Reviews

GLCD 5157 – The Golden Age of Light Music: A Box of Light Musical Allsorts

Various

To the CD in our Shop


Memory Lane Winter 2009

In keeping with the title of the CD we are given soaring strings, novelty pieces, fantasy suites, a Military Samba from Edmundo Ros and Angela Morley’s moody musical offering, Casbah. Surely, something here for everyone!
GH

MusicWeb International Wednesday February 4 2010

I’ve reviewed a shelf-load of Guild’s voluminous Light Music series, and there are always good things to discover. There is so much music around that it’s a question of collating it in enterprising and programmatically and thematically interesting ways – and that Guild invariably does.

There are two discs to consider here. A Box of Light Musical Allsorts is the first. My object all sublime is played and arranged by Robert Farnon with his Orchestra, a sort of Farnon does G&S spectacular, a big showy affair with tap dancing too. If Farnon could have a managed a kitchen sink I think he would have tried. Southern Holiday is perhaps more the expected fare, played by the Connaught Light Orchestra on the Conroy label – though it’s a tad on the pleasantly innocuous side of things. Werner Müller unveils a solo violin against skittering strings – a really luscious, exotic feel – in Take Me To Your Heart though he’s followed by Eric Jupp whose band has a rather ants-in-their-pants feel in Three-Two-One-Zero – a sassy effects laden number with fade ending.

If it’s an accordion we’re in Paris and Boris Sarbek sees to that in Pigalle. Farnon returns for a lovely character study, pizzicato-fed, called Mannequin Melody, played by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra and composed by that versatile maestro, Clive Richardson. Talking of Farnon there’s a peppy tribute to him by Wally Stott called A Canadian in Mayfair played with suitable brio by Sidney Torch and his orchestra. Even better perhaps is the languorous warmth and unhurried sophistication of the Hollywood elite, in the shape of Alfred Newman and his orchestra, playing the film music to A Letter To Three Wives. It oozes class from every pore.

You can let your hair down – or let anything else you care to – with Edmundo Ros doing the Military Samba. Or if you prefer you can partake of the Gershwin pastiche that is Concerto in Jazz played by Pat Dodd (fine dance band and jazz player) and Melachrino. Dodd boogies on down adeptly. Perhaps I should be more censorious of the cod-exotica enshrined in Casbah by Wally Stott (aka Angela Morley) and played by the same. Only I can’t – it’s great fun. Borodin gets the Percy Faith treatment in Rahadlakum (from Kismet) and then we’re back on the path again for Eric Coates, courtesy of Charles Mackerras’s famous old recording of The Three Bears, a work that shows Coates’s very real admiration for contemporary American music. But if you tire of that there’s always the ‘pizzicato and smile, dear!’ charms of Melody In Moccasins (great title) essayed by Philip Green’s orchestra.

Bigger things are enshrined however in Horace Dann’s Worcester Beacon, a volubly Elgarian opus, a sort of mini-Cockaigne cum P and C march that hits the spot very nicely indeed. This is followed, in an imaginatively programmed diptych of classically-inspired pieces, by Trevor Duncan’s St. Boniface Down. Duncan’s real name was Leonard Trebilco by the way. This is a compound of Holst and VW, a lovely set piece lasting over six minutes – romantic, allusive and intriguing. Did he try his hand at larger scale tone poem writing?

That’s Light Musical Entertainment is the second disc – they’re available singly by the way. The curtain comes up in fine, brash style courtesy of That’s Entertainment (from The Band Wagon) and we lead onto the evergreen lyricism courtesy of Farnon’s Westminster Waltz. Rachmaninoff stalks the piano writing of Ruby from Ruby Gentry – Percy Faith and his orchestra are the bringers of rich wind lines and strongly evocative string solos. Since the disc explores show tunes and the like there are plenty of popular items here, from the dappled melancholia of All My Life – the theme from the film Eight O’Clock Walk – to the lightly tripping This Can’t Be Love.

Instrumentation and arrangement are at their most sumptuous in the All About Eve film music, played by Alfred Newman and his orchestra – and as in the previous volume this is a Rolls Royce performance. One wonders at the identity of the unnamed saxophone soloist in the band known simply as The All Stars. He plays on Blue Theme, a Farnon theme for the film True Lies in 1957; excellent playing indeed. Here In My Arms (from the musical Dearest Enemy) is arranged by Richard Jones who conducts The Pittsburgh Strings for Capitol, and it proves vibrant and enticing, whereas there’s the ultra-plus romance of Morton Gould’s take on Body and Soul to warm one. For more explicit tear-jerking there is always the Melachrino Orchestra reprising the Brief Encounter moment (Rach 2) – this time Arthur Sandford is the pianist. The most extensive track is the last, Since You Went Away composed by Max Steiner and played by him and his orchestra for Capitol in 1954, and there is plenty of rich incident and caprice along the way.

