Orchestrated by Ravel
Analysed by Robert Walton
If ever there was a musical composition that captures a perfect moment of ecstasy, it just has to be Debussy’s Tarantelle Styrienne, but you’ve got to be quick. Blink and you might miss it! It gives a whole new meaning to the so-called excitable state. And if it hadn’t been for Ravel’s brilliant 1923 arrangement we might have never heard it. It was originally an early Debussy piano piece written in 1890 while at the Paris Conservatory. He was hoping to capitalize on the French love of the exotic, but rarely gets a mention in any books about his piano works. At the time, Debussy was having difficulty putting food on the table so there was some urgency about it. We owe everything to Ravel for drawing it to our attention and indeed bringing it to life. Well, that’s not quite true. We must thank the publisher Jobert for his suggestion to get it orchestrated.
There is no evidence that Debussy had either been to the province of Styria, in the south east of Austria or heard any music from there. As far as we know he simply borrowed the rhythm from the Italian tarantella and moved it, musically speaking, lock stock and barrel to Austria. Having said that, it’s not far from the Italian border. Vienna might be the home of the popular waltz but we are treated to a typical Neapolitan dance in 6/8 time, effectively a fast waltz. So if you haven’t already heard it, prepare yourself for one of the most amazing experiences you’re ever likely to encounter, albeit briefly.
Right at the outset I had better warn you not to expect too much in the transports of delight department. Ravel’s economic scoring is one thing but any ecstatic outburst is usually brief as in real life, and beautifully reflected in TarantelleStyrienne. In fact there are only two moments in the whole piece when the orchestra really takes off - shortly after the start and near the end.
A French horn opens up this exciting dance movement but you have to wait another 40 seconds before the strings come into their own with the first glorious 10 second outburst of pure joy. At that point one feels it could have been developed into a more complete melody. However, if any piece produces the feel-good factor then this is it - more the feel-fantastic factor. I briefly go into a sort of trance, accompanied by a rush of adrenalin with the biggest smile on my face. It’s almost as if I have been given a glimpse of the meaning of life or the secret of the universe. This pentatonic-type tune (black notes of the piano) owes much to the Scottish and Irish song style. Could this be the first of the rousing themes heard in Hollywood westerns in embryo? Perhaps it’s an early form of The Big Country by Jerome Moross or the orchestral impression Canadian Caravan by Robert Farnon. Anyway, food for thought as we eagerly await the final appearance of another fleeting moment of exhilaration.
So while we’re waiting, let’s examine what master musician Maurice has in store for us. Firstly there’s never a dull moment with an exquisite Ravel orchestration. His ability to mix and match the strings, woodwind, brass and percussion are legendary. With Debussy providing the groundwork, Ravel breathes new life into the original piano score. It’s a moving strict tempo kaleidoscope of orchestral colour with ever changing textures of light and shade. So it’s never boring but always building up to the next climax. When the brass plays, the by now famous short radiant tune, it hasn’t got anything like the impact of the string passage, so it’s back to the ‘wild’ waltz for some more gorgeous highs and lows. We are so mesmerized by the oboe that the rhythm seems to have disappeared. That might be the impression given, but the subtle fiery dance continues unabated. Gradually we become aware of this extremely successful exercise in the merging of two great musical minds. And all the while the music is working up to a final frenzied state, generating all that energy in just a few bars. As Count Basie would say: “One more time!”
After a distinct pause, stand by for your very last chance to wallow in what must be one of the shortest and most thrilling string phrases in all music.
One of the best versions ofTarantelle Styrienne is by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Simon on Cala (CACD 1002).
On Google, the orchestral version is conducted by Alessandro Crudele, but if you want to hear the original Debussy piano piece you can follow the music as Zoltan Kocsis plays it.
by Roger Quilter.
For many years I have wondered why it is that whilst Roger Quilter possessed considerable talents as an orchestrator, this well-known work is almost always performed in an orchestral arrangement by Percy Eastman Fletcher.
