30 May

CD Review – Favourite Orchestral Classics

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CD REVIEW   Favourite Orchestral Classics html ddf5f0d58eb1805bPhilharmonic Concert Orchestra / Iain Sutherland
SOMM ARIADNE 5012 [78’25”]

My review of the last album by these artistes* finished with "… let us hope that Iain might have some more similar tapes in his archive", and here we are: 19 tracks recorded in Munich (June 1988) and Hanover (December 1992). Few conductors are as accomplished as the veteran Scot in the lighter orchestral music on this release.

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21 May

CD Review – French Duets

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CD REVIEW   French DuetsPaul Lewis / Steven Osborne
Hyperion CDA68329 [68’28]

This is a critically acclaimed album of five impeccably played pieces by a pair of princes of the piano. They are long-playing duo partners: Paul Lewis (born 1972) is from Liverpool and a recipient of a CBE for services to music, and Steven Osborne (born 1971) is Scottish and a celebrated performer of Gallic music with 29 Hyperion releases in 21 years to his credit.

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19 May

Sarah Vaughan

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By Robert Walton

It may seem obvious but the best test for a voice, first and foremost, is the sound it produces. Nothing else. If you love the resonance a vocalist can produce, a load of gobbledygook will tell you more about the artist than all the phrasing and lyrics a wordsmith can conjure up.

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Sarah Vaughan
By Robert Walton

It may seem obvious but the best test for a voice, first and foremost, is the sound it produces. Nothing else. If you love the resonance a vocalist can produce, a load of gobbledygook will tell you more about the artist than all the phrasing and lyrics a wordsmith can conjure up.

In the case of Sarah Vaughan just imagine a thorough free range wallow on the instrument she was born with (Newark, New Jersey 1924) and you have the nearest thing to an opera singer in jazz. To an outsider her basic style, like Frank Sinatra’s, might be misinterpreted as overdoing the sentimental bit, like suffering. The older generation totally rejected that 1940s tendency of sounding miserable. This might have been slight exaggeration but there’s an element of truth in it. Of course “anything goes” is the byword when studying a voice of Vaughan’s calibre. The possibilities are endless. Scales, arpeggios, ducking and diving, improvising, in fact everything. And Vaughan who was more than capable of exercising the vocal chords just like a trapeze artist took risks, never missing a trick.

And talking of her own personal technology like Italian singers and the general public of that country, she ends words, especially the high long ones, with a clear cut-off point echoing the sheer power generated just to get the note airborne. She may have been a mistress of jazz but she sang some of the old fashioned ballads like a trooper. Because, one of my Lanza favourites, is given a fabulous treatment and has the listener guessing, will she go for the final high note? She does and it comes off magnificently. And keeping us aware of Climate Change, Oscar Rasbach’s ballad Trees showing off her contralto ability is the best female version I know. I only wish she had tried some Puccini. On the other hand she could swing like mad and her pitch was absolutely perfect. Wrap your Troubles in Dreams is an excellent example of relaxed swing with a Dave Pell-like small group. A good up-tempo standard with a conventional big band is This Can’t be Love. She really was the complete all rounder. I don’t think even the great Jo Stafford had the richness and control.

And while we’re on the subject of Stafford, her duets with Gordon MacRae are legendary and noted for their soft-hued matching. Sarah Vaughan’s partner was Billy Eckstine who again blended perfectly with her.

When she was 7, Sarah Lois began having piano and organ lessons useful for the local church, but she soon realized singing was her major passion. Her big break came in a 1942 amateur talent contest at the Apollo Theatre with the prize of a week’s employment on the bill with none other than Ella Fitzgerald. For a jazz singer this was the ultimate dream. Earl Hines saw her, hired her and suddenly she was singing with Charlie Parker, Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie which brought her to bebop.

In her heyday she regularly topped all the jazz charts like Downbeat Magazine and was generally considered the best in her field. Consequently she was imitated by many other vocalists, but very few equaled her. Just to hear that unique vibrato was one of life’s musical treats.

So far in this article, Vaughan’s tracks have been taken from an EMI Music for Pleasure album titled “20 Jazz Classics” MFP 6160. But there is still one aspect of her singing we haven’t yet tackled......sensitivity. There really is only one album in her repertoire, which concentrates on that aspect. That’s the 12 track LP she made with Robert Farnon and the Svend Saaby Danish Choir in Copenhagen in 1963, “Vaughan with Voices”. (Mercury 20014 MCL) The way she warmed to Farnon’s beautiful arrangements is now history. One of them happened to be the arranger’s own composition How Beautiful is Night. Vaughan, Farnon and the Choir merged in a perfect threesome giving the tune a definitive outing never again achieved on disc.

