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The Golden Age of Light Music - Great British Composers: Volume 1
Eric COATES (1886-1957) ‘London Suite,’ Eric Johnson & his Orchestra (1961) [14:30]
Haydn WOOD (1882-1959) Prelude, from ‘Moods Suite,’ Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra/Charles Williams (1942) [3:10]
Frederic CURZON (1899-1973) Dance of an Ostracised Imp, New Concert Orchestra/Frederic Curzon (1946) [2:59]
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975) Ballet for Children from Things to Come, London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Arthur Bliss (1959) [3:31]
Richard ADDINSELL (1904-1977) Prelude and Waltz from Blithe Spirit, London Symphony Orchestra/Muir Matheson (1946) [9:01]
Albert KETÈLBEY (1875-1959) Bank Holiday (’Appy ’Ampstead), New Symphony Orchestra/Stanford Robinson (1954) [2:31]
Edward GERMAN (1862-1936) Country Dance & Pastoral Dance from Nell Gywn, Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra/Charles Williams (1942) [5:56]
Jack BEAVER (1900-1963) Cavalcade of Youth Danish State Radio Orchestra/Robert Farnon (1950) [2:56]
John ANSELL (1874-1948) ‘The Shoe’ Ballet, Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra/Charles Williams (1942) [5:42]
Len STEVENS (d.1989) Caribbean Caprice, Sidney Torch and his Orchestra (1949) [3:02]
Trevor DUNCAN (1924-2005) The Unwanted (Modern ballet impression), New Concert Orchestra/Cedric Dumont (1958) [2:44]
Clive RICHARDSON (1909-1998) White Cliffs, Continental Theatre Orchestra/Heinz Buchhold (1961) [3:15]
Vivian ELLIS (1903-1996) ‘Holiday Abroad’ Suite, New Concert Orchestra/Monia Liter (1960) [13:19]
Charles WILLIAMS (1893-1978) ‘The White Knight’, Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra/Charles Williams (1961) [3:03
Stereo: Coates Wood Curzon Ketèlbey; rest in Mono
Dates refer to recording, not composition.