The mystery was finally solved recently when I happened to be in contact with Dr Valerie Langfield, who is a music teacher and tutor based near Manchester. Dr Langfield has taken a great interest in the life and work of Quilter, and is the author of a very comprehensive and highly-acclaimed biography of the composer.
The definitive answer is that the Dances were originally conceived and written for full orchestra. Percy Fletcher was then commissioned to re-score the work for much-reduced forces, because it was considered likely to maximise its potential for sales and hirings in that form.
(It appears that Fletcher often undertook arranging work of this kind. I have come across another example - viz. his orchestral arrangements of some pieces by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, which I believe were made after their composer’s death).
The original full-orchestral score was never printed, and because it only exists in manuscript form it is seldom, if ever, performed.
Roger Quilter himself made and published further arrangements for solo piano and piano duet; the latter was given by Dr Langfield and fellow-pianist David Owen Norris at a Quilter festival some years ago.
© April 2016
(Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
When I first came to England from New Zealand in 1957 with my family, one thing I was determined to do was to meet my idol of music, Robert Farnon. But it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. As time went by, for one reason or another, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I might miss him. Undeterred by this possibility, I then decided to take the bull by the horns and just present myself at his Gerrard’s Cross home. Nervously knocking on the door and not knowing what to expect, suddenly he appeared looking just like the photograph he had originally sent me. I needn’t have worried though because after an extremely warm welcome I was invited in and given a signed copy of his LP “Pictures in the Fire”. Mission accomplished!
Back down under I couldn’t wait to take the disc out of its sleeve, place it on the turntable and hear his latest creations. One arrangement that really stood out was the Doris Day hit Secret Love from “Calamity Jane”. Going straight in with no introduction, gentle strings in foxtrot tempo treat us to the classic simplicity and symmetry of a Farnon score with celeste and clarinet trimmings. Even with just the basic sheet music chords, the sound was like no other orchestra. So nothing unusual about the first 16 bars of harmony and orchestration.
Now the woodwind plays the melody. Following the words “The way that dreamers often do” something symphonic stirred in the strings. But there’s more. In the bar after “Just how wonderful you are” the most magnificent swell occurs, transforming the tune from a ditty into a miniature masterpiece. It literally took my breath away and over an hour later I finally identified that gorgeous chord of E9,11+,13 in the key of G. Robert Farnon was the first arranger to successfully employ shock tactics seamlessly, in the nicest possible way, in a simple song.
No need for altered chords in the bridge since we’re still reeling from that heavenly harmony. In complete contrast to singer Day’s strident strains, Farnon opted for a beautiful more laid back violin solo guaranteed to produce the inevitable goose pimples. The strings still enriched with that burst of musical uranium, wind down for more conventional chords. Then the orchestra sort of hovers, as if deciding what to do next. The woodwind, minus the rhythm section, repeats the bridge.
In the final 8 bars Farnon again turns up the heat with some magical examples of his own particular brand of slightly dissonant chords. The strings and woodwind suddenly slow down bringing this Great American Songbook standard to a perfectly natural Farnon finish with the guitar having the final say. Fain and Webster must have wondered what hit them!
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was my good friend composer and arranger Cyril Watters who first extolled the virtues of composer Frederic Curzon to me. Certainly there’s absolutely no doubt he was a superb craftsman. As a child I was already aware of his work especially in connection with the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. Quite clearly though Curzon also had a flare for unusual titles like the eye-catching and indeed ear-catching Dance Of An Ostracised Imp written in 1940. It must have been bad enough being an imp without being ostracised as well, but somehow the composer managed to cleverly encapsulate this unwelcome mischievous child, elf or demon. So with a little help from Curzon, let’s try and get under the skin of an imp and find out what makes it so sociably unacceptable.
