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Sailing By -- The Music of
Ronald BINGE
Various Artists and Orchestras
ASV British Light Music Heritage Series CD WLZ 245 2 CDs [136:38]
Amazon UK  £11.99 Amazon US  $22.77


CD1 - Elizabethan Serenade; The Watermill; Saxophone Concerto; Miss Melanie; Man in a Hurry; Saturday Symphony.

CD2 - Sailing By; Give Me a Ring; I Like Your Smile; Perhaps I'm Young; A Star is Born; Morning Light; I Sent You Roses; Waiting for the Moonlight When You Are Young; Tango Corto; At the End of the Day; Under the Sun; Butterflies; Homeward; The Last of the Clan; Inamorata; Autumn Dream; The Look in Your Eyes; There's a Light in Your Eyes; Candles on the Table; What do you Know?; The Sound of Music is Everywhere; Fugal Fun; The Moon Looks Down; Farewell Waltz.

Ronald Binge, Derby-born composer, arranger and conductor, was an important figure in the world of British Light Music from before the 2nd World War until his death in 1979. Work as a pre-talkie cinema pianist in his native town, and later as a pianist/accordionist at the East Anglian seaside resort of Great Yarmouth, helped subsidise his compositional studies. From 1935 he was the arranger for Mantovani's Orchestra, inventing (as ASV's admirably full note tell us) the 'cascading strings' effect which became that popular conductor's signature. His own compositions included the scores for well over 50 films, as well as a multitude of short pieces for instrumentalists, chorus and orchestra.

Of these, the Elizabethan Serenade (c.1950) is deservedly most famous. Though it has been subjected to countless arrangements, the original version remains a perfectly-formed miniature masterpiece; and ASV's double album rightly places the National Philharmonic Orchestra's nicely poised version under Charles Gerhardt at the head of affairs. The rest of the first CD is equally satisfying, featuring another four of Binge's best miniatures including his touching pastorale The Watermill; the tuneful 1956 Saxophone Concerto in Aage Voss's lively account under the composer; and his magnum opus, the Saturday Symphony (1966-68), which came as a surprise to many admirers.

In a sense, the pretty title belies the work. This is no ramshackle sequence of over-extended light music miniatures, but a serious and cogent work in four eminently symphonic movements, fully comparable in scope and achievement with the symphonies of Binge's near-contemporary Malcolm Arnold. Its mood is often as melancholy and rain-soaked as perhaps those far-off Saturdays were in post-war, austerity England. There are echoes in the outer movements of Vaughan Williams, Bax, Shostakovich and even Bartók, as well as 50s popular jazz; but the beautiful slow movement is intensely individual and the Symphony as a whole is as powerful an expression of Ronald Binge's musical and orchestral imagination as of his technical assurance. The 1971 performance, originally coupled with the concerto on a much-prized but over-reverberant Rediffusion LP, benefits from Binge's own beautifully paced and prepared direction, as well as some sensitive playing from his German orchestra. The remastered recording emerges with crystal clarity.

The second CD is quite different in tone. It begins with that classic 1963 rendition of Sailing By that we night owls love to hear at close of play on Radio 4, fresher minted than rival digital accounts on Hyperion and Marco Polo. Unfortunately, much of what follows is less compelling - another 24 numbers from Binge the galley-craftsman, sometimes working on autopilot though never cheap or shoddy. Conductors "Walter Heller" and "Heinz Hotter" (Binge again?) steer scratch bands with names like "Dreamland Orchestra" and "Orchestra Raphaele" through a host of tracks with interchangeable titles such as The Look in Your Eyes, There's a Light in Your Eyes and The Moon Looks Down, many of which sound as if they're doing intermission duty at "Carry On" double bills. Fugal Fun is the exception, a clever, catchy jazz number that says as much in two and a half minutes as Gershwin could say in twenty.

It would be good if someone saw fit to reissue the Rediffusion LP of Binge's late and lovely "Guitar Suites", and Marco Polo's British Light Music collection under Ernest Tomlinson contains many fine miniatures not found here, notably String Song and Madrugado. But at this price, who's grumbling? ASV's double album is a timely tribute to the work of a composer who was considerably more than a glib tunesmith. It's worth the price of admission for the Saturday Symphony alone, a fine and undervalued work which is a must-have for anyone remotely interested in the British symphonic tradition in the uneasy post-Bax, post-Vaughan Williams years.

Christopher Webber

See also review by Ian Lace

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