04 Dec

André Rieu And His Johann Strauss Orchestra - Happy Days

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Decca CD 5487980 (67’) + DVD

As sure as day follows night, here is the charismatic Dutchman’s annual album selection of our kind of music to brighten the dark days of December and beyond. Needless to say, it immediately shot to the top of the Classic FM best-seller chart.

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01 Dec

Vaughan Williams - Orchestral Works

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Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Manze
Onyx 4212 (69:23)

This release is an addendum to Beckenham-born conductor and violinist Andrew Manze’s critically acclaimed recordings of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) nine symphonies. These would probably be a bit heavy for a lot of light music enthusiasts but the orchestral works on this album are more approachable and among the most popular ‘The Grand Old Man of English Music’ wrote.

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27 Nov

Beatles Go Baroque ● 2

Written by

Peter Breiner and His Orchestra
Naxos 8.574078 (70’09)

27 years ago, the Naxos label released an album called ‘Beatles Go Baroque’, which is still listed in the catalogue (8.55510) having achieved multi-platinum award status. What we have now in their Light Music series is the sequel, going one better than the original by keeping the 18th-century masterpieces largely intact, stylishly merging them with the Beatles’ enduring melodies.

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23 Nov

High Strung

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(Larry Coleman, Buddy Dufault)
Axel Stordahl’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Composer (of I Should Care and Day by Day), vocalist, arranger and conductor, Axel Stordahl’s main claim to fame was as musical director and advisor to Frank Sinatra during the first decade of the singer’s career. Axel is the Danish form of Absalom but even after all this time some disc jockeys still call him “Alex”. He is largely credited with bringing pop arranging into the modern era. More specifically he was a pioneer of symphonic-style backings in a popular context. Kostelanetz was the orchestra-only equivalent. Make no mistake though, Stordahl was just as capable of conventional big band arranging.

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(Larry Coleman, Buddy Dufault)
Axel Stordahl’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Composer (of I Should Care and Day by Day), vocalist, arranger and conductor, Axel Stordahl’s main claim to fame was as musical director and advisor to Frank Sinatra during the first decade of the singer’s career. Axel is the Danish form of Absalom but even after all this time some disc jockeys still call him “Alex”. He is largely credited with bringing pop arranging into the modern era. More specifically he was a pioneer of symphonic-style backings in a popular context. Kostelanetz was the orchestra-only equivalent. Make no mistake though, Stordahl was just as capable of conventional big band arranging.

A native New Yorker from Staten Island, he was born Odd Stordahl in 1913 to parents of Norwegian descent. Stordahl worked his way up as sideman/arranger for Bert Block and Tommy Dorsey (playing fourth trumpet and singing in a vocal trio). His gorgeous arrangements for Dorsey blossomed into perfect accompaniments for Sinatra at the studios of Columbia Records. One of the best examples of a Stordahl orchestration was Everybody Loves Somebody. (I recall wondering why that excellent 1948 song wasn’t already a hit, but 16 years later Dean Martin got around to it). Axel was conductor/arranger on nearly all Frank Sinatra records from 1943-1953. Oddly, Stordahl didn’t get a single mention in Marmorstein’s “The Story of Columbia Records!”. A pallid complexion, softly spoken and a sensitive musician, Stordahl suffered from a rheumatic heart. His interest in serious music, particularly Frederick Delius, influenced his ballad charts.

Sinatra and Stordahl eventually parted company, the crooner going to Capitol. However Stordahl conducted Sinatra for his first date at the new label and recorded several light orchestral 78rpm discs also at Capitol. (By the way Capitol is strictly pronounced Capi-TOL as it’s spelt, not Capi-TAL). When I was a radio announcer, the powers that be insisted on it. It’s important to remember there would be no Riddle without Stordahl, who paved the way for Nelson to be his natural successor. And talking of the composer of High Strung, it might be worth mentioning that an earlier Dufault (François) born in France in 1600 was considered one of the greatest lutenists of his time.

