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Lyrita New Recording
Sarah Beth Briggs
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Walter LEIGH (1905-1942)
Agincourt Overture* (1937) [11:46]
Concertino for Harpsichord and String Orchestra (1934) [9:33]
Music for String Orchestra (1931-2) [6:29]
A Midsummer Night's Dream Suite for small orchestra
(Overture, Entry of the Mechanicals, Introduction to Act II, Intermezzo, Introduction
to Act III, Wedding March, Bergomask, Fairies' Dance, Finale)
The Frogs (1936) [5:35]
Jolly Roger Overture* (1933) [3:38]
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, March 1980; *Walthamstow Town
Hall, August 1975. ADD
wonder if you picked these works up when they first appeared
in the 1980s on LP. Did they make an impression on you? The
two overtures came on separate LPs of various British overtures
recorded in 1975. The rest appeared in 1980 on one desperately
short-winded LP of about 35 minutes. I felt then, as I do
now, that the opportunity should have taken to add some other
pieces. Perhaps more of the ‘Wasps’ incidental music or perhaps
some of the famous percussion-only score for the film ‘Song
of Ceylon’ written in 1938. However, despite the still rather
short playing time, it’s good to have in one place the works
of Walter Leigh that Lyrita did produce. These are after
all fine performances presented in exemplary recordings.
have known this music for thirty years and have always felt
that Leigh was a composer of some talent who never had the
opportunity to develop or prove himself. As it stands this
music seems somewhat slight and not worthy of shelf-space.
But think to yourself, what might he have achieved had he
not have been killed in action near Tobruk in 1942. This
point is touched upon in the curiously misplaced and muddled
notes - most un-Lyrita like - written by the late Hugo Cole.
I was listening to this attractive music I came to the conclusion
that, had he lived, Leigh may have been intrigued, inspired
and possibly even a part of the 1970s Early Music revival;
an associate of David Munrow, perhaps. During the course
of the review you will see why I think that.
Leigh was born in the same year as Michael Tippett and William
Alwyn. While Tippett was slow to mature and by 1942 had little
to his name, Leigh was already known as a theatre composer.
He was rated as an extremely competent follower of Hindemith
writing pieces for amateurs in an attractive and useful way.
This disc offers us music which demonstrates these various
must add to that the discovery of Elizabethan madrigals which
Leigh loved and also things neo-classical, indeed neo-renaissance
at times. Mix these things up and this music is the result.
Take for example the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream Suite’ written
for amateur orchestra. It does not quote any Elizabethan
tunes, but it seems to point forward to the quasi-style that
Walton employed in his Shakespearian film scores. It has
typical 16th Century cadences, some false relations
and contrasting passages of homophony and counterpoint, even
some simple and suitable orchestral effects. The Overture
is grand, almost French baroque. The ‘Fairies Dance’ in its
lightness seems Mendelssohnian. The Bergomask makes free
with pipe and tabor. All the movements are very contrasted
and ideal for the amateur orchestra for which it was written;
even the bowing was written in for the inexperienced.
a title like ‘Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings’ the
piece by which, Leigh is best known, it is obvious that we
have a work inspired by old music. It is in three compact
movements the length of concertos by Thomas Arne or William
Boyce. The harpsichord rattles away in a somewhat Bachian
manner with cross-rhythms making some use of bi-tonality
in a very personal and attractive language.
Music for strings’ is more in the Hindemithian line. Although
the slow movement (III) is elegiac and memorable the fifty-four
second finale is frankly inadequate for the overall balance
of the work. This highlights a general concern I feel from
time to time about Leigh’s music that he is not always able
to develop his ideas with complete confidence. And yet I
am reminded that this work is the earliest on the disc having
been written when he was a mere 26. I must not be too harsh
in my criticisms. The ‘Jolly Roger Overture’ at less than
four minutes is also something of a disappointment. Written
for the Cambridge Pantomime I feel that although a happy
piece of light music it leaves a few ideas hanging in the
air and generally suffers from unsatisfactory form.
it comes to the Leigh’s BBC Commissioned ‘Agincourt Overture’ to
celebrate George VI’s coronation all fears are dispelled.
