GLCD 5172 – The Golden Age of Light Music: Lightly Classical
Music Notes By Chris Green
Just up the road from where I live there is a talented sound engineer. His name is Alan Bunting and together with series producer, David Ades, they have been responsible for compiling a never-ending stream of releases on the Swiss-based Guild label. The series is called The Golden Age of Light Music, and it profiles the wealth of music that was recorded, mainly between 1930 and 1960. This was the heyday of the 78rpm shellac release lasting between three and four minutes which certainly sharpened the talents of composers and arrangers. Filling a disc for that amount of time required the skill of being able to say what you wanted to say but in a style that was recognisable. The advent of the LP changed things, but so did the economic challenges of the Depression and the Second World War when major theatres had to cut their house orchestras in order to survive. The world of light music lost some talented ensembles who would have entertained audiences between films, or given concerts when the theatre was not showing films.
In short, there was an appetite for “light music” – how difficult it is to define what that kind of music is. The essential. ingredients are tunes, easy-on-the-ear harmonies and memorable arrangements, and the producer of the series has obviously had a field day in sourcing decent copies of the hundreds of titles that fill the many volumes issued by Guild Music. Many of them were recorded in the studio, but occasionally the sound recordists would venture into a theatre or cinema to record the music.
What I am going to do is to highlight just some of the releases, but for more information I recommend you go to the Guild website Guildmusic
I am particularly interested in music for films, and so a couple of essential albums are Light Music from the Silver Screen (GLCD 5109) which has 22 tracks each featuring a different film including Spring in Park Lane, The Magic Bow, Shane and The Band Wagon. It would be difficult to say which is a “classic” and which is not, but for durability Dancing in the Dark from the latter release still features in live programmes and reminds us of the great days when MGM musicals were eagerly awaited. British Cinema and Theatre Orchestras are recalled in another release (GLCD 5108). Most included here were London-based but the provinces were not necessarily to be outdone and whether it was Walthamstow or Coventry, there was a house band led by some big names of the time including Hyam Greenbaum and Geraldo. As with all the releases, there are excellent sleeve notes which give you much of the background information.
“Light music” was not necessarily an Anglo-Saxon invention, for there were talented composers in mainland Europe and some of their compositions turn up in arrangements in a third release, Lightly Classical (GLCD 5172). There are compositions by Claude Debussy and William Walton rubbing shoulders with Grieg, Stravinsky and Khachaturian. Sometimes the orchestra is reduced, and one has to remember that these tracks would often be the first exposure for someone to the world of light music and it would often be through hearing them played on the radio. Radio played a significant role in popularising melodies in Britain and the USA, and many of the orchestras featured in Great American Light Orchestras (GLCD 5105) were led by -composer-directors who achieved significant awards like Leroy Anderson, Andre Kostelanetz and Paul Whiteman. Some wrote material for the concert hall in more serious vein but they are included, such as Morton Gould and Meredith Willson.
So there we are: light music is making a comeback, and if you want a memorable tune presented with skill, Guild’s series is as good a place to start as anywhere.
American Record Guide September / October 2011
As you might imagine, I have no taste for this kind of thing. BUT…I had a mother. Yes, my mother delighted in Mantovani, Melachrino, and even Kostelanetz and David Rose, when they didn’t get shockingly jazzy. All but Mantovani are here. All the music here is the real thing, by classical composers, but (mostly) in “popularized” arrangements. I consider that a tribute to the unbeatable melodies of the great composers. The “mostly” is because we have here William Walton conducting the Philharmonia in one of his own pieces—unadulterated. George Melachrino gives us ‘The Last Spring’ by Grieg—one of my mother’s favorites. I can’t hear that he has done anything to it. It’s even in stereo (9 of the 23 tracks here are). Music of Kabalevsky, Khachaturian, and Luigini also seems untouched as played here. David Rose has arranged 12 minutes of Stravinsky’s Firebird; it can be a bit sleazy (Firebird as stripper?). I wonder how much he paid Stravinsky for the chance to do it. That may be the oldest recording here (1942). Most of this is from the 1950s—and that’s when I heard most of it and decided I preferred the real thing.
