If Only They Had Written for Films: No. 2 - ROBERT DOCKER
I am cheating a little over our second subject in the series, "If Only they
had written for Films", because Robert Docker actually did write for films
although one would be hard pressed to find his name in any of the reference
books. I feel, therefore, very justified in categorising him in this way
and particularly this month because Marco Polo have just released a new album
of his works in their British Light Music series.
For the record, Docker composed and arranged for films - the notes do not
reveal how many nor their titles, except Chariots of Fire for which
he arranged part of the score - the honours of course went to Vangelis. Listening
to this album, one realises his talent was very much underused. His Legend,
for instance, could have been well employed in one of those 1940s romances
where a concert pianist suffers quite terribly, the Scène du Bal
would have graced any 19th Century ballroom scene and the 'Romanza'
from Three Contrasts would have been ideal for a woman's weepie.
Robert Docker was an accomplished composer, arranger and accompanist in the
field of popular light music. For many years he was associated with BBC Radio
programmes and in particular with the BBC Concert Orchestra in the long-running
series, Friday Night is Music Night.
So, to the review:-
The opening and closing works in this concert, for piano and orchestra, are
The concert opens with Legend , probably Docker's best-known
original composition. Although it is strictly light music its grandiose heroic
and romantic form gives the impression of something altogether more substantial.
It was never used as film music yet it was cast from the same mould as those
other heart-on-sleeve Romantic mini-concertos so popular in the 1940s: Charles
Williams' The Dream of Olwen, Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto and Hubert Bath's
Cornish Rhapsody. Davies and Knight pull out all the Romantic stops
Pastiche Variations, for piano and orchestra was completed in 1980 and it
is receiving its first commercial recording here. It is Docker's most serious
and substantial work. The humorous variations are based on the traditional
French tune, Frère Jacques and, most unusually, the work begins
with the first variation before the theme is announced. The variations are
written in the style of Docker's favourite composers. Besides an obvious
affection for the music of Rachmaninov, one can detect, amongst others: Brahms,
Copland, Kodály, Smetana and Tchaikovsky and, I think, Bax. There
is also a cunning allusion to Dohnányi's Variations on a Nursery
Song, which clearly must have inspired this work. Great fun.
The concert includes two of Docker's most popular works:
Tabarinage (translated as buffoonery) that is a vulgar and
cheeky but immensely appealing can-can; and the spirited Fairy Dance
Reel a vivacious piece of Irish whimsy.
Three Contrasts for Oboe and Strings begins with a
comic burlesque of an 'Alla Marcia' that might be a Falstaffian caricature.
I felt a brisker pace might have helped this movement. The following 'Romanza'
is a lovely piece, of sorrow and regret, while the 'Rondolet' is a perky
conversation piece between admonishing strings and cheeky and plaintive oboe,
before the strings mellow to sing another lovely tune for the oboe to embroider.
The sparkling and vivacious The Spirit of
Cambria is a clear
demonstration of Docker's supreme skill as a
sensitive and imaginative arranger. He wraps four well known traditional
Welsh tunes in his own original linking material. As one might expect, there
is some magical writing for the harp.
Air , from Air and Jig for Strings, is an expressive and peaceful
English pastoral evocation with prominent material for the violas. Blue
Ribbons is another example of Docker's imaginative arrangements.
Taking the traditional air, 'Oh dear, what can the matter be? , he adds much
colour and weight, and an appealing romantically mournful violin solo.
Scènes de Ballet is to my mind the least successful of the works here,
it is based on classical ballet music. The Prelude has a stately sorrow but
hardly impresses, the Allegretto, the best movement, has an engaging tune
and is light and frothy, but the Adage and Finale are rather heavy going
- perhaps they needed a lighter touch?
Nevertheless a very entertaining concert and an important addition to Marco
Polo's British Light Music series.