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Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Romeo and Juliet - A Ballet in two Tableaux (1924-25) [30:00]
Pomona - A Ballet in one Act (1926) [20:36]
Music for Orchestra * (1927) [13:19]
King Pest: Rondo Burlesca ** (1935) [9:14]
English Chamber Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth *
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Joly **
rec. DDD*; July 1977, Kingsway Hall, London, ADD
LYRITA SRCD.215 [73:14]

This is a useful collection and presents the first modern recording of Music for Orchestra. This well packed CD has been compiled in part from the contents of a late-1970s Lyrita LP (the two ballets). In addition there are two much later recordings which for many years have lain unissued in the Lyrita vaults. The major newcomer is a work for which I have the keenest affection - touching and regal, jazzy and emotional and yet its ‘battleship grey’ title leaves us with little temptation to explore. It's our loss. More of that before long.
Norman Del Mar superbly puts across the tumult of excitable syncopation you find in Lambert’s scores as well as their wistful yet ecstatic poetry. It is hardly surprising that part of the packaging for these ballet works recalls the neo-classical Stravinsky yet within Lambert’s range there is more vulnerability and sheer heart than the Russian composer could manage. Tangy harmonic clashes were also part of his armoury. We hear this in the Toccata of Romeo and Juliet but Lambert was not too proud to adopt the Vaughan Williams pastoral manner. The calming and slightly chilly Musette is inventively done with the bereft voices of woodwind chiming appreciatively around a winsome solo violin line. The smiling Pomona is also from his fecund twenties and its most yielding episode, among much that is gentle, is the Siciliana. Those agreeably grating clashes are heard again in the rousing Marcia but overall Pomona is a lower key work than Romeo and Juliet.
Del Mar knew his stuff and in the 1980s conducted several Lambert works for broadcast by the BBC. On 10 May 1986 at the Brighton Festival he directed a rare performance of Summer’s Last Will and Testament with David Wilson-Johnson (baritone), the Brighton Festival Singers and the BBC Concert Orchestra. He had also championed Music for Orchestra with the RPO broadcast on 1 March 1982. The neglect of this drably titled work is grievous and it is good to be able to welcome it here as recorded not by Del Mar but by Barry Wordsworth with the LPO. It is well done although at 13:19 it seems a bit quick by comparison with broadcasts by Handford and Del Mar; not that I have timed them. Music for Orchestra is one of those works that seems to speak with poetry and without bombast from a confident heart. The grunt of the bass drum thud that separates the long-lined melody that opens the work from the fugal section is superbly rendered. The fugal manner is mixed in with Lambert’s trademark euphoric syncopation which rises to another even more exalted level at 2:02 in tr. 23. All sorts of signatures are there to enjoy including the tambourine and castanets associated with the Rio Grande of the same year. When he counterpoints the rhythmic motif with the endlessly strong melody of the opening bars (shades of ‘Don’t throw bouquets at me’) the result is majestic yet deeply touching and symphonically impressive. The grandeur of this score might occasionally recall a voluptuous transcription of Bach but it works magnificently. This is amongst my favourite works and I recommend it very strongly indeed. Symphonic fibre woven with syncopation and poetry.
King Pest – Rondo Burlesca is the purely orchestral sixth movement from his magnum opus about the transience of life: Summer’s Last Will and Testament. The whole thing can be heard in David Lloyd Jones’s version on an indispensable Hyperion. Incidentally that work starts with a theme and treatment remarkably close to the wistful melody used so resourcefully in Music for Orchestra. A jerky macabre episode playfully mixes shivering reflections of the Dies Irae with a determined and unsmiling rhythmic material. This is a work that sometimes looks towards the Witches Sabbath in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. It manages to be both forbidding and gleefully playful – the guest at Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’.
This is then a magnificent Constant Lambert collection which is required listening for anyone seeking music of emotional moment from the 1920s and 1930s.
Rob Barnett


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