So effectively two famous ladies were in town at the same time. The first, the permanent fixture of “The Little Mermaid” bronze statue displayed nearby on a rock by the Copenhagen waterside, and a visiting giant of jazz, coloratura soprano Sarah Vaughan.

Proving yet again Sarah Vaughan could easily switch from one genre to another, her finest recording was the unlikely light orchestral composition Serenata by Leroy Anderson. In the key of F, listen to the lovely chord of Fmaj 9 sung each time on the word “stand”. Only “The Divine One” could capture it quite so dramatically. Crossover artist extraordinaire!

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09 May

CD Review – Dutilleux

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Le Loup
Sinfonia of London | John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5263 [56’23”]

On setting out to review this release I thought it might only be of interest to those who are admirers of John Wilson and his magnificent orchestra. Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013), although I recognised the name, his music was completely unfamiliar to me. It is a small body of work including ballet, two symphonies, chamber, incidental and film music (this last qualifying him for inclusion here).

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01 May

Isle Of Innisfree

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(Richard Farrelly)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Most folk songs are the work of unknown composers or instrumentalists but because they are part of our ancient heritage many names which existed are now long forgotten.

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Isle Of Innisfree
(Richard Farrelly)
Analysed by Robert Walton

Most folk songs are the work of unknown composers or instrumentalists but because they are part of our ancient heritage many names which existed are now long forgotten. Perhaps its got something to do with having been passed on orally from generation to generation unaccompanied. They originally had a rural background before reaching towns and cities via a ‘musical’ landline.

Occasionally along comes a new song which has all the qualities of the real McCoy. Inspired by Yeats’ poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree, Richard Farrelly wrote the words and music of a beautifully spiritual song called The Isle of Innisfree which even though it was 1950, automatically entered the hallowed halls of the folk-song world. If ever a song deserved such an upgrade it was The Isle of Innisfree. The director of “The Quiet Man” John Ford liked it so much he included it in the opening of the film, but unbelievably neglected to mention Farrelly by name on the screen credits. At least Victor Young redressed the situation with a brilliant orchestration for the soundtrack as well as arranging Bing Crosby’s independent recording. That certainly helped with the advertising! I’m sure the ghost-like Londonderry Air hovered somewhere in the ether as Farrelly skillfully sculptured his little piece of pure magic. He got the idea for The Isle of Innisfree on a bus journey from his native Kells, County Meath to Dublin where he was a policeman.

Let’s take a closer look at the music and find out what makes this song so special. It’s important to note that never before have words and music gelled together quite so tightly. Farrelly had hit upon the perfect match. Essentially it’s a simple song in G, but the harmony has elements of ‘frozen’ dissonance at times like White Christmas. In the third bar on the first part of the word “dream(er”) there’s a momentary clash of F sharp against C but in reality the F sharp is only a passing melodic note leading on to the “er” of “dream”. The repetitive 4 quaver notation might weaken some songs, but in the case of The Isle of Innisfree was absolutely vital. Have you noticed the ditty has a very small range? It never leaves the treble clef. No big leaps to create a climax. It just doesn’t need it. One of the most natural songs ever composed, as if it wrote itself. It was ideal for Vera Lynn who recorded it, because her range was limited to an octave.

Irish songwriter, policeman and poet Richard Farrelly wrote over 200 songs and poems. No composer/lyricist (serious or light) ever came up with such a sublime song of hymnal simplicity and the irresistible call of home. Genius!

Robert Walton

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23 Apr

Albrecht Mayer: Mozart - Works For Oboe And Orchestra

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The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Vital Julian Frey
DGG 483 8232 (82’00”)

From the master of melody comes this release featuring the long-serving principal/joint principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic.

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17 Apr

Gershwinicity

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Art Deco Trio
SOMMECD 0631 (71’00’)

This is an entertaining release of 19 songs by the foremost ‘cross-over’ composer, the great George Gershwin, arranged for clarinet, saxophone and piano, which (to quote the well-informed booklet notes) “combine jazz influences with the structures and textures of classical music”, and well worth investigating by light music lovers.

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07 Apr

Festmusik : A Legacy

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Onyx Brass ǀ John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5284 (67’25”)

If you are a brass enthusiast, you will enjoy this latest release from a brilliant ensemble; if you are interested in chamber music – admittedly less likely – it will appeal to you; and if you are both of the above and also among the many admirers of John Wilson, who conducts on the three longest tracks (32’48”), then acquiring this is a no-brainer.

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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.