Dateline: September 2002
Another Landmark Robert Farnon CD from Vocalion - released Autumn 2002
"The Wide World of Robert Farnon"
1 THE WIDE WORLD 2 OLYMPIAN MARCH Michael Hankinson and his Orchestra 3 RHAPSODY FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA Robert Farnon and his Orchestra Steven Staryk - violin soloist 4 SCENIC WONDERS Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner 5 I SAW MY LADY WEEP Robert Farnon and his Orchestra 6 SWALLOW FLIGHT 7 LAKE LOUISE 8 THE MAGIC ISLAND Paul Zaza and his Orchestra 9 CASCADES TO THE SEA – CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Farnon Peter Breiner - piano soloist 10 HOW BEAUTIFUL IS NIGHT Robert Farnon and his Orchestra 11 CRUISE WORLD Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Farnon 12 HOLLYWOOD STARS Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner 13 SPORTS ARENA 14 HOCKEY NIGHT Stateside Marching Band conducted by Charles Yates
All compositions by Robert Farnon
While still in his teens, back home in Canada, Robert Farnon had a yearning to compose classical music. He recently said: "At that time I thought of nothing else but writing serious music. And my teacher encouraged me to just start and see what would happen. I had a lot of ideas in my head, from which my Symphony No. 1 in D Flat Major was born. I wrote it during two summer holidays: one, in 1939, in northern Ontario, and the following summer out in Vancouver on Grouse Mountain. When I finished the score, I presented it to Sir Ernest MacMillan to get his opinion of it. He liked it very much, and decided to perform it with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra."
MacMillan conducted the first performance in January 1941, and it soon came to the attention of Eugene Ormandy who introduced it to American audiences with his famous Philadelphia Orchestra during a week of concerts in April 1942.
Elated by the reception to his first symphony, Farnon composed a second – in B Major (the ‘Ottawa Symphony’) – which was also conducted by MacMillan in a CBC broadcast.
This promising career was cut short when World War 2 intervened, and Captain Robert Farnon was posted to Britain with his Canadian Army Band. Serious music had to be forgotten, at least temporarily. The troops wanted popular music, and Bob and his musicians duly obliged.
Over the years admirers of Farnon’s more serious works have yearned to hear these symphonies, but the Maestro has always politely resisted all attempts to persuade him to release them for further public performances. True there are problems with missing scores (some of Farnon’s works were lost at sea en route from Canada to Britain during the war), but Farnon admits that the main reason is that he doesn’t consider that they had sufficient merit. In practice, these works have not been completely ‘lost’, because several of the themes have appeared in later compositions.
Fortunately Farnon’s army service proved to be not the end of his musical aspirations, but the launch of his multi-talented career on to an international stage. His talent for composing light orchestral cameos resulted in hundreds of delightful works for Chappells, and proved to be the basis of his successful career for decades.
Now in his mid-eighties, Robert Farnon is still composing and arranging from the serenity of his home on the beautiful Channel Island of Guernsey. Today he tends to concentrate more on delicate tone poems, rather than the bright, bouncy numbers which established his fame over half a century ago. Whatever he chooses to write, he knows that a loyal army of admirers across the world is waiting to marvel at the rich orchestrations which have become his trademark.
Many of the recordings on this CD are being released commercially for the first time. Composed in 1983, the opening number The Wide World presents the traditional rich sound of a Farnon composition extolling the virtues of nature in its finest form. Many of his works have a scenic feel, no doubt influenced by his upbringing in Canada.
Olympian March was written for a British Press Association Centenary Concert in June 1983, where it was performed by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band conducted by Ray Parr; this version, for full orchestra, was scored at the request of Farnon’s publishers. Concert marches are another of Farnon’s specialities, and his catchy themes have enlivened many reports of sporting events in television and cinema newsreels.
There are two major works in this collection, revealing the more serious side of Farnon’s composing aspirations. In 1958 the BBC commissioned him to write a new work for its annual Light Music Festival, and he chose to compose a Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra, being a showpiece for the famous violinist Raymond Cohen, for many years the leader of the Robert Farnon Orchestra. Initially the work was heard in a shorter form, but soon afterwards Farnon expanded it to its present length, and its premiere recording (with Raymond Cohen) was made in September 1959 at Walthamstow Town Hall. The work soon attracted the attention of other violinists, notably the Canadian Steven Staryk, heard on this CD. Once again Walthamstow Town Hall was the choice of venue (its ideal acoustics were much favoured by record companies at the time) and the session took place just over a year later, on 3 December 1960. Comparisons between the Cohen and Staryk versions are fascinating: as the first performer of the work, Cohen’s interpretation was regarded as definitive, but the speed at which Staryk handles some of the solo passages (particularly the scherzando section) left many listeners gasping in admiration.
