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The Golden Age Of Light Music:Light Music While You Work- Volume 5
rec. 1943-1947 GUILD GLCD5211 [79:18]
This album’s subtitle might seem ironic: in our gadget-obsessed, overconnected time, don’t we already have enough distractions at work? But the reference is, in fact, historical. In 1940, at Britain’s low point in the Second World War, the BBC decided that programmes of “bright and cheerful music” – this from David Ades’ booklet note – were needed to boost morale, and might, perhaps, even help to increase output on factory assembly lines. The resulting program, Music While You Work, broadcasting performances by solo instrumentalists, bands, and orchestras, would remain on the air for twenty-seven years.
Decca Records, in its turn, thought a series of similarly themed records would be useful for those days and times when actual radio broadcasts were not available, and, in 1942, launched its own ‘Music While You Work’ label. The recordings were “inspired by” the radio broadcasts, rather than a document of them: not all the recorded orchestras actually performed over the air. Still, the selections accurately reflected the spirit of the broadcasts.
The pieces in the present programme fall into two broad categories. The first comprises fully-fledged classical pieces rearranged to suit the reduced instrumental forces. (Remember, ‘orchestra’ here means any ensemble including strings – not necessarily the LSO.) We get one adaptation of the Waltz King, Johann Strauss, Jr., himself (the comparatively unfamiliar Promotions) and no fewer than four waltzes by Emile Waldteufel – best known for The Skaters, which isn't here – in three-minute abridgments that manage to hit most of the themes; Estudiantina and The Grenadiers even include the first-theme repeat. Fibich’s Poeme is also a slow waltz, played with plenty of rubato, and with the piano filling in above the sustained strings of the final cadence.
Raff’s Cavatina sounds like a salon piece, in the good way, with a surprisingly full texture at its peak. The Chant sans paroles is, indeed, Tchaikovsky’s, in an incongruously jaunty rendition. Most striking is Offenbach’s Barcarolle, played by a string-dominated ensemble; I thought I heard some high winds in the rhythmic accompaniment, but I wouldn’t swear to it. The midrange strings sing the initial statement handsomely, but the climax isn’t particularly ‘filled out’.
The second group includes well-wrought novelty pieces, similar to the sort of thing Leroy Anderson would compose later on, minus the sandpaper, typewriters, and other gimcracks. Cockney Capers, with its cheerful, strolling dotted rhythms, might be a vaudeville or music-hall number. Careless Cuckoos could probably fit easily into Façade. The Frolicsome Hare is a jig suggesting ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, ending its middle section with the traditional hunting call.
Among the marches, the London Calling March is a quick two-step, cheerful rather than military in spirit; the Naïla “rhythmic paraphrase” after Delibes is similar in style, though it isn’t overtly tagged as a march. The Jolly Airmen March follows the Sousa style; sprightly dotted rhythms produce a nice lift, and there are some interesting short-term harmonic turns.
I'm not familiar with the previous installments in the Guild series, but this particular selection favours, or perhaps suffers, a preponderance of waltzes – even the Spanish-themed Santiago is basically a multipartite waltz sequence. The various ensembles, however, mostly play them with a nice surge and, in Promotions, a hearty swing. The violin decorations in the return of Unrequired Love are lovely. Only Joseph Gungl’s Amoretten Tanz, as played by Ronnie Munro's ‘Waltz Orchestra’, comes off as intermittently flatfooted. Among the other numbers, Leon Jessel’s Parade of the Tin Soldiers strikes a good balance between charm and busyness; on the other hand, the oboe soloist in the Cavatina is perhaps obnoxiously straight-toned.
The producers and remastering engineers have certainly led from strength: the opening After the Rain sounds wonderfully full, rich, and present – only slightly distorted trumpets betray the recording’s age. (On the other hand, the cornets in The Mascot Waltz, later on, sound nice and clear). In the other selections, some fuzzy or grainy timbres do betray the recordings’ age. Even the piano – which sometimes ‘comps’ (fills in the textures ad lib.) and sometimes plays obbligato, depending on the arrangement – distorts in Cockney Capers and sounds tinny in the Druid’s Prayer Waltz. There’s a disconcerting anomaly in Parade of the Tin Soldiers, where the woodwinds’ go-round on the theme of the ‘B’ section sounds more vivid than did the muted trumpets the first time! In many of these arrangements, the clarinets reinforce the midrange strings in counterthemes; that timbral blend is clearly audible. Bass pizzicatos turn boomy here and there.
I wouldn’t want to dismiss this as just classy “easy listening”, though, if you're fond of the genre, you'll enjoy it. The material is more substantial than that, and it’s been painstakingly remastered. And ‘shuffle play’ capacity may help to break up, or at least vary, the endless series of waltzes.
Stephen Francis Vasta Stephen Francis Vasta is Principal Conductor of Lighthouse Opera in New York (lighthouseopera.org)
After The Rain - Francesco Canaro [2:53] HARRY FRYER AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Amoretten Tanz - Joseph Gungl [2:57] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS WALTZ ORCHESTRA
Cockney Capers - Peter Crantock, pseudonym of Clive Richardson and Tony Lowry [3:19] WYNFORD REYNOLDS AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Barcarolle - Jacques Offenbach [2:53] RICHARD CREAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Careless Cuckoos - Ernest Bucalossi [2:48] HARRY DAVIDSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Cavatina - Joseph Joachim Raff [3:14] RICHARD CREAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
The Druid's Prayer Waltz - Gordon Davson [2:56] HAROLD COLLINS AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Estudiantina - Emile Waldteufel [2:48] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS SCOTTISH VARIETY ORCHESTRA
Chant Sans Paroles - Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky [2:52] RICHARD CREAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Dolores Waltz - Emile Waldteufel [3:11] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS WALTZ ORCHESTRA
Narcissus - Ethelbert Woodbridge Nevin arr. Philip Green [3:12] HAROLD COLLINS AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Heyken's Serenade No. 1 - Jonny Heykens [3:04] DAVID JAVA AND HIS ORCHESTRA
London Calling March - Eric Coates [2:51] HARRY FRYER AND HIS ORCHESTRA
The Frolicsome Hare - Herbert Ashworth-Hope [2:42] WYNFORD REYNOLDS AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Melody In F - Anton Rubinstein [3:15] RICHARD CREAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Mon Bijou (My Jewel) - Charles E. Le Paige [3:11] HARRY DAVIDSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Parade Of The Tin Soldiers - Leon Jessel [2:23] RICHARD CREAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Promotions – Waltz - Johann Strauss II [2:49] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS WALTZ ORCHESTRA
Poeme - Zdenek Fibich [3:16] RICHARD CREAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Pomone – Waltz - Emile Waldteufel [3:00] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS WALTZ ORCHESTRA
Santiago - A. Corbin arr. Aubrey Winter [3:13] HARRY DAVIDSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Unrequited Love - Paul Lincke [2:50] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS WALTZ ORCHESTRA
The Jolly Airmen – March - P. Beechfield-Carver [3:17] HARRY FRYER AND HIS ORCHESTRA
The Mascot Waltz - Edmond Audran [3:01] HARRY DAVIDSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
Naila - Rhythmic Paraphrase - Léo Delibes arr. Arthur Lange [3:02] HARRY FRYER AND HIS ORCHESTRA
The Grenadiers – Waltz - Emile Waldteufel [2:58] RONNIE MUNRO AND HIS WALTZ ORCHESTRA.
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