15 Jan

Radio 2 axes The Organist Entertains and Listen to the Band after 50 years

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Radio 2 has axed its long-running shows playing organ and brass band music and given new slots to Jo Whiley and Cerys Matthews in a generational shift at Britain’s most listened-to station. The Organist Entertains, which has been on the network for 50 years, is being "rested" with veteran presenter Nigel Ogden retiring. Theatre organist Ogden, 63, has introduced recordings and live broadcasts of pipe and electronic organs, since 1980.

Nigel says: "I'd like to thank my ever loyal audience for their support and messages during the 38 years I've hosted The Organist Entertains. I've loved hearing from them and send them my very best wishes for the future. I’d also like to thank Radio 2 for giving me the opportunity to play the music I love each week - it has been a huge privilege."

Radio 2 has also axed Listen to the Band, its weekly showcase for brass band and military music, presented by 78 year-old conductor Frank Renton. The programme has existed in various forms on the BBC since the Second World War.

The yearly Young Brass Award will remain as a Friday Night Is Music Night special in April; whilst brass and organ music will be included in Friday Night is Music Nightweekly programmes throughout the year. Brass will continue to be heavily featured on a weekly basis in Clare Teal’s Sunday night show, which celebrates big band music.

Frank says: "My 23 years presenting Listen To The Band have been hugely enjoyable, especially playing so much of the music that I love. It has also been an absolute pleasure being part of the Radio 2 family, and I want to thank all those who have listened or contributed to the programme over the years. Of course the next thing on the agenda is the continued celebration of the talent of young British brass players when Ken Bruce and I present the final of the BBC Radio 2 Young Brass Award in April."

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10 Jan

Grieg: Piano Concert ● ‘Peer Gynt’

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Lise Davidsen, Ann-Helen Moen, Victoria Nava (sopranos), Johannes Weisser (baritone), Håkon Høgerno (Hardanger fiddle). Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Choirs, cond. Edward Gardner Chandos CHSA 5190 (83’12)

This is the real deal.

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10 Jan

Percy Grainger -- Complete Music for Wind Band 1

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Royal Norwegian Navy Band
conducted by Bjarte Engeset.
Naxos 8.573679

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17 Dec

Cab Rank (van der Linden)

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Symphonia Orchestra conducted by Ludo Philipp

For some reason the music of Dolf van der Linden has largely passed me by, probably for the simple fact there wasn’t a lot of it about in my early years in New Zealand. I had to wait to come to England to discover it. Scottish comedian James Finlayson in Laurel and Hardy films unknowingly gave van der Linden a free plug every time his expression of surprise proclaimed “Dolf!”

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Symphonia Orchestra conducted by
Ludo Philipp

For some reason the music of Dolf van der Linden has largely passed me by, probably for the simple fact there wasn’t a lot of it about in my early years in New Zealand. I had to wait to come to England to discover it. Scottish comedian James Finlayson in Laurel and Hardy films unknowingly gave van der Linden a free plug every time his expression of surprise proclaimed “Dolf!”

Another musician I didn’t have a clue about was conductor Ludo Philipp. You won’t believe this, but he lived below me in his Kensington apartment for twenty-five years and in all that time I never met him. He probably had no idea I was working in the same business. I assumed he was Polish because after WW2 many of his countrymen settled in London.

From the very outset there’s no doubt that Cab Rank showed the composer must have been a Farnon fan, because Jumping Bean’s cheeky augmented 4th gets two quotes. In fact this jazz-influenced interval was a turning point in light music, inspiring many a Farnon piece. Oddly enough I can’t think of many other composers blatantly using it. Cab Rank from 1957 is an excellent example of a light orchestral piece in 1940s style. Also there’s something of Clive Richardson and Len Stevens about it. This jolly tune bounces along describing an obviously busy taxi rank. After the first 16 bars the strings go into a relaxed lyrical mode reminding one of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. After a little connecting passage, we’re back with the lively opening.

And then we go into the bridge with a strong unison string sound repeated in harmony with added brass. Before we return to the middle section proper, a bright and breezy fill-in section (a bridge within a bridge) with lots of triplets keeping things moving.

From the top again it’s that famous Farnon trademark making two more appearances and another chance to hear the delightful opening with its smooth expressive string sound (very innovative for the 1940s). It’s a pity the end itself wasn’t a tad more extended.

