Reviews

GLCD 5117 – The Golden Age of Light Music: Bandstand in the Park

Various

To the CD in our Shop


International Record Review February 2007-05-29

Light Music Round-up

There’s not much genuinely funny music, is there? In some circumstances, it depends how often you’ve heard the joke, or how well it’s told – and an your sense of humour. It also depends if you get the joke, anyway: the `Amen’ fugue in Berlioz’s La damnation de Faust or some of Mozart’s more outrageous canons seems to me to be examples of funny music by great composers. The Berlioz is a deliberately drunken `Amen’, but I’ve heard conductors (and critics) take it in all seriousness (which makes the joke even funnier). Saint-Saens’s Garnaval des animaux is at times wickedly funny but the jokes have been heard so often that they can wear a little thin. Poulenc also can be funny, and so can Stravinsky, yet Satie’s humour can sound laboured. In his case, we know we should laugh, so we do, at least at first, but it’s not musically particularly subtle humour, at least, to my ears.

My thoughts along these lines have been prompted by a recent batch of releases of what is termed ‘light music’ (as David Ades says in a booklet note with one of the discs I shall discuss, this is `not an entirely satisfactory title for a musical form which can embrace many different styles’). What has comedy got to do with it? Well, shows in the ‘musical comedy’ vein are often included in the term ‘light music’ – as though we ought not to approach them with the intensity we reserve for ‘grand’ Opera, thus letting our critical faculties take a break. A Problem in adopting such an attitude is that we may miss the incidental and overall musical artistry of composers who did not wish to write earnest symphonies or oratorios but decided to devote their often not inconsiderable talents to entertaining their audiences. It’s rather like those ‘Arts and Entertainment’ pages in newspapers: ‘art’ being perceived as rather different from ‘entertainment’ – it often is, certainly in intent if not in achievement – but why put them on the same page? Newspapers don’t mix `Sport and Religion’ in that way, even if some sporting crowds think they should be so mixed – in concentrating upon supplications to the Almighty for the final ten minutes of an important match.

That’s the way things are, these days, and if the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme caused us to revisit John McCormack’s wonderful record of Ivor Novello’s Keep the Home Fires Burning, or Caruso’s equally memorable disc ‘Over There’, in Order to realize that artistry can be applied to material which might not otherwise get the `Star’ treatment, then there is much to be enjoyed, and to ponder over, in what I term in this round-up as ‘light music’. The overriding but little-appreciated criterion in this genre is that the average length of the individual pieces does not exceed four minutes – most are two to three minutes in length, and it is very rare for a track to last as long as ten minutes. The challenge to any composer lies in creating a short orchestral piece which sets the mood, paints the picture, or whatever, and which makes musical sense. It is a genuine artistic discipline; perhaps more young composers today should try it.

There is a wealth of previously issued material waiting to be re-released, but the original owners of such discs appear loath to mine their archives, so it is the smaller independent companies which are in the process of doing the job for them. And in this instance, we encounter a curious paradox: is the reissuing of older records of light orchestral music solely an exercise in nostalgia, or is it the means by which modern audiences can come into contact with certain music, the existence of which is often denied them by orchestras, broadcasting companies or major record companies? The answer is it is a bit of both, I suppose, but I forbear to mention television, although you don’t have to have one foot in the grave either to remember or to realize that televised programmes of light orchestral music used to command big audiences, not all of whose members have died, and that the music itself has not changed. What has changed is society (or, more accurately, broadcasting company personnel). Is this change permanent? Let’s hope not, for if it were, large numbers of music lovers would continue to be denied the Chance of hearing some delightful music. Once more, it’s the record companies which Show the way – today, broadcasters and newspapers follow their lead, so perhaps the outlook is not so bleak.

An interesting aspect of this subject concerns modern recordings of light music: should they re-create the original style of performance, or should they treat the music as worthy of reinterpretation? Both approaches are acceptable to me, if they are convincing, but don’t let’s get off an the ‘authenticity’ tag in this genre!

One company which has done a great deal in bringing such older recordings back to the catalogues is the Swiss label Guild, and I commend its series ‘The Golden Age of Light Music’, which has reached no fewer than 27 very wellfilled single CDs, under the general editorship of David Ades. The selections are particularly interesting and each album’s concept makes musical sense. The transfers are also good and Ades’s own booklet notes are a model of concision and information.

