02 May

Strauss in St Petersburg

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Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHAN 10937 (82:49)

This is a double-anniversary disc, offering a collection of mostly the composer’s lesser known works to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the orchestra as well as the 80th birthday of its principal conductor, Neeme Järvi, who is head of a musical dynasty and no stranger to these reviews.

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There are two vital elements you need to ensure the success of any venture or undertaking - talent and timing. That can be anything from inventions to mountain climbing. And it's no different in music. When a true original emerges, it's a fair bet these two components have played a major part. For instance, notwithstanding their undeniable gifts, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms probably would never have scaled the heights in their field, had not the musical climate been ideal.

But let's not forget those Cinderellas of music, the miniaturists. For some reason they were often unfairly perceived as the poor relation and unfortunately most of them never ranked beside the supreme masters. One miniaturist who did, and wrote almost exclusively for the piano was Chopin whose music will live forever. We might not have thought of him as a miniaturist, but he was just as important as any of the great symphonists.

Chopin and Farnon had much in common. For a start they were both incurable romantics, albeit in different centuries, who composed hauntingly beautiful melodies with unusual harmonies and colours, but because their compositions were "purpose built" they did not translate well to other settings. In fact so perfect were they in their original state there was no need to! One notable exception, however, was Farnon's arrangement of Chopin's Fantaisie Impromptu in C Sharp Minor in which he somehow managed to successfully transcribe one of the piano's most popular pieces into a perfect orchestral showcase. A unique meeting of two great minds! They both relished writing challenging parts; Chopin with his etudes designed to improve piano technique like the fiendishly difficult Black Keys Study, and Farnon with his demanding scores, culminating in the ultimate test for strings and woodwind, Main Street.

Another thing Chopin and Farnon shared was the love of their respective homelands, Poland and Canada, reflected in their music. One big difference though between the two composers was their choice of titles. Chopin preferred abstract ones referring to musical forms like nocturnes, preludes, impromptus and mazurkas, whilst Farnon's were clearly representational. Mind you Farnon's hands were tied to some extent by publishers' requirements.

His "instrument" of course was the orchestra, and even though he wrote a number of extended works, he will always be remembered for his unique contribution to the Lilliputians of music. Farnon may not have been a miniaturist in the classically accepted sense like Debussy, Grieg and Mompou, but his work remains a towering landmark. Most of Farnon's pieces were around the two and a half minute mark, but despite their brevity were not the shallow products of a throwaway society like pop music. In Farnon's hands the mighty miniature was a small but perfectly formed work of art, and in its own way every bit as intricate and sophisticated as a symphony.

Once these anonymous work horses for radio, films and television, had escaped the confines of background music, they took on a life of their own becoming an accepted part of the fabric of popular music. Because of their originality, there's no way they would have remained undiscovered.

After World War 2 everyone was upbeat and optimistic. There had never been a moment in musical history quite like it. The conditions were perfect. Light orchestral music was about to be changed forever. Just as Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong revealed the recipe for jazz in the film "High Society" with Now You Has Jazz, so master chef Robert Farnon giving away his secrets, took a little light music, added some French impressionism and seasoned it with jazz. "Now You Has Farnon!" By cleverly synthesising these three disciplines into one distinct idiom, they emerged as pure Farnon.

Although this new style of music was daring at times, it never jarred, but sort of seeped into our subconscious as if it had been around forever. But even with his preoccupation with fresh harmonies and novel orchestral effects, Farnon neverforgot the importance of that most vital element, melody. In a world where it had become unfashionable, he proved it was very much alive and well. You can always identify a Farnon tune because of its sheer Ravel like radiance often showcased by the strings.

The mood music miniature has a lot in common with the pop song. If the composer doesn't grab the listener's attention in the first few seconds he will probably lose them. Farnon was an expert at keeping his audience and as an instant scene setter he had an uncanny knack of being spot on with whatever subject he was trying to depict.

Jumping Bean was particularly apt, as was Melody Fair, Playtime, Journey into Melody, Peanut Polka, In a Calm, Portrait of a Flirt, How Beautiful is Night, Manhattan Playboy, Westminster Waltz and Proud Canvas.