It’s unusual for a tambourine to appear in a light orchestral piece, but the jingle rattle off beats from this small single-headed drum of Arabic origin adds something to the mix. After quickly setting the scene with a four bar vamp (not unlike the clip clop rhythm of a horse), the strings enter with the tune in the key of G, but after only two bars are hijacked by the flute for another two bars in E flat. Back in G, the strings cut in for a further two while the waiting flute pounces yet again grabbing another two in E flat. Now in the key of B, the strings remind me of the opening phrase of Buttons and Bows.
And so this constant game of bouncing the melody between the two sections continues for 24 bars. More charitably it could I suppose be described as sharing and caring! Perhaps it’s the classical way of “trading phrases” like musicians in small-group jazz take it in turns to play solos. Dance Of An OstracisedImp is in many ways a modulatory nightmare keeping the listener on his/her toes trying to guess the next unexpected harmony. On first hearing some of the changes may seem a bit unconnected, but in the final analysis it all makes musical sense.
And then the cheeky imp emerging from its grotto makes its first appearance for the following 16 bars in the guise of an oboe. There’s a suggestion of Sidney Torch’s Comic Cuts about the orchestration. It cunningly darts about all over the place dreaming up trouble for whoever or wherever it fancies. The opening section is then fully repeated.
A 16 bar bridge begins with a very rich sustained note played by the lower G of the violins. Decorative woodwind dance above in various keys continuing the harmonic freedom of the first chorus. And then the imp re-emerges for another16 bars. The final 24 lead to a sudden coda with a giggling bassoon offering it up to pizzicato strings who end the piece, but not before the tambourine puts in a brief last appearance.
In some ways Dance Of An Ostracised Imp anticipates Robert Farnon because of its unconventional juxtapositions of harmony. However Curzon’s orchestral texture isn’t as light or as inventive as Farnon’s. Right near the end, I almost expected to hear the closing cascading strings of Farnon’s arrangement of Would YouLike To Take A Walk. They would have fitted Dance Of An Ostracised Imp like a glove.
Analysed by Robert Walton
Bronislaw Kaper had much in common with Victor Young. Firstly they were both Polish, could turn their hand to any sort of music, composed many film scores and as songwriters wrote some important popular standards. Three of Young’s were Stella by Starlight, My Foolish Heart and When I Fall in Love , while Kaper’s two major contributions were On Green Dolphin Street and Invitation.
Kaper was also capable of occasionally coming up with what can only be described as a pure light orchestral gem. The 1956 movie “Forever Darling” produced exactly that - Confetti . In fact it bore an uncanny resemblance to the British mood music model of the 1940s and 50s especially that of Robert Farnon. Did Kaper quite independently conceive this composition or was he directly influenced by what was happening across the pond? Judging by his songs, Kaper was more jazz orientated than most of the veteran Hollywood composers so would have had no problem with something bop influenced. In England, the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra gave definitive performances of this kind of material but the nearest thing in America just had to be the MGM Studio Orchestra conducted by Johnny Green which recorded Confetti . (Incidentally it was played by the John Wilson Orchestra at the 2013 BBC Proms as part of “Hollywood Rhapsody”).
Time now to follow the paper trail of Confetti , and discover what, if anything, we can learn from it. For starters the $64,000 question is who arranged Confetti? Was it Conrad Salinger? The percussion section was an integral part of the orchestration playing a vital role in the soundtrack of “Forever Darling” featuring tubular bells and snare drums.
The thrilling opening clearly has ‘Hollywood’ written all over it, sounding very much like title music. For a moment it could have almost been the start of Starlight Roof Waltz by the Melachrino Orchestra. All through the drum driven military style introduction we get constant hints of what is to come. By the time the melody starts, we’ve got the general idea. It’s like eager racehorses behind the starting gate that can’t wait to get away. Shortly after we’re up and running, the Farnon influence kicks in with the first of two bursts of exciting woodwind. We have lift off! They might be fiendishly difficult but the MGM players take it all in their stride. Then the answering phrase goes into the soaring string sound of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra with three jazzy discords of American brashness before returning to the jagged tune.