In the 21st century, the title High Strung (grammatically speaking it should be “highly-strung”) became even more appropriate in terms of the state of anxiety that affects so many people today. Once again the David Rose sound is in the frame with a labour intensive exercise from the very start. Instead of pizzicato (as in Holiday for Strings) it’s just regular arco, quickly changing to the woodwind and before we know it, we’re back to the strings.

Then taking another leaf, this time out of the Rose middle section formula, Stordahl heads for the heights with a horn and a strong string tremor. Soon we’re back at the start for a brief repeat of that exercise. Then unlike Holiday for Strings the main melody slows right down, beginning with a suggestion of the opening of TwelfthStreet Rag and the Du Und Du waltz. A piano joins the strings for some romantic meanderings in the manner of Leonard Pennario’s Midnight ontheCliffs.

Then seven assertive string chords re-introduce the by now familiar melody in its original fast state but this time we go quickly into another glorious Rose-like quake (with a hint of Robert Farnon’s Portrait of a Flirt). And finishing on a nervous note, High Strung is brought to a conclusion by the timpani.

In the second half of the 1940s the light orchestral world was turned on its head when the musical baton was handed on from Rose to Farnon, who gave the style a fix that changed light music forever. (Just shows you that even Stordahl was well acquainted with the Farnon style). Who wasn’t!

High Strung Axel Stordahl Orchestra Capitol 78 rpm CL 14047

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19 Nov

Alison Balsom Royal Fireworks

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Balsom Ensemble
Warner Classics 0190295370060 (57’02)

If I can’t always have my favourite French horns I’ll settle for the trumpet, especially when it’s played by Alison Balsom who, although still in her early 40s, has been making CDs for 17 years and this, her first since 2016, is No.13. She has said that the making of it has been by far the most enjoyable recording experience she has had.

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10 Nov

Back In Harmony

Written by

Aled Jones & Russell Watson
Back In Harmony
BMG 538539282 (48’41)

14 tracks including Funicula, Funiculi; Shenandoah; Lucky, Lucky, Lucky Me; Night and Day; Make Me a Channel of Your Peace; The Loveliest Night of the Year; and The Lord Bless You and Keep You

This is the follow-up to the couple’s first album, ‘In Harmony’, which was last year’s biggest seller by homegrown artists in the Classic FM chart. There is no reason why this should not be equally successful. Aled believes that it is even better than the first!

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08 Nov

Ballet Evergreens

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National Ballet Orchestra, Pietro Garda
Regis RRC1286 (74’37)

If you are a lover of light music but have never seriously considered listening to ballet music, then this is the disc for you. At a super-budget price, it is chockfull of good tunes. Those of us who are familiar with this genre of music may also find something here that is not already in our CD collections. For me such a piece, with its whooping French horns, is Les Chasseresses (The Huntresses) from the ballet ‘Sylvia’ by the French composer Delibes, that had recently caught my ear on Classic FM.

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06 Nov

American Concertos

Written by

Baiba Skride (violin)
Gothenburg Symphony & Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
cond. Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Orfeo C 932182A (58’43 & 58’38)

This is a release from the end of last year, which somehow eluded me but is well worth recommending. I cannot do better than quote from the back of the wrapround case that it is “In the grand tradition of the best film music: three great violin concertos – demandingly virtuosic, ravishingly orchestrated, imaginative and immediately accessible and rising above the sterile debate about ‘light’ and ‘serious’ music.”

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24 Oct

Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

Written by

Boris Giltburg, Piano
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Vasily Petrenko
Naxos 8.574151 (73:51)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) wrote five piano concertos and they are among my all-time favourites. Here we have an eminently enjoyable release of the first two played by the much-lauded Russian born (1984) Israeli soloist, ably supported by one of this country’s finest orchestras under its Russian chief conductor.

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.