Two of Farnon's favourite moods were the dramatic (for example Gateway to the West) when he demonstrated an innate sense of grandeur, and the mysterious (like Lake of the Woods) showing he was a master of mesmerising. Farnon's penchant for dramatic climaxes became one of his best known trademarks. But he made his name with those brilliant light cameos heard all over the world. The tunes with their scintillating orchestrations are now part of our culture and have become as familiar as mainstream pop and classical music, though very few people can name them.

While Farnon's music was clearly a 20th century creation, there is an undeniable timelessness permeating it. From the primitive pentatonic scale (in the aforementioned Main Street) dating back to 2000 BC, heard in the cultures of China, Japan, India, Africa, Scotland and the American Indians, through the simplicity of Gregorian chant, to the highly complex chord sequences of bebop, Robert Farnon's compositions represent a microcosm of musical history. If ever a volume is published of his works, it might well be named "Miniatures Ancient and Modern!"

Although Robert Farnon was generally regarded as the greatest arranger of his generation, he surely must also be a strong contender for the title "Greatest Miniaturist of the 20th century." Just as Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues, each lasting only a few minutes, is an entire world of music in miniature, so too are Farnon's light orchestral masterpieces. Unfortunately because of his association with background music and particularly signature tunes, he never received the serious recognition he deserved. Only when his music is completely divorced from its original purpose and treated independently on its own merits, will it be properly appreciated. It may take a little time, but make no mistake that day will come.

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30 Apr

Obituary - Gordon Langford (1930 – 2017)

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Born in Edgware, Middlesex, as Gordon Maris Colman, he graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Music, where his piano teacher, Moran Demuth, suggested that he write under a pseudonym; he therefore adopted the professional name of Gordon Colman Langford.

He became a highly respected composer of light orchestral music and was famous within the Brass Band world for his compositions and arrangements for that genre. His experience as a trombonist must have enormously assisted him in this respect. He wrote a Trombone Concerto for Don Lusher, and a Sinfonietta for Brass Band, which became the signature tune for the BBC tv series Best of Brass. He acted as an adjudicator for a number of major brass band events.

Gordon Langford’s compositions were regularly featured to accompany BBC Television ‘Test Card’ transmissions, whilst he also arranged many of the songs performed by the Kings Singers. In 1971, he won an Ivor Novello award for his ‘March from the Colour Suite’. 

As a performer, he often appeared on BBC Radio broadcasts, sometimes with his own trio / quartet on Morning Music and Breakfast Special. He was the regular pianist with Lew Stone and his band, Eddie Strevens and his quartet and Ken Beaumont and his sextet. He played for Lou Whiteson and his Southern Serenaders and undertook most of the arrangements for that ensemble from the 60s onwards. In 1983, Gordon Langford directed his own sextet in the ‘revival’ of Music While You Work.

He was a long-standing member of the Light Music Society, attending many of their monthly London meetings during the 60s.

I had the good fortune to meet Gordon twice. The first time was sometime in the late 60s / early 70s, when at a private party held at a house in North London, he, along with a couple of friends, formed animpromptu trio and had all the guests enthralled with his piano playing. As a jazz performer, he was very much in the Dudley Moore mould, and was absolutely brilliant at ‘quoting’, i.e weaving fragments of totally different tunes into the piece upon which he was doing the jazz improvisations.

The second occasion was at a luncheon of the ‘Coda Club’, when Bob Farnon was honoured with an award for his services to music and a number of members of Robert Farnon Society were invited along to cheer-on the ‘Guv’nor’ . I found myself sitting next to Gordon and reminded him of that party all those years previously. He was affable, courteous, a real gentleman and very modest about his own achievements. It was a real pleasure to have re- made his acquaintance.

He had by then moved from London to East Devon, where he very much enjoyed being involved with the preserved Seaton Tramway. During the last few years, failing health precluded his hitherto  regular forays back to the capital. In 2011, Gordon Langford was nominated for a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Music (FRAM) by the Governing Body of the Academy.

