Constant Lambert (1905-1951) - The Rio Grande
but also a conductor and critic: I wonder, did Lambert review his own
performances of himself? His ballet Romeo and Juliet, written
in 1926 for Diaghilev, launched a career which produced half a dozen original
ballet scores plus numerous arrangements (Ma'mzelle Angot, based
on LeCocq's opera, is delicious), and saw him become instrumental in the
establishment of British ballet.
a student of Vaughan Williams, Lambert's main influence was not English
folk music, but the then more fashionable Jazz. The Rio Grande (1927),
setting a poem by Sacheverell Sitwell, joins such as Gershwin's Rhapsody
in Blue and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G as a seminal work of
“symphonic jazz”. It has a strangely attractive quality which must come
from the surreal (today we might say “wacky”) blend of jazz and sultry
“Brazilian” idioms with an oh-so-terribly-English choral sound. I suppose,
though, that this was unavoidable if Sitwell's atmospheric poem was to
be set at all! However, the piece is also a curious combination of cantata
and piano concerto, and requires very unusual orchestral forces (copious
exotic percussion and cornets, but no woodwind!). Lambert, therefore and
not unreasonably, didn't expect it to be performed much. Naturally, it
has become his most enduring and popular work by a long chalk.
laid out in a fairly loose ternary form, the outer sections bristling with
brisk, brittle ragtime, while the central episode is a nostalgic nocturne,
and very “Falla”! An extended coda, introduced by extravagantly rippling
piano, is based on the central section: the party's over, and the music
drifts into the perfumed night.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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