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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]

Most of this album is devoted to the ballet music of Constant Lambert; but all of it is very theatrical.

Constant Lambert appears to have had violent disagreements with Diaghliev over the latter’s concept for Romeo and Juliet which developed somewhat crazily into a ‘cocktail ballet’ - in the parlance of the time. Its story revolves around a company rehearsing Romeo and Juliet, the action split over two tableaux: in the first, the maître de ballet tries to teach a pas de deux to the two rebellious principals who become over-affectionate. In the second tableau, Shakespeare’s story is in rehearsal, the action following the usual story-line until the lovers don flying gear and elope by aeroplane. Such lunacy obviously called for correspondingly eccentric music and Lambert responded with predominantly light-hearted material, often hedonistic, commedia dell’arte in mood - one movement is actually marked ‘Burlesca’ - with occasional shadows as befitting the Bard’s tragedy. Much material sounds like quintessentially English folk dance with a splash of Poulenc-like insouciance and Waltonian colouring. Del Mar and the ECO clearly enjoy the music’s high-spirited frivolity.

The ballet Pomona is based on the story of the goddess of fruits and Vertumnus, god of the seasons. Pomona is first seen dancing with her nymphs. They run away when the flirtation of Vertumnus and his followers alarms them. The god, later in the guise of an old woman, successfully encourages Pomona to wed the god. Lambert’s music for this more straightforward story - choreographed first by Nijinska and later by Ashton - follows the French neo-classical school of the 1920s. Similarities with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Poulenc’s Les Biches are apparent. The music is lyrical; the markings of the ballet suite’s movements after the innocent, idyllic setting of the ‘Prelude’, are self-explanatory including: ‘Pastorale’, ‘Menuetto’, ‘Rigadoon’, ‘Sicilliana’ and the celebratory ‘Marcia’. Colourful music, more refined than Romeo and Juliet.

Music for Orchestra dates from 1927 and was written when Lambert was a counterpoint student of R.O. Morris at the RCM. Dedicated to Lord Berners, it was played by Diaghilev as a symphonic interlude during his last season in 1929. The notes do not mention the context of this performance although one can detect the influence of The Rite of Spring in the first Andante movement, particularly in the final cataclysmic outburst. The other Risoluto-Vivace movement continues in agitation – conceived in vigorous and thunderous fugual style. Lambert may have suggested that this is abstract music but surely it would not disgrace any ballet.

From Lambert’s masterpiece Summer’s Last Will and Testament, comes King Pest: Rondo Burlesca. This title is a punning reference to Henry VIII’s jester, Will Somers. One imagines that Will’s barbs might, on occasion, have brought him close to being beheaded, for this music is not just jaunty and mischievous but stark and threatening. Lambert makes imaginative use of a large orchestra and, correspondingly, Simon Joly delivers a jeering, sardonic performance that triggers the shivers.

Ian Lace

See also review by Rob Barnett (Recording of the Month- August)

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