact, a strong interest in the far east. I have never understood the neglect of his only opera The Girl from Nogami commissioned by the Guildhall School of Music where he was Visiting Professor of Composition for 11 years. On this CD we have Two Japanese Pieces Op. 68, Yugen Op. 80 both for solo guitar, and the longest single movement on the disc For the delight of Shiva Op. 94 (1986). Here the composer experiments in "the spirit of the Raga" with "lateral vibrato" and with the re-tuning of the A-string. In these pieces you can see him growing in confidence as he develops this exotic language. It is to these pieces that I have most often returned because of their unique atmosphere, so imaginatively set for the instrument.

The accompanying booklet is generally a model of its kind. All composers should note its clear format and balanced musical analysis. The only snag initially is that the track numbers are only given on the back of the CD case and not in the booklet. There is an excellent biographical note (not many composers can claim that they worked as research assistant for the Gas Council whilst studying music privately). All publishers are carefully listed at the back of the booklet. Perhaps the BBC may take a moment to pay this disc a little interest. Isn't it about time that Carey Blyton's music was taken seriously by Radio 3? It is a disgraceful situation, and this CD as well as Bulgy Gogo would be ideal for a programme or two, and would fit nicely into "On Air" or the Rush Hour programmes. I strongly recommend this disc.

CAREY BLYTON Miniatures: The Return of Bulgy Gogo Music for Saxophone Quartet. Phoenix Saxophone Quartet (65 mins) UPBEAT URCD 106  purchase

This CD is great fun for all the family! The longest piece is Dance Variations (1975) which occupies 11 tracks in 11 minutes. Each variation is a pastiche: Foxtrot, Rhumba, Rag etc. each, so perfectly characterised. As often with Blyton the music started as background to a film, this one promoted by British Aerosol.

Blyton has written music for commercials TV throughout his life, including scores for Dr. Who in the late 60s. He has written a great deal of educational music including pieces for school choral groups. His three Victorian melodramas or Unholy Trinity of Cantatas, Sweeney Todd, Dracula and Frankenstein are regularly performed. The finale of Dracula, 'Quincey's Rag' is here transcribed for saxophone quartet. His Patterns, three pieces for children is also transcribed.

Among other more serious pieces Birds Op 67, a theme and nine variations written for RSPB and In Memoriam Django Reinhardt Op 64, a theme and two variations which like other Blyton compositions extemporisation in "downtown Beckenham" I imagine.

The performances seem perfect but the recording is possibly a little close. Well worth the money if you want some good-hearted musical fun.


CAREY BLYTON The Piano Music (for solo piano and piano duet) Richard Deering - Piano Solo. Cann Piano Duet. Apollo Sound ASCD 204

This is the third disc to appear in the last five years of the music of Carey Blyton and the second to appear on Heinz Herschmann's small but long established Apollo Sound label. It is a very well filled disc: 45 tracks - 74 minutes.

Blyton is a miniaturist, deliberately so. The idea of adding say another string quartet or Piano Concerto to the great cannon of classical works has no appeal to him. The delicate water colour which wastes no space and paint is his concern.

He has never tried to exceed his interests or abilities, and unlike some composers who are naturally miniaturists but who think that they shouldn't be, Blyton is content to be himself. Even so there is a rich mix of styles.

In the early '70s there began the discovery of Scott Joplin mainly due the film The Sting, and although as a third year music student I rather arrogantly considered myself to be "well listened", I had never heard Joplin's music. Carey was then 'Visiting Professor of Composition for Films, Television and Radio' at the Guildhall School of Music and he knew all about Joplin and Ragtime. His life-long interest can be heard in some of the earlier music recorded here, written before the age of nostalgia. These include Blues in the Six Epigrams Op. 7 (1951) and Park Lane Stroll (c.1952).

The music dates from as early as 1949 when he was 17 to 1991 when he ... wasn't! The Opus 1 Five Diversions are particularly interesting. It is a brave composer who allows his Op. l to be committed to disc. In my own copy of the music the composer has written "Moral ... Never throw anything away" and what a good job that he didn't, because these are charming and fascinating pieces, good to play and interesting to hear. Typical of the composer, mock pastiche, gently witty with attractive melody, wistful harmony and a touch of bi-tonality, not unlike Satie and Lord Berners.

Carey Blyton is not a man to waste a good idea, using every note of inspiration we find here pieces which we have met before, either on "The Return of Bulgy Gogo" (Upbeat URCD 106) or on the Guitar Music (Apollo Sound 203) for instance A ghost from the Past actually makes an appearance on both discs as In Memoriam Scott Fitzgerald Op 60. I remember, a few years ago conducting a version of The Indian Coffee House Roof Garden Orchestra Tango Op. 91 in an incarnation for school wind instrumentalists. Here it is now, in its original version, for piano duet.