And before you can say ‘David Rose’ we’re into the kind of bridge dreamt up by the London born maestro. The strings, supported by a brilliant brass section, having gone up a gear, are now ‘singing’ their hearts out. Then the brass showing you what they’re made of go soli with the ever energetic woodwind.
Just like the beginning, the orchestra gives us as much time as we need to prepare for the thrilling final chorus. Then after those soaring strings reappear for the last time, we find ourselves in the coda where the orchestra employs all sorts of delaying tactics like toying with the tune and guiding us gradually towards a show stopping last chord reminiscent of Alcan Highway .
The building blocks of Confetti have come a long circuitous route from Los Angeles (David Rose) via London (Robert Farnon) and finally coming home to Hollywood and Bronislaw Kaper. To acknowledge a multinational musical marriage created by an American, a Canadian and a Pole, let’s celebrate this meeting of minds with those tiny pieces of paper of various shapes and colours!
The MGM recording of Confetti is available on the Guild CD of the same name (GLCD 5175)[See also this page ]
By William Zucker
For those following my Notes and Suggestions on Performance series dealing mainly with works in the serious repertoire with an inclusion of a few light music selections, they may well be forgiven for wondering what exactly I'm pursuing in this essay - supposedly presuming that I'm referring to some pop number in the Latin manner of a sort such as might come from the hands of perhaps Xavier Cugat, Perez Prado, and the like.
This will take a bit of explaining before I get on with the actual essay, as, just as I have stated many times, I will only pick up on a piece that in some manner or form has impressed me as to its inherent substance.
First of all, in regard to the composer - his full name was Salvador Camarata, popularly known as "Tutti" Camarata, from the fact that he was a trumpet player, and thus somehow picked up the nickname of "Tootie" which stuck, but in point of fact, though a conductor of light music, perhaps not as well known as he might be, both his arrangements and his compositions have a notable individuality to them, fully worth cultivating.
He actually acquired full training in the serious classical field, and came out with a number of recordings that cross over into that genre of music - and produced some noteworthy arrangements in that area - notably a complete orchestration of MacDowell's Woodland Sketches, along with some orchestral realizations of operatic arias, in particular some by Puccini which many including myself might actually consider as more fulfilling than their originals by virtue of added compositional touches, mostly from a structural aspect.
He became interested in various types of popular music as well, associated briefly with Jimmy Dorsey's band, becoming a staff arranger for that aggregate, as well as playing lead trumpet with that and other notable bands of that era, besides working with vocalists in the popular field.
During the war, he was called to England by the J. Arthur Rank organization to score for a film in production entitled, "London Town," and while in England met Sir Edward Lewis who was the CEO for British Decca records. The two formed a very close professional association and together formed London Records, which was planned to be the outlet in the USA for British Decca.
Once this had been established, he made a few recordings on this newly formed label, leading an aggregate known as the "Kingsway Symphony Orchestra," and amongst the few selections that he cut was included the selection under discussion here.
Upon returning to the USA, he continued making more recordings for American Decca (not to be confused with the entity mentioned above), featuring many outstanding arrangements along with some of his own compositions of great individuality. These were all prized by those familiar with them, but unfortunately, this period of his career did not last long.
He was contacted by the Walt Disney organization to produce records for that entity, and eventually wound up as a record producer and executive, sponsoring some notable stars including Annette Funicello who was a discovery of his, but his actual work as a recording artist became infrequent, and the individual quality of what he had turned out during the late 40's and early 50's was regretfully never equaled, at least in this opinion, for based on his accomplishments of those earlier years, he had a lot to offer that was highly individual, but most light music specialists of today provide him with very little attention.