Born in Toronto in 1932, Staryk first came to prominence aged only 24 when chosen by Sir Thomas Beecham as concertmaster and soloist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. After three successful years he resigned to take up a similar position with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, and as Professor at the Amsterdam Conservatorium. Later he moved to the Chicago and Toronto symphonies. His career as a leading international artist was probably hampered by his aversion to publicity, and his air of detachment on stage. Injuries forced him to retire from active playing in 1986, and for the next decade he taught at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Comparing the two interpretations of his work, Robert Farnon recalls how the technical brilliance of Steven Staryk contrasted with the romantic feel of Cohen’s interpretation; he regards both performances as being equally valid.
Steven Staryk’s version of Farnon’s Rhapsody was previously only available on LPs with limited distribution, so this is the first opportunity for many music lovers to hear this virtuoso performance.
Scenic Wonders was composed and recorded in 1999. As the title aptly suggests, it gives Farnon the opportunity to indulge his passion for the spectacular beauty of his homeland.
I Saw My Lady Weep was originally called Blue Moment, but a change of title was considered desirable for this April 1966 recording.
Canada is again the inspiration for the next three works – Swallow Flight, Lake Louiseand The Magic Island, which were commissioned in 1984 for a selection of works with a summery, outdoor feel.
The second important work on this CD is Farnon’s latest major composition. This is the premiere commercial release of Cascades To The Sea – Tone Poem For Piano And Orchestra, with Peter Breiner as solo pianist. Robert Farnon’s son David is conducting the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra in this recording made in March 1998. The work was commissioned in October 1997 by Mrs. Donna Grescoe Dojack in celebration of the 80th birthday of her husband, Charles E. Dojack. A short poem on the title page of the score reads: "Music is like painting in Sound. You take it into your inner heart and never lose it. It is eternally mysterious. Anon. "
In the early 1940s Robert Farnon wrote another work which he also called Cascades To The Sea. Although it was performed during the war, he felt that he never fully completed it, and he only retained the middle theme which he eventually developed into In a Calm. The two ‘Cascades’ – composed more than half a century apart - bear little resemblance to each other.
This new work is outlined in Farnon’s own programme note: "A descriptive composition in one movement for piano and orchestra, the music commences at the source of a mountain stream which wends its way, increasing in volume and speed, to the brink of a waterfall, descending to the river below and joining its path of adventure through the beauties of countryside, the excitement of rapids, the fluvial activities of a delta, eventually reaching the grandeur of the open sea where it meets a receding tide and joins the flow to the calm of a distant horizon."
Commenting upon the actual task of composing Cascades, Farnon said that the work flowed naturally, and was virtually completed by Christmas 1997. "It was as if it was something I had been waiting to compose all my life."
The piano soloist, Peter Breiner, was born in 1957 in Humenne, now part of Slovakia. His involvement in a wide variety of musical styles finds him recording jazz and pop, as well as symphonic music; he writes for films, is a musical journalist and also hosts television programmes. Since March 1992 he has been based in Toronto, and he travels the world conducting and playing the piano.
At the same April 1966 session for I Saw My Lady Weep, Farnon decided to record again How Beautiful Is Night, since his original version was in mono. This has become one of his most popular tone poems, made recognisable worldwide thanks to recordings by Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett and George Shearing. The inspiration was a poem of the same name by Robert Southey.
Two recent works illustrate Farnon’s penchant for full-blown glamorous numbers: Cruise World (1998) and Hollywood Stars (1999) remind us that this is the same composer who gave us Journey Into Melody and A Star Is Born.
The mood changes for the final two numbers in this collection. Marching bands are a popular feature at many sporting and outdoor events in North America, and it was almost inevitable that Robert Farnon would be persuaded to score something for this musical phenomenon that attracts so many amateur enthusiasts. Sports Arena was actually written as the signature tune for a TVS television series in 1983, but Hockey Night is purely a tribute to a game which still enjoys strong support across the Atlantic – both on grass and ice. The six main notes of the melody are based on the famous ‘charge’ theme which is always used in ice hockey games in North America, usually played live in the arena by a resident electric organist.
Although his work can be readily identified by his many admirers, Robert Farnon is far from a typical composer. He loves both jazz and the classics, and has worked with opera singers and top popular crooners. Jumping Bean is vastly different from Gateway To The West; it is hard to believe that the composer of the theme music for Colditz was also responsible for Peanut Polka. Such diversity, and mastery of so many varied styles of music, is represented in this latest collection of Farnon’s composing skills. It makes a truly valuable, and essential, addition to the existing vast repertoire of his recorded works.