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Ivor NOVELLO (1893-1951)

"Shine Through My Dreams"

Original recordings 1917-1950

NAXOS NOSTALGIA 8.120600 [67.00]

Crotchet Superbudget


Ivor Novello had it all. Drop dead gorgeous, actor, singer, composer, a man who may well have saved his own life in the First World War by being able to write a song that would comfort and inspire a nation in that war and the next one too. The West End, Broadway and Hollywood all exhibited his many talents in a life lasting fifty-eight years and the cream of show business would have walked over hot coals to be in one of his musicals in the years before and just after World War Two. He held West End long run records in a career that spanned decades to such an extent that the premier British popular song award is still the one named after him and won most recently my Robbie Williams. How redolent, how evocative his music now sounds, of a lost time of drawing rooms, flats in town, white pianos, cigarette holders, elegant couples in country house weekends, chic little restaurants and ever-so-slightly-naughty west end clubs. Yet perhaps that was the appeal of Novello’s music all along. That even when it was brand new it still seemed old, still seemed to have come from a time the day before yesterday: a chance to escape from the dull routine that, in the 1930s and 1940s when much of his best work came, needed an escape hatch.

His well springs were surely in operetta, his nearest foreign cousin Franz Lehár with just a touch of British reserve. So to his contemporary audiences there was a patina of elegance but less cream on the schnitzel. This is still love in a cold climate, as his contemporaries the Mitfords might have put it. But it is a peerless gift for melody that few British popular composers have ever approached. Most important of all melodies with "hooks", as the songwriters have it, that will stay in the mind for days and so set the cash registers jangling. His was also the era before the detonation in London of the great Broadway musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein that would lay waste the landscapes occupied by Novello, Vivian Ellis, Noel Gay and Noel Coward. Though Jerome Kern’s "Showboat" should have told them all where the wind was blowing from. I think it no coincidence that Novello’s last great West End success (and at 1,022 performances his longest run of all) "Perchance To Dream" appeared at Drury Lane in 1945 two years before "Oklahoma" arrived in the same theatre, kicking like a Texan steer on rodeo day. After which nothing in London theatre land was the same again and Novello’s world was gone forever before his own death six years after, when the angry young men of the British theatre were still hurling teddy bears out of their play pens. Though a decade later Lennon and McCartney would win Ivor Novello Awards I’m rather glad Ivor himself never lived to hear The Beatles, not to mention The Rolling Stones. Nice boys, my dears, but oh heavens that hair! A time past then and heard to best advantage by the singers of the day who knew the nuances and styles that Novello himself counted as second nature. A time when a gay dog was a chap who liked a good time, not a Jack Russell with an earring, and when a royal flush was a hand at poker, not the expression on the face of the monarch when she picked up a tabloid newspaper.

From "Glamorous Night", Novello’s landmark Drury Lane show of 1935, we have six songs, five recorded by original cast members and orchestra in the studio during in the run. Mary Ellis, a genuine New York Met soprano who has only just died at the age of 104, sings the solo "Deep In My Heart" and the exotic duet "Fold Your Wings" with Trefor Jones as though she were really on stage, which is no mean feat in a cold studio. Jones himself is a touch "plummy" for today, but that was the style of the time. The wonderful Elizabeth Welch also sings "The Girl I Knew" and even outshines Ellis’s sense of being in the theatre. Notice also Welch’s care for Christopher Hassall’s words as much for Ivor Novello’s music and listen carefully also for the gay xylophone in the orchestra adding to that natural bounce in Novello’s melody. This song also demonstrates one of his great melodic fingerprints. Just as you think the tune has reached its natural rest he makes it go on for just a little longer. This show also gave us the title song for this CD "Shine Through My Dreams" with which Trefor Jones must have brought the house down every night.

There is nothing from "Careless Rapture" which came in 1936, but there is one song from the lesser known "Crest Of The Wave" which filled Drury Lane in 1937. Dorothy Dickson, like Mary Ellis another American recorded during the original run, sings "If You Only Knew" with a frightfully correct chorus in support. Listening to her rather under par in this song I can’t help but feel Novello must have missed Mary Ellis madly. So her return to Drury Lane in 1937 for "The Dancing Years" must have pleased him greatly. I think you can tell that from "My Dearest Dear" where Novello accompanies her at the piano in 1939 after a brief exchange between them. There are two more songs from "The Dancing Years"; both recorded later in 1950 by Giselle Préville. It’s hard to decide whether her accent adds or detracts from these most quintessentially English songs but as they are two of Novello’s greatest a collection like this couldn’t be without them. Préville starred in the film version of this show made in 1949 and "I Can Give You the Starlight" has another of those long-breathed Novello melodies with a cadence that Lehár would have killed for. Whilst "The Dancing Years" danced on at the Adelphi during the war, Novello’s actual wartime show "Arc de Triomphe" played at the Phoenix Theatre and again matched Mary Ellis and Elizabeth Welch on stage. Welch here sings the exotic "Dark Music" in another "during the run" recording and the microphone again catches that remarkable voice in a song that whilst it doesn’t perhaps represent Novello at his best shows just what a great artist can do with material not out of the top drawer.