As for his artistic accomplishments of those earlier years, one could say that he produced arrangements that were very substantial musically, aside from writing pieces with a Latin or jazzy swing that nevertheless have very strong classical characteristics - harmonic language, formal structure, instrumentation, all of which he could impart to his pieces despite their frankly pop attitudes to them. To describe any of these works as "light music" might be stretching things just a bit, but the music is definitely not in the class of what is commonly categorized as "easy listening," and those who are expecting that sort of quality might be well advised to turn elsewhere, as in particular his compositions are not of a sort that admit of easy assimilation on a first hearing.
However, these works make sufficient use of traditional materials to enable a listener to maintain bearings, yet are notably individual to the point that they cannot be readily compared to other genres - they do not fall into a category that can be easily pigeon-holed, but nonetheless demonstrate that one does not necessarily have to visit cultures in remote parts of the globe to experience a type of music that may be considered different from what one may be accustomed to.
For now, enough of these preliminary introductory notes, and to get on with the piece at hand. But first I would like to point out that Morton Gould, in the earlier part of his career, also composed a piece by the same title, "Rumbalero," which is a cheerful, pleasant novelty number that could be described as light music. The Camarata composition under discussion here is a grimly serious piece in its bearings, and with a degree of stature such that around the time it appeared it was highly acclaimed by light music specialists if not by the listening public to the same extent; becoming in effect almost a "cult piece." There were a few recordings of it aside from the composer's own, and I remember in 1953 listening to a broadcast of a Paul Whiteman concert within which this piece was presented and received with great enthusiasm. And on a program of light music broadcast over a New York station that I regularly listened to, the announcer, whenever this selection was featured, would say, "Camarata's great recording of Rumbalero," implying that the piece already had a certain reputation attached to it.
To get now to the piece itself - it opens with the rhythm section introducing the basic pulsating rhythm which might be described as "quasi rumba-like," save for the fact that this is certainly not meant as an accompaniment to ballroom dancing despite this background, although a formal dance scenario with choreography would actually work quite well in conjunction with it.
The rhythmic accompaniment continues almost incessantly throughout the piece, which begins with a bare harmonic outline, to set the stage for the melody of the main section when it finally enters after eight measures. And as I do so often when providing suggestions for performance, I must caution the conductor to keep the tempo rigidly steady - there is no occasion in this entire piece that calls for any quickening or broadening of the basic tempo, and the music's inherent quality of inexorability will be conveyed more effectively.
The main idea of the first section, is a sinuous melody starting with a long note, ultimately being repeated in a cross rhythm of triplet quarters which goes against the basic meter and from which there is a skip upwards, after which it proceeds upwards stepwise chromatically. A slight dynamic inflection to respond to this movement as well as its restatement reaching farther upward would not be amiss at this point.
This rhythmic pattern repeats itself as the motive is restated in various melodic shapes. After a short extension, we have a repetition of the main idea, in a fuller instrumentation, and on this occasion, against the longer notes in the latter half of the motive (suspension and resolution), there is counterpoint in this cross rhythm triplet quarter movement. Henceforth, this new addition will appear at all restatements of this main idea when it reappears later on in the piece.
The harmonic pattern is of some interest as well, as it is quite pervasive throughout much of the presentation of the main idea. It takes the form almost of a changing note, for want of a better description, by use of the harmony a half step below the main major harmony, so that this fluctuates back and forth, in this case between F Major and E Major (even if over a tonic pedal on occasion). This will similarly occur in the second half of the idea, commencing on the subdominant B Flat Major, similarly shifting back and forth with the major harmony a half step down - A Major. This harmonic movement tends to give this idea quite a unique quality. And I should further point out that at times, the chromatic half step undulation works in contrary motion so that the alternative harmonies play off against one another, which also makes for a very individual effect.
After this is finally disposed of, we have another phrase extension, serving as a bridge leading to the presentation of the second idea. The dynamics, which should always be inflected to follow the rise and fall of the main idea, can similarly afford to be modified as the top line reaches upward to successively higher intervals before finally descending scalewise chromatically. Against this, there is a tenor line which rises chromatically in contrary motion.