This twelve minute score is a fine work with all ideas beautifully
developed and intrinsically interesting. The orchestration
is colourful and resplendent and the piece uses the famous ‘Agincourt
Carol’ as Walton was to do some five years later in his film
score for Henry V. But what is so interesting is the way
Leigh first announces it gently on flute and accompanied
by harp with a little violin countersubject. This is before
its grandiose use at the end of the piece.
Frogs’ is also music for the theatre, for Aristophanes’ famous
comic play, (crex-crex and all that). It has some arresting
ideas, mouth-wateringly so. As I indicated above it would
be good if we had been offered more of it.
it possible that more of Leigh’s music will be put on CD?
Dutton have recorded some chamber works and bits of church
and organ music can be found elsewhere. He was after all
a Cambridge organ scholar under the legendary Harold Darke.
If you have this disc and the Dutton then you really have
it all except for the film music as I said above. The journey
into Walter Leigh’s music is only just beginning.
Rob Barnett has also reviewed this disc ...
Bright-eyed Agincourt Overture is triumphantly
British and sounds fluently idiomatic in this its only recording.
There is in it something of the defiant Rawsthorne of the concert
overtures. Impudence gives way to a tender and breathy poetry
for the central episode – oh so English in its pastoral repose.
It’s gorgeously recorded too. It was commissioned by the BBC for George VI's coronation. This can be contrasted
with the bustling Jolly Roger overture with its
splendid atmosphere of London’s 1930s theatre-land and cheeky
quotation of Rule Brittania. That overture can also
be heard on another recently issued CD this time from the Kent
Sinfonia. Their pairing of orchestral music by George Butterworth
and Walter Leigh is given under the title of Lost England.
The Kent disc is essential for Leigh enthusiasts as it offers
unique scores from the film Squadron 992 and from a
promotional film for the phone companies: The Faery of the
Phone. The Lyrita version is to be preferred with its lusher
and more voluptuous string sound and romantic zest. Also not
to be forgotten is the Dutton CD
(CDLX 7143) of Walter Leigh’s complete chamber works from
the Locrian Ensemble
he had Harold Darke for his first teacher. At Christ's College,
Cambridge he was organ scholar and in 1926 went to study composition
with Paul Hindemith at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. Small
commissions provided an income and increasing regard in the
theatre world. Jolly Roger ran for six months at the Savoy
Theatre in London, with a cast headed by George Robey. He provided
a all-percussion score for the documentary film Song of
Concertino is short and succinct – a pellucid model of
clarity in structure and orchestration. Yet here is no bleached
neo-classicism. The first two movements of the work always
strikes me as an approximation of Rachmaninov for harpsichord
and orchestra. There is a most beautifully weighted central andante before
the Holstian Allegro Vivace redolent of Holst’s Brook
Green and St Paul’s suites and the Concerto
for two Violins. Music for String Orchestra has
a short adagio including passing tributes to the Tallis
Fantasia with a bouncing Holstian Vivo and a sincere
and melancholy Lento. The Brook Green euphoria
returns for the Allegro. The suite of music for A
Midsummer Night's Dream was written for an open air
schools performance at Weimar. The scoring is for flute,
clarinet, trumpet, strings (a large body in this case) and
harpsichord. The writing across the nine miniature movements
ranges from pastiche Handelian to the much more original
and romantic Introduction to Act II to the bracing
Holstery of the Bergomask – itself reminiscent of
Bridge’s Sir Roger de Coverley miniature. There is
more of Mendelssohnian faerie in the Finale than in
any other part of the score: innocent charm and fun in equal
measure. That same year – 1936 – Leigh supplied the music
for a Cambridge production of The Frogs. This
came out with a deep emotional reach contrasted with the
usual helping of rustic Englishry freshly twisted and flighted.
extensive notes from Hugo Cole.
than the usual Lyrita compilation but that’s all they recorded
of Leigh. Satisfying in its extension of clean Holstian neo-classicism
and dashing romance.
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