In addition this recording represents the composer's interest in the very young musician in Fun with Figures Op. 41, twelve tiny pieces which cleverly use and develop each of the available intervals, and the Three Musical Mishaps Op. 32 (also transcribed elsewhere for other instruments) with such titles as The Damaged Bagpipes and The Broken Pianola. Incidentally Blyton's titles are always fun, a particularly good one here and a most successful piece for piano duet is Eine Kleine Froschmusik (A Little Frog-Music).

The performances and recording are exemplary and the booklet as with the other two discs is (at 18 pages) very informative. The sleeve notes having been written by one Mary Q. Palimpsest! Having done some brass rubbing I seem to recall that a palimpsest brass is one where the original is disguised on the reverse. Very interesting.

CAREY BLYTON A Newfoundland Posy Op. 72 for Violin, Clarinet and piano; Six Regional Canadian Folk Songs Op. 39 arr. for Voice & Piano; Three Canadian Folk Songs Op. 44 arr for Voice, Clarinet and Piano; Three Welsh Folk Songs Op. 36 arr for Voice and Harp; The Maiden Deceived - a British Folk Song Cycle Op 84 for Voice, Clarinet, Horn, and Piano. four original songs in various 'folk' idioms.  Soo-Bee Lee (oprano) Robert Ivan Foster Baritone Upbeat URCD 131

This is now the fourth Blyton CD since 1991: "The Return of Bulgy Gogo" (Upbeat URCD 106); Guitar Music (Apollo Sound ASCD 203); Piano Music (Apollo Sound ASCD 204). This disc is in many senses the most typical, the most frustrating and the most eccentric of all. Blyton, as has been said before, is a miniaturist. The question is, has this gentle and unprepossessing music been able to make an impact. The answer is generally "yes".

I say 'generally' because the composer has made a brave decision to have transferred onto this new disc the voice of Robert Ivan Foster (accompanied by Nina Walker piano and later by Tryphena Partridge harp) the fine Canadian baritone, in recordings made on 12" LPs in the 1960s. He sings the Op 39 songs the Opus 44 and Op 36. All of these cycles are dedicated to Foster who obviously had a great deal of affection for them and sings them with earnest conviction. The recorded sound is not really a problem (although there is a little distortion on an occasional high note) it is for me the rather operatic quality of the voice which I find too heavy and ponderous for such pieces as Auction Block or the Cherry Tree Carol. I can however quite see why the composer did not want these recordings to be lost in some cavernous archive and forgotten, and there is certainly subtlety in the voice when required.

The disc opens with purely instrumental settings of folk melodies for Violin, Clarinet and piano especially commissioned for this instrumentation by the Centre Group of St John's Newfoundland. The performers are David Campbell, Clarinet, John Truster, violin and Raphael Terroni, piano. These are delicate, at times almost Ravelian arrangements using differing combinations of the Trio. I was particularly taken with The blooming bright star of Belle Isle for solo piano, not only for its delicious harmonies but also for its careful use of the strings inside the piano. The Finale is an Hungarian czardas which reminded me of Dracula, Blyton's ever-popular School Cantata. The rest of the songs are recorded by Soo-Bee-Lee accompanied by Raphael Terroni especially for this CD. I saw her recently in the Cosi Fan Tutte at the Bath Festival and liked her light high head voice. She employs it here and is sweet-toned and quite convincing.

I must admit to having known Blue Christmas and Robin Redbreast for some years having done them with children's voices, so hearing a sophisticated soprano sing these tunes came as a surprise. Robin Redbreast has a canonic second verse in three parts with the piano taking the middle entry and most effective it can be too. That canon does not happen here and I felt that a simple touch of double tracking might have added even more to this delightful song.

The highlight of the disc is British Folk Song Cycle The Maiden Deceived. Many less imaginative composers would have taken these melodies one after the other and set them in a through-composed cycle moving from one contrasted mood to the next, but not Blyton. I love the way that Early One Morning reappears in the second movement having opened the first and the way the setting of O Waly Waly seems to have been composed without knowing that Britten's ever existed, Blyton's is individual and haunting in a completely different way. And what do you do with There is a tavern in the town? Well, why not set it in the style of a Beethoven folk song arrangement with all that Germanic robust earnestness. It ends the CD in a typical Blytonesque way - as a pastiche of someone or something else and yet totally and convincingly only Carey Blyton. The booklet is clearly and generously annotated with translations of the Welsh Songs. Both singers' diction is very clear and no text is needed for them. There are some inaccuracies in track numbering between booklet and case insert. Some more Blyton CDs will be out in the not too distant future.


Gary Higginson


Ian Lace

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