Cab Rank from “Melody Mixture”
Guild Light Music (GLCD 5197)

by Robert Walton

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05 Dec

Cocktails for Two

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(Johnston, Coslow)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

The period of the early 1950s when Decca recorded a series of LPs by Robert Farnon’s Orchestra playing some of the top standards of the “Great American Songbook” is now considered more than ever in the 21st century a genuine Golden Era of arranging.

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(Johnston, Coslow)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

The period of the early 1950s when Decca recorded a series of LPs by Robert Farnon’s Orchestra playing some of the top standards of the “Great American Songbook” is now considered more than ever in the 21st century a genuine Golden Era of arranging. Paul Weston was the first to make mood music albums but Farnon took it to another level. Music lovers and professionals alike were astounded by Farnon’s total originality when he borrowed freely from his own compositional idiom, as well as creating something completely unique. But it was much more than that. It was as if he had been waiting for the right moment to introduce his style to an unsuspecting world. Everyone else’s arrangements suddenly seemed sort of average. His gift for giving these songs a new freshness and feeling transformed them into undeniable masterpieces.

I first heard Cocktails for Two in 1946 sent up by Spike Jones and his City Slickers with vocalist Carl Grayson, although it was introduced by another Carl, Carl Brisson in the 1934 film “Murder at the Vanities”. It was also part of the repertoire of cocktail pianist Carmen Cavallaro. Like Carmen I have always preferred the tune in a Latin American tempo. However the original dotted rhythm as in the sheet music sounds perfectly fine in Farnon’s foxtrot arrangement.

So come with me to revisit an old friend, or if you’ve never heard it, allow me to be your guide while we explore the wonders and unexpected pleasures of a Farnon score. It may not be the greatest standard but after Farnon has worked on it, Cocktails for Two was converted into something really special. Duke Ellington tried to give it a face-lift as Ebony Rhapsody but the best he could manage was a jazzed-up version of Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody.

The introduction of Cocktails for Two is a gem of an orchestral flight of Farnon fancy inspired by squeezing every ounce of emotion out of the melody and leading to a beautiful climax. In just a few short bars we have been transported to another world. Did you hear the tiniest touch of a violin before entering “some secluded rendezvous?” The flute first takes up the actual tune with excellent support from the orchestra and rhythm guitar. Then the oboe solos for four bars before handing back to the flute. The first 16 bars are surprisingly straight; always a sign that Farnon has something up his sleeve but is not prepared to give up its secrets just yet.

Still comparatively straight, the bridge is occupied by a tight, lightly swinging, close harmony muted brass choir with unison lower strings and celeste. When the tune resumes, the oboe is brought in again and for the first time something stirred in the Farnon universe. Underneath, the clarinet plays a slightly discordant series of notes but even more daring is the next chord change, B flat 9,11+ (actual notes B flat, A flat, C and E). He always knows just how far he can go in “clever clever” land.

Time for a second swell. The orchestra expands its horizons into some lovely key changes with a gorgeous surge of string power terminating in a flutter of woodwind. Returning to the middle eight, this time it’s the woodwind in block harmony supported by a string descant climbing into harmonics territory. Lazy lush strings in harmony take over the tune and in a more subservient role the oboe chatters away.

Quite suddenly you get the feeling that the end is nigh as the strings begin to slow down for the woodwind who recall the opening melodic phrase. And adding icing to the cake, a tender violin repeats the same set of notes.

Cocktails for Two from
“Two Cigarettes in the Dark”
Vocalion (CDLK 4112)

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30 Nov

André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra Amore

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The charismatic Dutchman and his beloved orchestra founded 30 years ago are nowadays the nearest we get to new recordings of “our kind of music”...

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25 Nov

Bramwell Tovey new Principal Conductor BBC Concert Orchestra

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The BBC Concert Orchestra has just appointed Bramwell Tovey as its new Principal Conductor.

This is very encouraging news as he has an established reputation for his performances of Gilbert & Sullivan.

His Friday Night Is Music Night debut next week (already "in the can") includes G & S songs plus selections from the works of Franz Lehar and Richard Heuberger, sung by the excellent Ailish Tynan and Simon Betteris.

The show is entitled "Winter Wonderland" so also takes in Rimsky Korsakov's "The Snow Maiden", Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker", Waldteufel's "Skaters Waltz" and Maurice Jarre's "Doctor Zhivago". Should be a delightful programme, in the old FNIMN style, and presented by Ken Bruce.

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21 Nov

In Dulce Jubilo - London Brass

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Warner Classics 9029577021 (57.42)

Reviewed by Peter Burt

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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.