The field is full of pseudonyms. Who was Pierre Challet, who recorded prolifically for Mercury in the late 50s? Who was Philip Green? The arranger “Ralph Sterling” was better known as “David Carroll”, but was that also a pseudonym? I like his arrangement of Mendelssohn’s ‘On Wings of Song’. If you always thought it needed an orchestra, here it is (minus the singer, too—no singers here, but songs for orchestra). Be warned that some arrangements are a bit “trashy”; you have to accept them as part of the period charm. I recommend this as the best example of a major genre of the 1940s and 50s, when the “general public” still responded to the beauty of wonderful melodies written by real composers.
Music Web International November 2010
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! Three well deserved cheers for this fantastic collection – it’s one of the most entertaining from this source. And what a variety of music we are offered!
Rimsky’s Bumble Bee is a real mover in this performance, the poor thing’s wings must have hurt when he landed – and it must be a male bee for no female bee would rush quite like this. Clair De Lune is exactly what it should be, were it written for Hollywood, but it never goes over the top as it so easily could.
The finale from Holst’s St Paul’s Suite is given a very breezy performance by Angela Morley, and, although it claims to be an arrangement I fail to hear it, and my score proved it – I wonder what this could mean? Walton’s Popular Song is as delightful as ever – and deserving of a place in such a collection – and the first revelation for me was the popular song based on Ravel’s stately Pavane for a Dead Infanta. I was intrigued as to how Ravel’s beautiful little dance could be so transformed into a different medium with such ease. I’d like to hear it with lyrics to see how it works in its “original” format.
The classics are plundered, as you’d expect in such a collection as this. Schumann’s Devotion sounds as English as anything to come out of Elstree and Mendelssohn could never have imagined his On Wings Of Song receiving such rich handling. Tchaikovsky receives “the treatment” twice. Barcarolle becomes a piece of mood music and the “theme” from Swan Lake, the famous Swan theme, here has a chorus and off-beat guitar chords. Meditation from Thais is a lovely interlude for violin and orchestra but here it’s a piano solo, then a swooping string arrangement, culminating with the fiddle. Irreverent these arrangements may be, but they are great fun.
I was particularly taken with Sidney Torch’s arrangement of Franz Lehár’s Gipsy Love, marvellously infused with Magyar sounds and spirit before letting go in a modern-sounding waltz. The Finale from Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien is great fun, memories of Wilson, Keppel and Betty – there were many Bettys over the years – abound. The Waltz from Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite is very fleet of foot, surely too fast for dancing, and his Sabre Dance seems quite small-scale by comparison with the composer’s own version. But we mustn’t forget that this has been made for a more commercial market than the Russian’s ballet. Kabalevsky’s Galop from his Comedians Suite includes a super part for xylophone – perhaps this was issued because, in the days of spa concerts, a xylophone solo would have been regular fare.
More seriously, Grieg’s Last Spring is a touching interlude, Robert Farnon’s Lake Of The Woods is an intermezzo in the Delius mould, Haydn Wood’s Brown Bird Singing appears in a beautiful sub-Delian orchestral hue. One of the best of the original works is Stanley Black’s very Schubertian Overture To A Costume Comedy. This is a perfect piece of light music which marries a good tune to a good idea and carries it out with aplomb and total affection for the style it celebrates.
The biggest surprise is kept for the end. I have no problem with the fact that the great Igor Stravinsky should appear in the Golden Age of Light Music series, for he did write a few things which would seem to be real contenders for inclusion – the Scherzo à la Russe or the Circus Polka, for instance, but four excerpts from The Firebird might seem a ballet step too far. But here’s the clever part – the dances are performed in arrangements by David Rose! Dance Of The Princesses (the Princesses Round Dance) starts, more or less, as you’d expect but when the saxophones enter we’re in another world. Here Stravinsky meets swing. Likewise the version of Dance of Kastchei (Infernal Dance of the Subjects of King Kaschei), there’s certainly nothing really infernal about this dance; I wondered if Kaschei had become a bobby–soxer! Rose’s editing of this piece is fascinating. The Berceuse has a nice lazy swing to it – I especially like the walking bass, not to mention the Laura–style brass refrain. The Finale has a jaunty air to it – everybody here lives happily ever after! It’s known that Igor liked his cash – I wonder how well he was paid for allowing this arrangement? This is so enjoyable as to be worth the price of the disk alone.
Fantastic stuff. Great programming, good variety and every track a winner. What more can you want?