The second idea now upon us contrasts with the first in a very interesting manner, being generally more "muscular" in feeling as distinct from the lyricism of the first idea, but the movement to be seen here is far more conjunct, with less of a reliance on intevallic skips.
The rhythm is syncopated to a degree, in direct contradiction to the pulse over a two measure stretch, and both the bass and top line parallel each other in that respect, leaving only the last four eighth notes in the second measure as "straight," with a repeated note in the top part and a steadily rising bass chromatically, which should swell dynamically to those last four eighth notes and then immediately pull back as the parts then move away from one another by contrary motion.
These two bars are repeated and then the total four bars restated in a higher register up a fourth which would call for stronger dynamics in response.
The second portion of this idea consists of pairs of chords which in a sense take up full measures although the first is slurred to the second which is immediately quitted, an accent being applied in all cases. And in the space in the measure left by the second chords in the set, the interstices, though following in sequence each time, are notably different whenever this idea is repeated. The harmonies themselves, proceeding by fourths and fifths, are strictly classical in procedure, "textbook" if one wishes to describe them, so that there is no likelihood that the listener will have trouble in following their progress.
There is a slight extension over a melodic ostinato with the notes D Flat-C-B Flat continually undulating back and forth, over a C dominant, but with a lowered fifth G Flat in the mix to add to the tension.
The section is once again repeated, in an enhanced presentation with fuller scoring, with everything following as before except for the interstices between the pairs of chords already referred to. When we arrive at the melodic ostinato, it repeats itself again and again, with the tension that should be permitted to build up almost unbearably, and eventually, with this ostinato quickened to notes of half the value, and with an E appearing over the top forming an out and out augmented sixth chord, at which moment there should be an enormous final push to the ongoing crescendo, at the end of which where it finally snaps, the harmonic resolution at this point marks the clear climax to the preceding, although it is a sharply accented staccato, following which only the rhythmic accompanying figure remains, along with simple melodic commentary fluctuating back and forth chromatically.
From this high point follows a long diminuendo, almost tortuous in its course, maintaining the F Major (tonic) /E Major juxtaposition we had at first until we finally settle down into a relatively less agitated emotional state and resume the first idea which restates itself structurally as before, though with considerable elaboration in the background, maintaining a feeling of latent restlessness, as the dynamic level is somewhat higher and the scoring somewhat heavier than we had at first. It goes without saying that as against this heavier scoring, every effort must be expended to insure the prominence of the main melody in the foreground, especially in the measures where it has longer notes, to enable it to be heard in full integrity.
When we arrive at the bridge passage leading to the second idea, the melodic line at this point is somewhat varied, reaching up by skip to different intervals than we had at first. As an aside, I should point out that in a version currently extant on YouTube (unfortunately not the composer's own) which is extremely poor in clarity, the indigenous rising tenor line is doubled high up above by an instrument that suggests a celesta - totally out of place in this context aside from obscuring the interesting variant in the melodic line - such intrusion, whether actually in the score or not, is something that by all odds should be eliminated, although it is not apparent in the composer's own recorded presentation.
The restatement of the second idea thus duly arrives in a punctual manner, and everything remains structurally the same as on the first occasion with this increased and steadily increasing scoring, save for the differences in the interstices between the slurred pairs of chords already referred to. When we arrive at the melodic ostinato which comes at the end of the statement, we eventually get that same quickening to half value notes, but on this occasion, instead of a steady build up to a resolution as before, we pass immediately to a grand restatement of the first idea in the entire brass section led by the horns. And the effect of the basic harmonies juxtaposed with those a half step down is further expanded by the use of minor sevenths and ninths added to the harmonies.
After the one statement, the F-B Natural C-germ of the idea is repeated a few times, the second part of the main idea is stated one last time, and before concluding it breaks off, affording us four measures of unaccompanied rhythm instruments that maintain the pulse.