As the series expands, the range of light music becomes more apparent. A recent CD is `Bandstand in the Park’, a collection of original pieces or arrangements for concert or military band. No fewer than 15 bands are here (all are British except one – the famous Deutschemeister Band of Vienna), in recordings issued between 1929 and 1954, and – as with other titles in this series – there are fondly remembered famous 78s alongside others less well known. Among the former is the Royal Air Force March Post by Walford Davies, one of three works by him ensuring his immortality – the others being Solemn Melody and the a cappella God Be In My Head – yet the Trio section of the RAF march was actually written by George Dyson. Here is the Central Band of the RAF under Wing Commander A. F. Sims – his tempos are superb and the playing is excellent. Incidentally, has no one thought of reissuing the series of 78rpm talks on music by Walford Davies? Along with his broadcasts, the records were very popular and sold well. For. superb concert band ensemble the tracks by the National Band of New Zealand (1953) take some beating. The earliest track on this CD, The Little Clock an the Mantle, played by the Eastbourne Municipal Band in 1929, is a surprisingly good recording for its age, and I must mention Eric Coates’s London Bridge March (from neither of his `London’ suites) by the Grenadier Guards Band. The splendid first item, one of several here by the BBC (Wireless) Military Band, is Lionel Monckton’s Soldiers in the Park. Monckton was a fascinating figure: lawyer, actor, composer (Our Miss Gibbs, The Arcadians, The Quaker Girl, etc.), author and gifted organist (of the United Grand Lodge of Freemasons), among other attributes, and deserves a biography. This is a fine CD (Guild GLCD5117, 1 hour 17 minutes).
Robert Matthew-Walker


Brattleboro Reformer Thursday April 27 2006

Bandstand in the Park — I will be eternally grateful to the smaller labels like Archeophone and Guild that restore for music lovers and historians the ancient acoustic, the electric and some of the monophonic LP recordings of popular music. To its superb “The Golden Age of Light Music Series,” Guild has added “Bandstand in the Park”(GLCD 5117).

Here are 25 recordings made from 1929 (the dawn of the electric era) to 1954 by such groups as BBC Wireless Military Band, National Band of New Zealand, Band of the Grenadier Guards and Band of the Queen’s Royal Regiments. Included are arrangements of “The Syncopated Clock,” “Frog King’s Parade,” “Malaguena,” “Parade of the Puppets” and 21 others, some familiar, some not so familiar, and each a delight.

Since I have been reviewing this series as new issues appear, I can recommend you to their Web site at www.guildmusic.com to see a complete list of what is available. The contact company in the U.S. is Albany Music Distributors.


MusicWeb Tuesday March 14 06

Guild turns military in this latest entrant in their Light Music series. …

Guild turns military in this latest entrant in their Light Music series. The bands represent the home countries and they take in the Empire as well courtesy of the 1953 National Band of New Zealand. Around the fringes we have an American interloper via Capitol’s Symphonic Band and a brace of Teutonic efforts from the Deutschmeister Kapelle, an award-winning aggregation directed by Julius Herrmann.

The various British organisations are represented by such as the BBC Wireless Military Band whose rousing Soldiers in the Park was their theme song. A Japanese Carnival by the obscure composer de Basque turns out to be a nom de plume of the not-so-obscure Albert Ketèlbey. This is a very robust piece of Japanoiserie. The Grenadier Guards show exemplary sang-froid in their Coronation Bells but there are even bigger compositional guns here; inevitably Walford Davies’s Royal Air Force March Past and Eric Coates’s London Bridge March. The former receives an apposite dusting down courtesy of the RAF band and the latter is in the indomitable hands of the Grenadiers under Captain George Miller.

There are a number of transcriptions or arrangements of classical pieces amidst the marching and the glory – Moszkowski, Debussy’s Golliwog, Rimsky’s Tumblers – and a generic clock piece as well (where would we be without them). But for the most part we have strong upper lip. That said it’s a mite weird to find the Band of the Welsh Guards essaying, in their only contribution, a Paso Doble and the Irish Guards, in their only appearance, dredging up some anodyne Americana.

Still, complaints about repertoire must be few. Harry Mortimer’s virtuosos show up, splendidly fiery though brittly recorded by Paxton and we can welcome the wartime Kneller Hall band. One of the most enjoyable of all these tracks was Ronald Binge’s Cornet Carillon, a sort of cascading cornets and reminiscent of the sort of thing he did for strings.

The transfers get the now standard smooth Guild treatment but here, for once, I rather dislike some of them. The 1929 Columbias for instance have much more openness and treble air than are allowed here; I think Guild is trying to achieve a conformity of sound between the 1929 and 1950s tracks but that’s not a desirable accomplishment in my book. If I have a plea it’s to respect the integrity of the earlier 78s and not to squeeze the air out of them. But maybe this is a specialist quibble. I’m sure the notes and production will appeal to a large audience.
Jonathan Woolf