It ends a pleasing selection, indeed two pleasing selections. With the usual fine and extensive liner-notes it’s really a question of what takes one’s fancy, repertoire-wise.
Jonathan Woolf


MusicWeb International Friday August 14th 2009

I am sure I am not alone in still doing a brief double-take when I see the Guild label on a disc of Light Music. Yet, what a service they are providing – excusing the pun given their history of church music! To my enduring shame these are the first two discs in this extensive series – the liner-notes list another 57 releases – that I have heard and all I can say is the loss is mine. I suspect that many readers of this will be familiar with the style and content of these discs but for those who are not it is worth making clear a couple of points. These are historical performances all dating from the 1950s featuring an enormous variety of composers, arrangers, conductors and orchestras. So, there will be two key elements in ensuring the success of this disc and indeed the series that goes above and beyond the inherent quality of the music or the performances. They are the technical quality of the transfers and re-mastering and the coherence of the programming and track selection. I have nothing but praise for both of these departments. Not that that should be a surprise when one sees that the audio restoration is in the safe hands of Alan Bunting and the series production and compilation is overseen by phenomenally knowledgeable David Ades. He has also written the extensive, informative and interesting liner-notes. Allied to track-listings that include original release information and quirky artwork and you have an exemplary release. Before dealing with the discs separately and in greater detail there are a couple of other general thoughts that struck me while listening. The 1950s were a time when this was truly a music industry. The sheer volume of music being written and recorded – and performed live – was extraordinary. These two discs total 48 tracks featuring about 39 orchestras with nearly as many composers and the like. This was the golden age for musicians who were part of the hallowed inner circle of session players who could and often did achieve the holy grail of the 21 session week – literally 3 three hour sessions every day of the week. David Ades in his very illuminating notes goes some way to explaining the complexities of contractual and union rulings that meant orchestras and groups often appeared under totally spurious names and this is an area that is both fascinating and mind-boggling. But ultimately does that matter when you can sit back and listen to such scintillating group of entertaining pieces?

The first disc is the aptly named A Box of Light Musical Allsorts. This is a perfect title. The delight of this selection is exactly that of a box of chocolates. Everyone will have different favourites, surprise new discoveries and occasional old favourites. And if there’s a piece that does not quite appeal, don’t worry, another will be along in a minute! Separating the artistic from the technical again for a moment; I marvelled anew at the sheer quality of the execution of all of these tracks. For sure, different performance and recording styles were employed – generally the sound is close and tight – but there is not a single piece where you don’t find yourself smiling with delight at some aspect of the performance. The opening track My object all sublime played and arranged by Robert Farnon and his Orchestra is a case in point. It fairly rockets off – a really demanding opening tossed off with cocky aplomb by the excellent orchestra – with the new-fangled stereo recording allowing a tap dancer to stroll across your hi-fi! From there on it really is nearly eighty minutes of unalloyed pleasure. Every listener will enjoy some tracks more than others. My favourites for what they are worth are Three-Two-One Zero by Norrie Paramor and Canadian in Mayfair – creating an instantly familiar atmosphere with its combination of Holiday for Strings manic pizzicati and multiple voice lush string voicings. The Concerto in Jazz and Worcester Beacon – the earliest recording – from 1946 – and the most sonically limited although not to any excessive degree – and particularly St. Boniface Down. This last was written by the wonderful Trevor Duncan. These were happy discoveries although the latter moves away from the library music style of most of the disc towards something a little more individual and serious/light if that’s not verging on the oxymoronic.

Clearly, because this disc builds on the library of recordings previously released they compliment those and allow other purchasers to build their own collections. My only query is the inclusion of the Mackerras/LSO Coates The Three Bears. This appears to be the same recording that has graced the Classics for Pleasure Coates compilation for so many years. Assuming that to be so, and when surrounded by so much that is unfamiliar and rare, it feels like a little piece of unnecessary potential duplication. That being said it is fascinating to juxtapose the quite different recording/performance of the LSO performance with the rest of the disc – and it is a fine performance in its own right.

The second disc reviewed here is That’s Light Musical Entertainment. All of the high values of performance and production that were mentioned above are in evidence here too. As a matter of simply musical taste this album appeals to me far less than the former. With the previous disc the bulk of the performances are of original orchestral pieces. On this disc the bulk are instrumental/orchestral versions of vocal standards or show songs. So you are immediately into a debate about the degree of ‘intervention’ of the arranger. Is it to be a straight transcription or an elaborated treatment? If the former, well listen to the song and if the latter at what point does the arrangement overwhelm the melody? The Angela Morley/Robert Farnon team responsible for A Canadian in Mayfair above produce another gem with Farnon’s justly famous Westminster Waltz and I always have a soft spot for pretty much any Ronald Binge so I enjoyed I’ll see you in my dreams. Conrad Salinger is the one arranger who can inflate the simplest tune into something of spectacular scale and yet somehow ‘make it work’ – the Straussian brass writing has a lot to do with it! – so his version of That’s Entertainment! that opens the disc is a guilty pleasure. By contrast I find the version of All My Life by Geraldo and his New Concert Orchestra to be too predictable and saccharine. Likewise, David Rose’s take on Come Rain or come Shine leaves me quite unmoved. It’s a purely personal reaction I know but I find that the orchestrations that are charming in original scores become rather hackneyed in arrangements – when does a piece cross that elusive barrier from ‘light’ to ‘middle of the road’? Obviously, the bulk of the music on both these discs was written with little view to its longevity – I suspect most of the composers and arrangers involved would be tickled pink to think that their work was still being listened to fifty years after the event. However, to my ear the song arrangements wear their years less lightly and are less interesting in consequence. But, if they do appeal, you will find them here in exemplary performances and transfers so do not hesitate.

Compulsory purchases for followers of this series and excellent discs for nostalgia seekers everywhere.
Nick Barnard