The first post-war show for Novello was "Perchance to Dream" at the Hippodrome Theatre in 1945 when he had parted company with Christopher Hassall. Ivor wrote his own book and lyrics this time and this is the show that contains the all-conquering "We’ll Gather Lilacs". Again we have an original cast recording with Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbert. A real sense too of what the audience must have felt in 1945 since it has about it a tone of relief that the war is over and there can be few songs that manage to be both romantic and patriotic at the same time. This song stopped the show every night and with Ivor himself in the cast he must have enjoyed that.

I mentioned at the start that at the very outset of his career Novello wrote a song that may well have saved his life. This was "Keep The Home Fires Burning" which in 1915 made his name and must have marked him out to those who had the power of life and death that he was worth more to the war effort writing songs like this than getting killed in a trench in Belgium. This recording of the great old song was made a month after the outbreak of the Second World War. It was supervised by Novello himself and begins with what sounds so suspiciously like a Welsh male voice choir you must conclude this Cardiff boy was going back to his roots to inspire a nation again. You would need a stone where your heart should be not to feel a missed beat when Olive Gilbert with the chorus and orchestra really hit their stride with this one.

Peter Dempsey has made the transfers with minimum intervention and a real care for the atmosphere these songs convey and his excellent notes tell you all you need to know about the background to them.

This is a superb selection of Ivor Novello’s music by the original performers.

Tony Duggan

This is a superb selection of Ivor Novello’s music by the original performers. … see Full Review

Tony’s mother Joan Duggan, now eighty-four years old, would like to add:

When first I saw the face of Ivor Novello on the cover of this new CD I was immediately taken back into the past. I could never resist Ivor’s dark, brooding eyes, that sensual half smile, and his hair falling slightly forward. Seeing him again I knew at once he was compelling me to take a trip with him into the past and listen again.

Sitting back I closed my eyes and heard first that lovely song "Deep In My Heart" sung so beautifully by Mary Ellis, and then "Fold Your Wings" with Mary Ellis and Trefor Jones, followed by "The Radiance in Your Eyes" sung with such great feeling by Reginald Werrenrath in the year of my own birth 1917. With what gusto "The Thought Never Entered My Head" is sung by Winnie Melville and Derek Oldham too. I was also fascinated by the short semi-musical dialogue from the play "Murder In Mayfair" with Edna Best (so lovely, a true actress and remembered by my generation as the wife of Herbert Marshall) and Ivor Novello himself softly playing the piano with his usual skill. I could imagine the dreamy look in those eyes as he lightly touched the keys.

By now I was completely away in the past and I stayed there as I heard the dulcet voice of Trefor Jones once again, this time bringing to life that masterpiece of Novello’s "Shine Through My Dreams" from "Glamorous Night". I even felt myself wishing I could get up and join in with "The Leap Year Waltz" from "Glamorous Night". The spirit was willing but … well, you know the rest. I was also reminded what a superb artist was Elizabeth Welch, excelling here in the sadly neglected song "Dark Music". The greatest nostalgia of all for me, however, was Muriel Barron and Olive Gilbery singing "We’ll Gather Lilacs". You see, in 1945 I had sat in the audience at Drury Lane for the original production of the show that it came from, the unforgettable "Perchance to Dream". I wish they would revive it and I could go.

The last track on the disc brought tears to my eyes. This, of course, is "Keep The Home Fires Burning" recorded one month after the outbreak of World War II. I wasn’t ashamed of my tears. I had been on a nostalgic journey back in the past with the handsome Ivor who with his imagination and his gift of knowing how to tear at the heartstrings had written all these wonderful songs and yet how many people not of my generation are aware of him now? This CD should change that, I hope.

This new collection is a must for any generation but for mine especially. A welcome addition to anyone who enjoys not only soft romantic music with singers who can sing with feeling but music that can start you tapping your feet to as well. I recommend it.

Joan Duggan

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