GLCD 5171 – The Golden Age of Light Music: War and Peace – Light Music of the 1940s
Music Web International December 2010
Yet another marvellous collection from Guild! Such variety and so much to enjoy. As I have said before, for me, the joy of light music is the perfectly conceived, and executed, orchestral miniature. Here we get not only a deal of those, and for that I am most grateful, but also three Piano Concertos!
It’s hard to know where to start but I give full marks for Charles Williams’s Girls In Grey, a marvellously up–tempo march written for the Women’s Junior Air Corps, and subsequently used as the title music for the BBC’s Television Newsreel. Of the three other marches included, Jack Beaver gives us Voice Of Industry, jaunty and with a slight Eric Coates feel to it. Ronald Hanmer’s Olympic Games March was written for the last Olympics held in England, and it was also the last Olympic Games where there was a prize for musical composition – I believe that this was one of the original ideas of the modern Olympics, and one which successive philistinistic Governments probably couldn’t wait to drop; Polish composer Zbigniew Turski won the last composition prize with his Sinfonia olimpica – and it is full of idealism and bags of optimistic spirits. Leighton Lucas’s Marche Fantastique is a more easy-going piece with a Vaughan Williams sound to it – why is this delightful piece not heard?
After these pieces, the music falls into three categories, works by lesser known composers, works by very well known composers and the Concertos. Of the first category, Louis Alther’s American Serenade is a piece of languid mood music, John Belton’s Down The Mall is a bright and breezy night out of a piece, which contrasts well with Allan Gray’s ominous Prelude to A Matter of Life and Death. Of this group, I found Wynford Reynold’s A Cocktail of Happiness totally irresistible – the xylophone solo and sub–Stéphane Garppelli fiddle adding to the gaiety – and Don Gillis’s Short Overture is a real winner, mixing some cowboy fiddling, with a bit of Hindemith and a wild rumba. Fabulous stuff! If you like Morton Gould’s Latin American Symphonette, then this is for you.
Of the well known composers, Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust gets a very discrete arrangement from Percy Faith (this is how these great songs should be arranged, with subtlety and great care), and you’d have to be light on your feet to dance to Eric Coates’s brisk waltz Footlights! I welcome any work by Frederic Curzon, for we hear too little of him, and his Bonaventure is a nice mix of Elgarian pageantry and Oldye England à la Korngold in Robin Hood mode. Dvorák’s innocent little Humoresque becomes a real good time girl in David Rose’s hands – splendid – and Willie the Whistler turns up like Till Eulenspiegel, thumbing his nose at all and sundry. Back to pageantry, but of a jovial kind, with Ketèlbey’s Royal Cavalcade, showing how his work, whilst slightly out of vogue during this time, had kept up with changes in taste and style. Melachrino’s justly famous, and very spritely, Starlight Roof Waltz comes from the revue Starlight Roof, which gave the stage debut to a young Julie Andrews. Sidney Torch’s On a Spring Note is a cheeky little morsel, and Edward White’s The Fairy And The Fiddlers is a charming piece of whimsy. To end this selection the music which accompanies the building of the Spitfire from Walton’s score for The First of the Few, in its concert adaptation, in a very boisterous interpretation by the composer – my only complaint is that we weren’t given the stunning Prelude as well. Finally, we come to the three Concertos, which aren’t Concertos in the classical sense. Australian Albert Arlen, after training at the New South Wales State Conservatorium and the École Normale de Musique de Paris, came to London and worked in the West End as an actor whilst continuing to compose. In 1939 he joined the RAF and saw action in Middle and Far East, which inspired him to write his El Alamein Concerto. It’s a one movement work in the manner of the Warsaw Concerto or Clive Richardson’s London Fantasia. There’s much bravura writing for the soloist, as well as a section in the middle where the Last Post is sounded on they keyboard to the accompaniment of drums, obviously as a memorial to those who fell in the North African campaign. Boogie Woogie Moonshine lacks details of composer or arranger but it contains the song You Are My Sunshine as well as part of the Moonlight Sonata which appears with a boogie bass. If only Beethoven had thought of that himself, he wouldn’t have wanted for money later in life. Finally, Edward Ward’s Lullaby Of The Bells, an original work from the film The Phantom Of The Opera where most of the music consisted of arrangements of Chopin and Tchaikovsky. As with the El Alamein Concerto this packs a lot into a small space, not least, some fine, and exciting, fast music, balanced by quiet and atmospheric interludes.
So ends this survey of light music and I found it one of the most satisfying and enjoyable of all Guild’s issues so far in this series. Here are a set of records of impeccable standard, and indeed, it’s amazing to hear these records sounding so fresh and lifelike. The transfers are superb, and there has been no compromising of the upper sound range by removing the 78 crackle. Good notes and great presentation. What more could you want?
Such variety and so much to enjoy.
Memory Lane Issue Spring 2011
The Golden Age of Light Music: War And Peace – Light Music of the 1940s (Guild GLCD 5171). In his always readable liner notes compiler David Ades states that the 1940s had a major impact on the way in which Light Music would develop in the remaining years of the 20th Century. He suggests that the genteel world in which composers previously operated was shattered by World War II, leading to an invigoration of the genre. He has chosen to illustrate the decade with an eclectic mix that I can best summarize in two of the titles; A Cocktail of Happiness and A Matter Of Life And Death “. The former is presented by Wynford Reynolds and his Orchestra from a Decca Music While You Work disc, and the latter is the Prelude to the film of the same name performed by The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra directed by Charles Williams. Of the other 20 tracks look out for an emotive piece titled “El Alamein” composed by an RAF officer and played here by an orchestra conducted by Jack Payne with his wife Peggy Cochrane taking the piano solo.