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Box of Delights - British Light Music Gems
Phyllis TATE (1911-1985) London Fields suite (1958) [13:14]
Samuel COLERIDGE TAYLOR (1875-1912) Characteristic Waltz No.3 (from Four Characteristic Waltzes op. 22) Valse de la Reine (1899); Three Fours valse suite op. 71 (1909): Three Fours No.2 - Andante; Three Fours No.5 – Andante molto [4:30; 2:47; 4:12]
Granville BANTOCK (1868-1946) Russian Scenes (1899) [14:18]
Cecil Armstrong GIBBS (1889-1960) Fancy Dress Suite (1936) [17:22]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) En Voyage – suite for full orchestra (1944) [15:02]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth (Bantock; Tate; Coleridge Taylor); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Simon Joly (Gipps, Lutyens)
rec. 1980s. ADD
LYRITA SRCD.214 [71:32]

Lyrita did not shy from British light music and there was always an anthology strand within the Lyrita vinyl line-up. Some may recall two Lyrita Lollipops LPs and two albums of British concert overtures. Those recordings are now being split up and reallocated to go with the same composer’s major works to produce substantial single-composer CDs. From that point of view they have proved a very useful lode.

The present disc continues and re-establishes the anthology tradition. If you were being less benevolent you might say that these are the bits that would not fit anywhere else. You might also plausibly theorise that this is evidence that Lyrita will not be making any more new recordings with which to provide alternative couplings for these short items.

The present tracks have not previously seen light of day since those recording sessions in 1988 and 1989. Not quite true - a couple of stray tapes found their way onto the tantalising Lyrita-Quad promotional sampler – a memento of Quad’s collaboration with Lyrita in the early 1990s. It was among the last Lyrita CDs before the long silence. The disc, issued in 1993, was LYRI QUE 001; there was no 002. It offered a mix of reissues and extracts from new recordings: the new items included Bantock’s Russian Scenes (i) At the Fair – Nijni Novgorod; Lutyens’ En Voyage (iv) Paris Soir; and Tate’s London Fields (iv) Hampstead Heath – Rondo for Roundabouts. All appear in this collection but complete with their surrounding movements.

The notes are by Lewis Foreman, that exemplary scholar and promoter of the British musical heritage.

Like Elisabeth Lutyens, Phyllis Tate was a pupil of Herbert Farjeon at the RAM. She wrote the London Fields suite for the BBC Light Music Festival of 1958. There's a flight of the bumble-bee hell-for-leather romp, xylophone the fore, in The Maze at Hampton Court movement. St James's Park is a tender lover's serenade for oboe seemingly over the misty dawn of the lake. There are times when this movement is very close to Bax. The wittily overblown Hampstead Heath waltz is subtitled Rondo for Roundabouts. It spins along with a gap-toothed smile and the sophistication of Barber's Souvenirs. It would make a very good companion piece to the Barber with some intriguingly memorable dissonances and something of Malcolm Arnold about it too.

Coleridge Taylor's Valse de la Reine is the third of the Four Characteristic Waltzes. It is sweetly and tenderly done with its Tchaikovskian charms registering affectingly. The Elgarian affekt of the brief andante makes a nice complement to the kindred spirits of Elgar's various chansons - again with Tchaikovskian flavouring. It is rather a pity that we did not get the complete opp. 22 and 71 suites.

No complaints on that front about Bantock's Russian Scenes. These were also recorded on Marco Polo also in the 1980s. Bantock was a cosmopolitan ready to absorb sympathetic idioms from across the world. It is fitting that he chose a Russian milieu because Bantock and others from the RAM leaned more strongly in that exotic direction than the droves of RCM pupils. The five scenes are sparky and full of flavourings that we know from Rimsky, Borodin and Mussorgsky. Stunning abrasive brass playing in the the first movement trounces the CSR Radio Orchestra version on Marco Polo. The Mazurka however does not completely shake off its Edwardian fustian. More successful is the whirling Polka. The well upholstered Valse looks to Tchaikovskian balletic examples. In the Cossack Dance the accent is more Borodin Prince Igor than Tchaikovsky.

Armstrong Gibbs' Fancy Dress suite is in four movements of which Dusk - the third - became phenomenally successful. The mood is varied with the first Hurly Burly being knockabout prokofiev-like stuff while the Dance of the Mummers doffs a hat and a deep bow towards Capriol and RVW’s English Folk Song Suite. Dusk is a delectably emotional slow Delian waltz - light yet searching but not deep. Are those cuckoos I hear. Pageantry - Processional is a cheery light march with a touch of Moeran's Sinfonietta about it and then a splash of Coates and Elgarian nobilmente.

Lutyens' En Voyage might be a bit of a surprise if you expect Lutyens' to be always dissonant. Here she essays a four movement suite evoking a journey by train and boat from London to Paris via Dieppe. The first movement Overture has a redolence of Binge’s Elizabethan Serenade about it - the sort of mock tudor also to be found in RVW's The England of Elizabeth. Channel Crossing has some of the jazzy disruption and stamping terpsichore of Constant Lambert and even of Aaron Copland. If the first two movements are the English Tudor part of the Entente Cordiale equation then Yvette, with its gentle tambourine and pipe and drum suggests French villageoise as does Paris-Soir which starts surprisingly desolate but soon swings into the carousel of Parisian street-life. For the last two or so minutes Lutyens forgets the Parisian locale and comes away with a sighingly lovely and yearning grandeur looking out across the Seine.

This is a fascinating collection which offers some surprising and always engaging perspectives on British light music.

Rob Barnett


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