Columbia Light Symphony Orchestra conducted by
Charles Williams featuring Clive Richardson, piano.
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was in 1990 that Carlin Music asked me to write a “Theatrical Overture” for their library. On the day of the session, imagine my surprise when one of my idols of music Clive Richardson casually strolled into CTS studios at Wembley. I had already met him at a Robert Farnon Appreciation Society recital but this you can understand was something else. His contribution to the session were two new compositions of his called Shopping Around and Mantovani Strings. While he was very generous in praising my work, I was totally immersed in that famous ‘Richardson’ sound. For many years it had been my intention to analyse his London Fantasia for JIM. So why not now?
Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto was undoubtedly the first of its kind and proved to be the most popular of the genre, but I have always maintained the Richardson composition deserved far more recognition because of its highly descriptive musical narrative. It was originally called The Coventry Concerto but the more he worked on the score, Richardson felt London Fantasia was a more appropriate title. In essence it’s a nine minute microcosm of WW2.
An instant attention grabber, the opening section of timpani, brass and strings immediately creates a threatening and uneasy atmosphere, reminding one of the evils and pointlessness of war. But suddenly the music becomes becalmed by a radiant string tune perhaps looking back to those halcyon days of a once peaceful prewar period. Maybe we hoped there was still an outside chance of averting conflict.
But that was all swept away by the first sound of the ‘boots on the ground’ of young men marching off to unknown destinations to fight for King and country. Note a single sustained string note continues right through from the tranquil tune into this dramatic sector. Then a troop-carrying train is brought into the picture. And yet again that calming optimistic tune reappears to even greater effect. After a suggestion of Londoners at work and children at play, there’s a touch of Carriage And Pair from which emerges the bells of old London. Conductor Charles Williams would have related to that, as there was a lot of ‘London’ in his music.
And then something absolutely magical happens - the music slows right down to a virtual standstill, creating one of the most moving moments in music. The piano enters with two lots of nine gentle chords. Never have minor chords sounded so effective. The simplicity after all the drama is mesmerizing. It may not seem obvious but the piece has finally come to life baring its soul.
After a definite break, the strings lead in to Richardson’s glorious theme played by the solo piano supported by a cello, later joined by the rest of the orchestra. Notice his fondness for triplets in the tune like David Rose. Twice the oboe is at the forefront of building up the momentum as we head towards a cadenza or flourish, featuring the frantic fingers of Richardson, demonstrating his dazzling technique and particularly sensitive touch. His use of single notes is far more powerful than any complicated writing. Back briefly to the theme before some more piano pyrotechnics.
Then, as children in the far off Empire, the moment we all used to wait for was an air raid siren brilliantly imitated by the strings, warning that heavy bombers were approaching. The Battle of Britain had begun. Richardson throws everything he can orchestrally at this musical canvas with particular emphasis on the percussion. He didn’t forget the rescue services either rushing along with their bells to where they were needed. Eventually the all-clear sounds, and life returns to some sort of normality.
So what does Richardson do after that first raid? He calls upon the services of the instrument that has the range and capacity to provide a complete coverage of emotions, the violin. Great sadness descends across the nation, echoed from the darkest depths of the violin’s recesses. As it heads to the heights for the brighter top of its range, a major chord expresses a message of peace and hope for the future, now in tandem with the piano.
London Fantasia, Richardson’s magnum opus, gradually builds up to one of the most thrilling endings of any composition for piano and orchestra I know. If ever a piece told its own story then this is it. A tale of courage, endurance and above all humanity. No other composer has written a work of such power, originality and eloquence about such a momentous event. The general public thought so too in their millions.
Finally, with all the excitement and pleasure of meeting Clive Richardson, I almost forgot to mention another musician who happened to be playing on the Carlin session. My all-time favourite jazz drummer and long term member of the great Ted Heath Orchestra - Ronnie Verrell! My cup was overflowing that day!
“London Fantasia” available on Guild Light Music
“The Hall Of Fame” Volume 1 (GLCD 5120)
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