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Victoriana: Music, Verse and Recollections from the time of Queen Victoria
rec. 1965-2016
SAYDISC CDSDL445 [62:40 + 61:37]

In the UK, ITV's 'Victoria' is now set to be the next 'Downton Abbey'. As with 'Downton', this series will carry an admittedly populist image of the Imperial Victorian era across the world. Material about Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and the Empire years still hold the potential for wide-scale success driven by both praise and condemnation of those intriguingly Janus-faced times.

The present compilation is by Saydisc's ever vigorous Gef Lucena; he is also a poet. It casts far and wide through the riches of the Saydisc's eccentric "Museum of Curiosities". There's slightly over two hours of material at a two-for-one price. This ranges from spoken reminiscences, delightful music-box and Polyphon 'quainteries' to hymns, nursery songs and parlour readings.

This also operates as a sampler from Saydisc's extensively laden shelf of Victorian material. The listing in the booklet also details the discs from which these recordings have been taken. The present set continues an existing line of Saydisc compilations: Percussion Around the World, Christmas Music Through the Ages, Pleasures and Treasures (Saydisc's fiftieth anniversary) and Love is Lord of All. Also not to be overlooked is the label's comedy compilation.

Those Leipzig-originated 24-inch Polyphon discs are the source of a very attractively complex sound web that glints and glitters. It's a Rolls-Royce among automatic music carriers of the age. Its glassy, silvery, spangled resonance is captivating and it's clearly a luxury item by comparison with the more prolific music-box. The Bristol barrel piano - another example of the Victorians' fascination with the miracles of automatic music - conjures up the public houses of the time.

From such lyric luxuries we come to the spoken sections interspersed liberally among the music tracks. These recordings, of which there are quite a few, include extracts from Francis Kilvert's diary and Kenneth Williams (who also recorded Monkey for Nimbus), is heard on two tracks reciting 'Parlour Poetry'. This he does, guying things up but with just a shade of restraint - just a shade. Miss Dorothy Blake’s personal account of life with the Queen at Osborne House - as interviewed by Peter Duddridge in 1965 - appears on no fewer than seven tracks. She is forthright but completely engaging; treasure indeed. Her memories of Queen Victoria's slippery silk dress are priceless.

Some nursery rhymes of the era are played by The Broadside Band and bespeak a spirit that takes them out of the playroom. The Mellstock Band with manure-rich fragrances and images of Thomas Hardy's ancient rustics are heard several times. A wheezy organ speaks for a Victorian church Sunday. This is followed by wholly more charming music-box evocations of four hymns. Lucy Skeaping sings Early One Morning with a debutante-demure sweetness. She avoids the sophistication that would otherwise have killed the song dead. Music-box tracks also convey a flavour of the "hot hit" arias of the day. Verdi, Mendelssohn and Monfarina are memorialised on Broadwood and Clementi pianos with the Broadwood being memorable for its clangourous tone at anything approaching forte. Gef Lucena is the singer in Butterworth's Is My Team Ploughing accompanied by a bouzouki. Think on this next time you hear a Housman selection. Lucena's unadulterated and pastoral voice speaks of the fuzzy-bearded duffle-coated folk-music revival. It is utterly disarming. The Venetian Gondola Song is heard from Richard Burnett on a Broadwood instrument which sounds cruelly assertive in louder passages. At those moments the charm of the music does not survive such a pasting.

The excellent 32-page booklet by Mr Lucena presents flavoursome commentary on each item, track by track. It's also in a type-face that is easily legible. The commentary is pretty attentive to detail although it's a pity that the typo A E Houseman was not interdicted: it is A E Housman.

Music, verse and recollections from the time of Queen Victoria. This arrives courtesy of Nimbus at Wyastone Leys, the cherished stronghold of Saydisc, Amon Ra and its related family of labels. Eccentric splendour rules.

Rob Barnett
Content List
CD 1
1 The Polyphon
2 Miss Dorothy Blake
3 Venetian Gondola Song
4 Kilvert's Diary
5 Musical Box Dances Bellini
6 Parlour Poetry
7 Bristol Barrel Piano 1846
8 English National Songs
9 Miss Dorothy Blake
10 Musical Box Sullivan
11 Kilvert's Diary
12 A Victorian Sunday 1
13 A Victorian Sunday 2
14 Cold Was The Day
15 Miss Dorothy Blake
16 Nursery Rhymes
17 Parlour Poetry
CD 2
1 Tranter Dewy's Dance
2 Venetian Gondola Song
3 Kilvert's Diary
4 Opera Miscellany
5 Miss Dorothy Blake
6 The Mistletoe Bough
7 Clementi Monferrinas
8 Musical Box Dances
9 Miss Dorothy Blake
10 A Shropshire Lad
11 A West Gallery Carol
12 Musical Box Verdi
13 Miss Dorothy Blake
14 Victorian Musical Shows
15 Miss Dorothy Blake



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