What better way of opening the proceedings than with Eric Coates’ masterpiece - and I do not use that word lightly - the ‘London’ Suite. I understand that many folk may regard this work as hackneyed. I accept that there will be enthusiasts for RVW’s superb ‘London’ Symphony and for Edward Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture. For me, Eric Coates comes nearest to describing the sights and sounds of the Capital as we find it today – in spite of the fact that it was written 80 years ago. What defines London? Well, I guess that there are three fundamental things – the Red London Bus, the Black Taxi and the London Underground symbol … and, for me there is Eric Coates.
The ‘London’ Suite was originally called the ‘London Everywhere’ Suite and was composed in 1933 when the composer was 47 years old. There are three movements which portray various facets of the city’s complex and fascinating life. The first movement is a delightful representation of the old fruit market at Covent Garden. This is presented as a ‘tarantelle’, which allows the composer to create a vivacious sense of hustle and bustle. Counterpointed against this is the lovely old English tune ‘Cherry Ripe’. The middle movement is a dreamy nocturne or meditation on the River Thames at ‘Westminster’. It comes complete with the inevitable chimes of Big Ben. This is not sentimental or trite: it is actually a fine, symphonic slow movement. Finally the well-known ‘Knightsbridge March’ concludes the Suite. I have always imagined this music as depicting a cold winter’s night, a taxi has pulled up outside Harrods, and there are Christmas lights everywhere. It is hardly surprising that this tune was used in the long-running BBC Radio Programme In Town Tonight.
I look forward to hearing a complete edition of the orchestral version of Haydn Wood’s ‘Moods’ Suite: there is currently one for piano. Meanwhile we have to make do with the ‘Prelude’ played by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Charles Williams. It is a striking piece that conjures up romance with its big broad tune.
I always feel sorry for Frederic Curzon’s Ostracised Imp. I cannot imagine what the poor little fellow must have done to deserve such treatment. Fortunately, Curzon’s delightful score suggests that he has not been sent to Coventry for too long.
The ‘Ballet for Children’ from Arthur Bliss’s superb film score to Things to Come is a very clever piece of music. The mood seems to be one of innocence polluted by menace … or is it the other way around? The music was used in the film to accompany a group of children at Christmastide playing with ‘weapons of war’.
Blithe Spirit is one of my favourite films. Honest, it has nothing to do with the gorgeous Kay Hammond! The other stars of this 1954 film include Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford. The script was written by Noel Coward and the music by Richard Addinsell. The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Muir Matheson. What more can a boy ask for? The ‘Prelude’ and the ‘Waltz’ provide good musical support to this quirky tale.
Back to London again for the excellent ‘Bank Holiday’ composed by Albert Ketèlbey. It is the final movement from the composer’s ‘Cockney’ Suite. This has all the fun of the fair which was held on Hampstead Heath. It is a pity that this work is not quite a well known as his ‘In a Persian Market’ or ‘Bells Across the Meadow’.
Poor old Edward German suffers from being known largely for Merrie England, which is a charming sub-Sullivan-esque operetta that has never quite gained the popularity of the Savoy Operas. However, German has many facets to his career as has been re-discovered in recent releases of symphonic music on Dutton Epoch. Nell Gwyn was written as incidental music for the stage play which was produced in 1900. Two dances are given here – the Country and the Pastoral. They are good examples of a kind of William Morris medievalism.
Jack Beaver’s Cavalcade of Youth was first heard in a 1950s radio play called ‘The Barlows of Beddington.’ It became an instant hit. This is music that seems to take its keynote from Walton – without the ‘dissonant bite’. The only downside is that this ’fifties music’ does not relate to the present iPod and Xbox generation of youth.
I have never heard of John Ansell’s ballet The Shoe. It is something I will investigate and possibly report back on. Ansell is little known these days save for his two attractive overtures The Windjammer and Plymouth Hoe. However, his catalogue would appear to be of considerable size. I do not know if The Shoe was used for dancing or whether it is simply a musical confection designed for the concert hall or pier-head pavilion. There are three short movements: the first introduces the ‘shoe’. This is followed by an ‘Eastern’-tinged piece representing the sandal as maybe worn by Scheherazade? The final section is ‘The Brogue’ which is good Celtic music that has the skirl and drone of the pipes and a Maccunn-like ‘Mountain Flood’ swagger.
I have not heard Len Stevens’ Caribbean Caprice before. This is a fun work that does not try to be too faithful to West Indian rhythms, but we get the picture. It is a ‘bright and breezy’ work that makes one glad to be alive. Stevens’ main musical contribution would appear to be writing ‘mood music’ for various libraries. This was then used as and when required in newsreels and documentaries.
The most haunting and serious piece on this CD is the ‘ballet impression’ The Unwanted’ by Trevor Duncan. It is a temperamental piece that seems to transcend any concept of ‘light’ or ‘serious’ music. It imagines a boy who is quite definitely ‘not wanted’ with all the emotional turmoil of being unloved. I wonder if this is an extract from a longer work?
Clive Richardson is well-known for a number of well-crafted pieces of music – especially the London Fantasia for piano and orchestra and the miniatures Melody on the Move and Holiday Spirit. The present piece, White Cliffs was used as the theme music for the BBC Children’s Television Newsreel and is a broad march that glorifies the nautical achievement of the nation rather than being descriptive of the landscape. The Children’s Newsreel was introduced in April 1950 and was shown on Saturday afternoons.
The big discovery for me on this CD is the ‘Holiday’s Abroad’ Suite by Vivian Ellis. Ellis is best known for his incomparable ‘Coronation Scot’ which has inspired generations of railway enthusiasts and composers wishing to write train music. However, Ellis’s achievement is considerable. The main focus of his work was musical shows and revues, in spite of beginning his career as a concert pianist. Two of his hit songs ‘Spread a Little Happiness’ and ‘This is my Lovely Day’ are still recalled today.
The ‘Holiday’s Abroad’ Suite has five descriptive movements – more like postcards really. The first is ‘Reunion in Vienna’ which is a delightful waltz that is both energising and reflective in equal measures. Then follows a picture from Spain’s ‘Costa Brava’: it is an engaging tone-poem describing the sights and sounds of this lovely part of Sunny Spain – just before it was discovered by teeming holidaymakers. The third movement is a gentle evocation of the piazza around the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’. I guess the composer must have had the early morning in mind, as I have never seen it this quiet. The most evocative music comes next: ‘Paris Taxi’. Anyone who has endured a trip in one of these vehicles at ‘rush hour’ and has negotiated the Place de la Concorde will empathise with Ellis’s ‘take.’ Lots of scurrying, screeching brakes, horns and even hints of a frayed temper and the odd police whistle. The finale is a relaxing ‘Swiss Air’. I have never been to Switzerland, but have often flown over the Alps. This present ‘air’ imagines a pasture rather than a mountain peak. There is a suggestion of lovers walking hand-in-hand on a cool, clear day. Monia Liter (1906-1988) was responsible for the subtle orchestrations of these delightful mood pieces. This is one of the best pieces of light music I have heard in a while. It is worth the price of the CD just to own this work.
The White Knight from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass has always been my favourite character in the book. This Don Quixote-like character immediately gains our sympathy. Is this because Carroll himself is the character behind the Knight? The poor old gentleman is chivalrous, kind and sympathetic but tends to fall off his horse. He does not quite have a grip on the everyday accomplishments of life. He sees everything in ‘topsy-turvy’ fashion. It has been noted that of all the characters that Alice met during her two adventures, the White Knight is the only one who appears to be truly fond of her. Even as a child I was moved by his farewell to Alice.
Charles Williams has responded to this dichotomy by providing music that is on the one hand ceremonial and jaunty, yet on the other hand something sad lingers here. There is a welcome touch of Korngold in these pages. Maybe the literary analogy reflected Carroll’s ‘farewell’ to the real life Alice Liddell as well as the fictional one.
Guild has once again excelled themselves with this latest release in their Golden Age of Light Music series. The sound quality is a little mixed but that is to be expected when one realises that the tracks date from a period of over twenty years from 1942 to 1962. They have been splendidly re-mastered. The liner-notes are as helpful as usual with lots of details about composers, performers and the music. This is a splendid addition to the series with some pieces that will be new to most listeners. I look forward to receiving ‘Great British Composers’ Volume 2.

John France
A splendid addition to Guild’s invaluable Golden Age of Light Music series.

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