Classicom Monday February 27 06

Die goldenen Zeiten, wenn es sie denn je gegeben haben sollte, sind unwiderruflich vorbei. Was heute bleibt sind visualisierte Erinnerungen in Form von Fotographien, bewegten Bildern und nicht zuletzt akustischen Konserven. Tondokumente lagern in Massen in den Archiven der Rundfunkanstalten und Schallplattenfirmen – und ihrer wird sich nicht erst in den letzten zwei Wochen fleißig bedient. Der Markt profitiert von diesem unerschütterlichen Verlangen nach Nostalgie. ‚Guild Music’ erweitert beständig seinen Katalog im Rahmen der Reihe ‚The Golden Age of Light Music’. Der Begriff ‚leichte Musik’ mag schnell missverstanden werden. Keineswegs ist diese Musik beliebig, aber beliebt ist sie allemal. Was in der ersten Hälfte des letzten Jahrhunderts unter den seinerzeit beliebten ‚Bandstands’, den Musikpavillons, von professionellen Militärkapellen dargeboten wurde, hat ‚Guild Music’ auf eine neue CD gepackt.

Nichts als Kurzweil

Aufnahmen vom Ende der 1920er bis zur Mitte der 1950er Jahre geben sich hier ein Stelldichein unter dem Musikpavillon. Entsprechend unterschiedlich ist die Tonqualität der Einspielungen, die aber nach besten Möglichkeiten restauriert und remastered wurden. Die BBC Wireless Military Band, die Grenadier Guards Band, die National Band of New Zealand, die Central Band of the RAF, die Coldstream Guards Band, die Eastbourne Municipal Band, die All Stars Concert Brass Band und nicht zuletzt sogar die Deutschmeister Kapelle garantieren ein bunt-internationales Programm mit Kompositionen bzw. Bearbeitungen von Werken von Waldteufel, Kühne, Coates bis hin zu Rimsky-Korsakov und Debussy. Blasmusik aus einer Zeit, in der weder mit gerümpfter Nase über diese Musik geurteilt wurde noch abzusehen war, welch dunstiger Abglanz von der einstigen Professionalität für die heutige Blasmusik übrig geblieben ist. Perfekt in Dynamik und Klangfülle lässt sich hier so manches Schmankerl ausmachen. Das ist musikalische Akrobatik unterm Musikpavillon, ein wahrer Handstand im Bandstand. Man höre nur Ketèlbys ‚A Japanese Carnival’ oder Coates berühmten ‚London Bridge March’, die beide nicht nur eingefleischte Blasmusikanhänger begeistern. Die über 70 Minuten bieten zudem ein El Dorado für Repertoire-Jäger und -Sammler einer jeden Blaskapelle. Nostalgie pur.


MusicWeb Monday January 23 06

Pick a few tracks and sit back with an ice cream or real lemonade and think of days gone past that somehow seemed simpler and summers that were almost certainly warmer and sunnier. …

Guild seems to go from strength to strength with their ‘light music’ series. I have had the pleasure and privilege of reviewing four or five of these excellent CDs. And the present offering is no less worthy of praise.

However I must put my cards on the table – the sound of the military band is less my cup of tea than the earlier releases of orchestral music. Even allowing for matters of taste, I find this an extremely enjoyable listening experience.

There seems little point in a detailed analysis of all the tracks. A few general remarks will suffice.

Firstly the repertoire is wide-ranging: from Claude Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk through to the attractive ‘The Little Clock on the Mantle’ by a certain Mr. Wheeler. There is a good selection of descriptive music. We can visit a Fiesta with a Paso Doble, or perhaps it is time to watch a Parade of Puppets. We can visit a Japanese Carnival, dance the Acclamation Waltz or join the Gay Cavalier for a ride on the Downs. And we must not forget the ‘First of the Few’ with Walford Davies’ Royal Air Force March Past and Archibald Joyce’s ‘Victorious’.

London is not ignored, with the eponymous Bridge March by the great Eric Coates. We can ‘hoe-down’ with Clare Grundman’s American Folk Rhapsody. Novelties are not forgotten: we can go to sea with the Three Jolly Sailors, foot tap with the Merry Musicians, wave at the Frog King’s Parade or perhaps become hypnotised by the well-known Syncopated Clock by Leroy Anderson. And there are plenty more!

Some fine bands are represented – including the Band of the Irish Guards, the Royal School of Music (Kneller Hall and the BBC Wireless Military Band (how evocative is that word ‘wireless’).

I am impressed by the quality of the sound recording. OK – I can accept that those made in the early ’fifties should be pretty sharp. But the surprising thing is how clear the numbers ‘laid down’ in the late ’twenties and ’thirties are. This is surely down to the committed audio restoration and re-mastering by Alan Bunting.

I would maintain that this CD is not to be listened to en masse. Pick a few tracks, programme the CD player and sit back with an ice cream or real lemonade and think of days gone past that somehow seemed simpler and summers that were almost certainly warmer and sunnier.
John France