After this four measure display, the three note germ is once again repeated in various elaborations, until the final cadence, occasioned by the off beat reiteration of a French augmented sixth, letting up at the end to resolve, followed in the last measure by a soft F octave, a most singular ending for a piece that can generate a great deal of tension as it presents itself.
As I have stated earlier, this piece was very highly acclaimed by light music specialists at the time it appeared in the early 1950's, and in fact, for those who can readily respond to it, it is musically a rather substantial piece for its genre, and although perhaps forgotten today except by those specialists I refer to, it really does deserve to be kept alive for the very qualities it possesses, even though it perhaps might not be a piece that will yield its full essence on a very first hearing, as it in fact took a few hearings for me to discover its secrets.
As usual, I welcome all comments.
MILOŠ: BLACKBIRD – The Beatles Album
Mercury Classics 482310
For his fourth album Miloš Karadaglić, the 32-year-old award-winning classical guitarist from Montenegro, gives us his distinctive “take” on 15 songs written by the Beatles [John Lennon & Paul McCartney and George Harrison] – music that seems to appeal to all ages – and a very good album it is, too. It was recorded in the famous Studio 2 at Abbey Road, London with some of the microphones used by the original Fab Four. There are just two vocals: Let It Be, for me a standout track from the behatted jazz/soul/gospel singer Gregory Porter and a moving She’s Leaving Home by Tori Amos, the eight times US Grammy nominated singer-songwriter. Our own world-renowned cellist Steven Isserlis is featured on Michelle and the sitar player Anoushka Shankar on Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Several tracks also have some string accompaniment including The Fool on the Hill, And I Love Her, Eleanor Rigby, Something and HereComes the Sun. That big favourite Yesterday is in the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu’s classic solo guitar arrangement. At just under 45 minutes this release might be short on quantity [the Beatles did write over 200 songs!] but for quality of performance and recording it can barely be faulted.
COPLAND : Orchestral Works 1 - Ballets BBC Philharmonic / John Wilson Chandos CHSA 5164
Reviewed by Peter Burt
Aaron Copland (1900-90) was probably America’s greatest native-born composer. His continuing popularity primarily, although not solely, rests on his three folksy ballets. These are meat and drink to former RFS member and BBC Proms favourite John Wilson, with the BBC Philharmonic responding so well to his conducting that memories of Leonard Bernstein are sometimes evoked. On an album of 79½ minutes duration the first two items are the familiar Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), and El Salón México (1932-38), which widely uses Mexican folk melodies. The Suite from ‘Billy The Kid’ (1938) is well-known for its incorporation of several cowboy tunes and American folk songs. ‘Rodeo’ (1942) is in similar vein but leaves the folk element relatively intact with very little alteration on the part of the composer . Of the Four Dance Episodes here the final Hoe-Down is great fun. The well-known last variation in the Suite from ‘Appalachian Spring’ (1943-4) is the Shaker tune Simple Gifts that Sydney Carter used for his hymn Lord of the Dance . Chandos deliver their usual high quality sound and I look forward to further releases in the series.
Analysed by Robert Walton
It was in 1959 that the original Gang Show producer Ralph Reader wrote Strollin’, the song most associated with Bud Flanagan. Two years later in 1961 Robert Farnon composed the mood music equivalent, Strolling Home.
A one-finger piano in the style of Gordon Jenkins (sometimes in octaves) plays with a small string section. This laid back 1930’s type tune has a rhythm reminiscent of the clip clopping of a slow horse in a western. It clearly calls to mind Laurel & Hardy’s unhurried approach to Brushwood Gulch accompanied by a mule in “Way out West”. It’s also the sort of tempo associated with the Ink Spots.
