Reviews

GLCD 5173 – The Golden Age of Light Music: The Pianist in the Spotlight

Various

To the CD in our Shop


MusicWeb International February 2011

The time has come in Guild’s Light Music series for the pianist to shine. Quite a few headed their own orchestras, others were less well known but still ‘featured’ in an opus or two, whilst others were big names whose presence – for example Winifred Atwell – was at least on equal terms with that of the band.
The overwhelming majority of tracks come from the 1950s, but for the last three we dip back to the 1930s. Some cuts are very brief – hovering around the two minute mark, but given the talents of the arrangers, one never feels short-changed. We start with George Greeley and his rich romantic Love Letters, a Victor Young song essayed with charm here. That’s followed by a jaunty number called Near You which Roger Williams deals with adeptly. We find George Shearing, no less, on hand joining Billy May for an all-star gathering of the clans in a jointly arranged Marvin Fisher-Jack Segal number. Dig the modish 1957 percussion, fellers. David Rose turns up with his Concerto, a Rachmaninovian affair in miniature – what wasn’t in those days? Joe ‘Mr Piano’ Henderson comes on with The Way You Look Tonight, though I won’t be leaving Teddy Wilson for him. We need a novelty number at this point and Norrie (Norman William) Paramor provides it with Silly Billy. Winifred Atwell joins Cyril Ornadel for their 1954 Philips recording of Vendetta; Jeez, the whole bunch sound like they’re on Benzedrine. To jump from that to the cod-harpsichord machinations of the fabulously named Dolores Ventura and her husband, the equally potent Ivor Slaney, is obviously the Guild compilers’ idea of a good gag. Ivor was an oboist and pops up during his wife’s brief silences to play a tune that threatens to turn into Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.
It’s at this juncture that sanity is restored, first by Robert Farnon and his beautiful performance of Kern’s Can I Forget You and then by Morton Gould’s version of My Ship, with especially subtle and effective wind writing. These two effortlessly outshine the others for taste and clarity of thought. Still, we don’t always want taste and clarity of thought; we sometimes want Robert Docker, reprising that old Addinsell-Rachmaninov groove in Legend, played by the snooty-sounding William Hill-Bowen and the Melachrino Orchestra. We also encounter Billy Mayerl playing Ronnie (Ronald George) Munro, and – a variation on the Docker conundrum as noted above – Semprini’s Mediterranean Concerto, a big six minute affair with uncredited pianist that sounds like Albéniz and Rachmaninov had kicked around a few bars together admiring the scenery.
Back in 1939 The Pall Mall Revellers – those were the days – concoct a cocky Rag-timed number called City Centre, written by Robert Keys. Then we have Carroll Gibbons ‘and his Boy Friends’ – how did they get away with it? – turning on the pre-war charm in a film selection. Finally there’s the tragically short-lived Raie da Costa and her splendid piano, accompanied by Ray Noble’s elite band.
So. A mixed bag, all right, but with quite a few pluses, and even the minuses are amusing, bizarre or both. Has David Adés won an award for his booklet notes yet?
A mixed bag but with quite a few pluses, and even the minuses are amusing, bizarre or both.
Jonathan Woolf

Music Web International November 2010

The piano has always been the instrument of choice when making such arrangements as these for the simple reason that most band leaders, composers, arrangers, conductors play the piano. Also, it’s a musical world in itself, and a welcome partner of an orchestra, whether light or symphonic. Here we have arrangements of well known tunes and some fine miniature piano concerto movements.Victor Young’s Love Letters is a nicely sentimental ditty, contrasting well with the jauntiness of Francis Craig’s Near You. With Sammy Cahn and Nicholas Brodszky’s Because You’re Mine we return to the sentimental mood and Paul Weston’s arrangement successfully marries Debussy and Ravel with a rich string background. Sir George Shearing and Billy May’s arrangement of Nothing Ever Changes My Love For You has a nice samba feel – cocktail lounge stuff this, with a delicate percussion presence. David Rose’s Concerto is full of sweeping strings and is most un–Concerto-like. It’s a miniature, as if it were the big tune of a larger piece, but most engaging.

Joe, Mr Piano, Henderson gives a very breezy performance of Kern’s great love song The Way You Look Tonight. Soft Sands brings us back to earth in a romantic mood and Norrie Paramor’s Silly Billy Norman is a kind of manic cousin of Edward White’s Puffin’ Billy, and a nicely rhythmic entertainment. Richard Addinsell wrote incidental music for the British premiere of Jean Genet’s play Ring Round The Moon in 1949. The Invitation Waltz has achieved a life of its own away from the theatre. It’s a very attractive piece, which receives a full, syrupy, performance here.

Zaldivar’s Carnavalito starts as a Concerto for two horns then settles into a delicate samba with jingling bells and hunting horns. Pierre Dorsey’s piano is most discreet. Winifred Atwell, on the other hand, really gives it some heft in Ken Jones and Chris Armstrong’s Vendetta. This is marvellous chase music – get the baddies stuff. Ivor Slaney’s Georgian Rumba features a piano which is half way to an harpsichord! Very attractive!

No issue in this series would be complete without either Robert Farnon or Morton Gould and this disk is blessed with arrangements by both of them. Farnon gives a perfect version of Kern’s Can I Forget You – a neglected song, worthy of revival. Gould turns his attention to Kurt Weill and one of his greatest Broadway tunes. My Ship is the pivotal song in Weill’s Lady in the Dark and Gould gives it a slightly hesitant, not quite sure where I am, arrangement. He ends in a most dreamy manner. This is a very long arrangement but Gould is a master and carries off the extended length with aplomb. I would welcome a whole album of material such as this.

Robert Docker’s Legend alternates virtuoso flourishes with a good tune, and it could almost be an intermezzo movement from a light concerto. A very laid-back version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Heart and Soul returns us to the Concerto style of piano work – Otto Cesana’s Starlight. Like the Docker, this brackets two types of music: the big tune and more reflective sections for the piano alone. Munro’s Punch and Judy Polka could almost be the kind of thing Chico Marx would have played, had he been given the chance!

Semprini’s Mediterranean Concerto is part Rachmaninov, part Falla, part Warsaw Concerto, part any number of late-romantic composers. It’s quite pretty and proves Semprini to be an expert in pastiche. I wonder if he wrote anything of more originality. It’s certainly fun, and could do well in a “Who wrote this?” type of music quiz.

Jungle Bird is another of those Caribbean hothouse pieces: lashings of colourful percussion, and a theme of eastern promise! While a Cigarette was Burning is so full of nicotine, in the sound of saxophones, I felt that I might never manage to give up smoking! Or perhaps one could use it instead of patches! A disk called Pianist in the Spotlight deserves to have a piece written by a man called Keys! And Robert Keys’s City Centre is full of hustle and bustle. Delightful.

A pleasant little potpourri of Dubin and Warren leads to a fantastic Raie Da Costa composition – At the Court of Old King Cole – where the Ray Noble Orchestra really swings. There is a wide variety of styles on this CD, perhaps more than on most issues in this series, and this is a fabulous idea for a series within a series. I look forward to more like this. Grand sound, good notes, great fun!
Bob Briggs

Grand sound, good notes, great fun!