© Tony Clayden
April 2017

 

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25 Apr

Always Busy

Written by

(Tony Tamburello)
Analysed by Robert Walton

When Tony Tamburello died in 1992 at the age of 72, a brief obituary in the New York Times described him as a jazz pianist and vocal coach of the famous. His pupils included Tony Bennett (whom he once managed), Judy Garland, Juliet Prowse, Jerry Vale and Tommy Leonetti. The story goes he had a van permanently parked in a New York street for the purpose of teaching. The only recorded evidence I have that he played piano, was on a 10” LP of selections from Oklahoma and South Pacific by the Tony Burrello Trio, spelt you’ll notice with two r’s. When questioned about the identity of the pianist he immediately denied it. But his real love was composing, especially of the lighter kind but like songwriters Vivian Ellis and Jack Stachey who often strayed into the world of light music he couldn’t orchestrate, so it was necessary to seek the services of an arranger.

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ALWAYS BUSY
(Tony Tamburello)
Analysed by Robert Walton

When Tony Tamburello died in 1992 at the age of 72, a brief obituary in the New York Times described him as a jazz pianist and vocal coach of the famous. His pupils included Tony Bennett (whom he once managed), Judy Garland, Juliet Prowse, Jerry Vale and Tommy Leonetti. The story goes he had a van permanently parked in a New York street for the purpose of teaching. The only recorded evidence I have that he played piano, was on a 10” LP of selections from Oklahoma and South Pacific by the Tony Burrello Trio, spelt you’ll notice with two r’s. When questioned about the identity of the pianist he immediately denied it. But his real love was composing, especially of the lighter kind but like songwriters Vivian Ellis and Jack Stachey who often strayed into the world of light music he couldn’t orchestrate, so it was necessary to seek the services of an arranger.

I only met him once but what a get together that proved to be. It was in London and I was showing him a few of my songs for Tony Bennett. It wasn’t long before the subject of light music came up, and just a mention of a certain Canadian soon revealed Tamburello was Farnon crazy. But when I casually threw in the title Melody Fair to get his reaction, Tony said “Now you’re talking, it might be only two and a half minutes but that’s my favourite piece of music of all time!” Clearly Farnon was his God! I had never met anyone who was quite so besotted.

There’s no doubt that ‘busy’ music if played well can be very exciting especially if it’s imaginatively arranged. Bach was one of the first composers to test musicians’ technique to the limit with lots of quick notes and if it came off the result could be thrilling.

In the field of light orchestral music the effect can be just as exciting. In the mid-1940s one of the first such British successes to appeal to the public was RunawayRocking Horse. Sidney Torch’s Shooting Star was another classic proactive piece. If you want to experience an exceptional roller coaster of a ride in a classical vein, have a listen to the opening bars of Glinka’s overture to Ruslan andLyudmila then you’ll understand what exceeding the speed limit means!

However when it comes to Tony Tamburello’s Always Busy it’s comparatively relaxed, not too fast but a very listenable composition. That’s because it has a good tune unlike many soundalikes of the period that were just thrown together with corny backings.

The flute is basically in charge of the introduction with a touch of the Scotch Snap - a rhythmic device in which a dotted note is preceded by a note of shorter value. And then it’s all systems go as this exciting string exercise gets underway, reminding us of the work ethic or someone who simply can’t relax. It’s a beautifully logical tune that you might find yourself humming. As soon as it’s finished we’re into Angela Morley country with a lovely contrasting jazz-influenced bridge, a sort of staycation for strings. And talking of string breaks, the David Rose influence is loud and clear. Right on cue the energetic strings return with another vigorous rendition.

What follows is an expansion of the previous ‘Morley’ section starting with the flute and then strings. Before leading back to the intro, the sound of another intro, that of RadioRomantic takes us back to AlwaysBusy for what effectively is a repeat from the top. More bustling strings of which I honestly can’t get enough. Then more ‘Morley’ but in elegant waltz time before the lively strings complete the workout. Radio Romantic is brought back to finish the job with the woodwind having the last staccato say.

Always Busy is a good example of a musical ‘baton’ being passed down from one composer to another. Robert Farnon gave it to Angela Morley while she handed it on to Tony Tamburello. Whatever Tony wrote was always of a very high standard indicating a real understanding of this unique genre with its refreshingly modern tunes, harmonies and implied decoration. I’m only guessing but I suspect the arrangement was by Bruce Campbell. I’m already looking forward to analysing more Tamburello, so watch this space.

Always Busy is played by The Telecast Orchestra on a Chappell 78rpm disc C598.