The opening two notes of the intro are identical to Willie Nelson’s song Crazy made famous by Patsy Cline. After a short lead-in (the first of many sustained string passages), the actual melody starts out as if it’s going into These Foolish Things. As the piece progresses the ghost of Carroll Gibbons pervades the performance, though not in the decorative sense. In this case the piano fills owe more to ragtime. And then to end the phrase, Farnon’s melody once more quotes from Crazy while the harp wraps things up. Then something highly unusual happens. Normally after 16 bars you’d expect the tune to go into the bridge but Farnon repeats the last 4 bars of the chorus.
Now it’s really time to go to the bridge in a new key with the laid back strings now in the driving seat. After a suggestion of Have You EverBeen Lonely, the delightful middle melody provides the perfect contrast to the earlier sleepy piano, although even this section isn’t going anywhere fast! And waiting in the wings our soloist is gently awakened for a rerun of the opening. Again the harp finishes the phrase. Then the strings join the piano that eventually modulates twice, before going into Tom and Jerry mode for a soft landing/ending.
This is yet another example of Robert Farnon’s ability to turn his talent to almost any kind of music. Unlike his established compositions, this utterly simple instrumental is a rarity. Despite that, any perceptive Farnon fan will soon sus out the identity of the composer from those little touches he never lost. So whether you’re Strolling Home after walking the dog or returning from the pub, what emerges is an air of total tranquility. In other words, perfect retirement music!
The Chappell recording of Strolling Home is available on the Guild CD “Holidays for Strings” (GLCD 5189)
Analysed by Robert Walton
There can’t be many arrangements which are defined by a constant brass interjection, but that’s the very thing that attracted me to Wagon Lit . It’s a typical Torch touch on which the whole composition rests and is perfectly in keeping with his strict policy of crispness. This syncopated feature is first heard just after the third beat of the opening bar of the tune; in fact the second quaver of the third beat. Yes, I know it’s an unlikely component of a chart to choose, but this accentuation, part and parcel of the rhythm of a train, is somehow crying out to be noticed. You may have spotted the composition is slightly more subdued than most instrumental train records, perhaps giving consideration to the passengers in the sleeping compartment of this European railroad car!
Starting out on a bright and breezy note, Wagon Lit quickly gets into its stride with a perky little tune punctuated by the said staccato insertion that only Torch, a master ‘painter’ of mood music could create. Although the orchestration is basically lighthearted, there’s an element of drama and excitement too. And then taking a brief break from all this musical sandwiching, the brass takes over the tune in a new key. Before returning to the original key, Torch brilliantly brings the orchestra back down to earth free falling no less than nine times caught very neatly in a safety net by the harp. But no sooner has the first chorus finished, than Torch retains this wonderful sense of fun and freedom with brass and pizzicato strings darting about. Finally a French horn heralds the middle section.
For once we can quite legitimately call this a ‘bridge’, the word not unconnected to a train. But an engineer called Rose who just happened to be very keen on trains himself originally designed this one! After that monumental moment in light orchestral history with his Holiday for Strings, subdivisions like this provided the perfect contrast to busier openings. Of course Torch made them entirely his own, like this one which sort of creeps in with nothing to indicate its about to start. But when it does, this gentle song-like tune provides the perfect causeway. Halfway through, the maestro can’t resist one of his favourite sounds, pizzicato strings. After the brass job-share an upwardly mobile broken chord, arco strings with more feeling and tension, leave us in no doubt that the main melody is about the return.
Which means of course we’re back to that delightful opening with those persistent trumpets slotting in at the exact moment with the now familiar exclamation. Torch never wasted a good idea so it was no surprise that he ended Wagon Lit in the same way as he embellished it. His imagination and arranging skill could well have been acquired from his organ playing days when he was required to improvise on occasions. Incidentally in that early part of his career he also caught the baton-waving bug.
Wagon Lit might not have been such a high profile number in its day, probably because it wasn’t available commercially, but after having been neglected for so long, I would thoroughly recommend you to give it a listen. The art of Sidney Torch is a wonder to behold. And with the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by the composer it’s a bonus.
The original Chappell recording of Wagon Lit is available on the Guild CD "The 1940s" (GLCD 5102)