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24 Apr

Gordon Langford dies aged 86

Written by Super User

Gordon Langford, who has died aged 86, was an English composer, arranger and performer. He is well known for his brass band compositions and arrangements. He was also a composer of orchestral music, winning an Ivor Novello award for best light music composition for his March from the Colour Suite in 1971.

Langford's career had a notable relationship with the BBC. Some of his compositions and arrangements were used as Test Card music in the 1960s and '70s, with such titles as Hebridean Hoedown, The Lark in the Clear Air and Royal Daffodil being remembered by Test Card aficionados. He also wrote and arranged music for Friday Night is Music Night, as well as numerous other BBC programmes.

A fuller obituary will appear on this website in due course.

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23 Apr

Heinz Herschmann passed away in 2014

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It has only  just come to my attention that the composer and pianist  Heinz Herschmann sadly passed away, aged ninety, in September 2014.

Heinz had been a regular attendee at meetings of the Robert Farnon Society for many years, and signified his support for the London Light Music Meetings Group when the latter was formed earlier that year.

Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1924, he fled from the Nazis just before WW2, arriving in England on the Kindertransport. I am preparing a full tribute to Heinz which will appear on the website in due course.

Tony Clayden

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22 Apr

Dance of the Blue Marionettes

Written by

(Leslie Clair)
Analysed by Robert Walton

After constantly analysing a great deal of light music in all its diverse forms, it’s always nice to return to the comfort zone of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, rummaging through its archives for more marvels I may have missed.

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(Leslie Clair)
Analysed by Robert Walton

After constantly analysing a great deal of light music in all its diverse forms, it’s always nice to return to the comfort zone of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, rummaging through its archives for more marvels I may have missed. Such is its worldwide reputation, it’s one orchestra always guaranteed to give a perfect performance with state of the art compositions. One such classic is Dance of the Blue Marionettes written by Leslie Clair. His real name was Leslie Judah Solley (1905-1968) who was at one time an MP for the Thurrock constituency of Essex.

Cinema organist Sidney Torch recorded an old-fashioned syncopated version of Dance of the Blue Marionettes in 1933. Fourteen years later in 1947, Torch having reinvented himself as a light orchestral composer, again had a part to play, albeit a smaller one as conductor of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. You would have thought Torch was in the ideal position to score it himself but it was not to be. Instead, one of the best backroom boys in the business, Len Stevens, fulfilled that role creating a brilliant makeover of Dance of the Blue Marionettes. In a slower tempo than the original, he gave it the wash and brush up it badly needed. Composer Clair couldn’t have dreamt of the result. Ironically it sounded very much like a Torch arrangement full of invention, crispness and wit. So with that in mind let’s dissect it and investigate the anatomy of a marionette.

Pizzicato strings, flute and muted brass set the scene in an unusually long introduction (12 bars) including a particularly skilful section just before the start. The composition promises to be a great little workout for all concerned. The opening of Dance of the Blue Marionettes is identical to the first two bars of Music, Music, Music, but there the resemblance ends. We continue with that toe-tapping tune completely comfortable and contented in its new clothes. In bar 9 to avoid monotony that same tune is heard in a new key. Then sensitive strings come into their own with 8 bars of gorgeous sweeping brushstrokes acting as an excellent contrast. So back to the familiar strain low lighted with a bass line of sustained strings.

Warm woodwind repeat the strokes in closer harmony but the strings can’t resist the chance to show how it’s really done. The whole thing is then repeated (except the warm woodwind) until we finally reach an imaginative fun-filled coda and Dance of the Blue Marionettes comes to a carefree close.

I can’t think of a better example of a 1930’s tune being transformed so deftly into the 1940s when light music truly came of age and sounding quite at home in its new surroundings. This was an undoubted triumph for boffin Stevens!

Dance of the Blue Marionettes can be heard on “Childhood Memories” on Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5125).

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11 Apr

Overtures, Preludes & Intermezzi

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RICCARDO CHAILLY / FILARMONICA DELLA SCALA
Overtures, Preludes & Intermezzi

Decca 483 1148

The 64-year-old Milanese maestro – I once had the pleasure of seeing him conduct live – has been a Decca recording artist for almost 40 years and achieved over three million album sales, including much acclaimed box sets of Brahms and Beethoven symphonies*.

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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.