Percy Grainger and other works / Britain’s Choice

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Two landmark Light Music LPs are available once more

The Light Music Society Orchestra conducted by SIR VIVIAN DUNN, K.C.V.O.

CD 1

Percy Grainger and other works TWO295

1 Country Gardens
2 Molly on the Shore
3 Londonderry Air
4 Handel in the Strand
5 Mock Morris
6 Shepherd’s Hey
7 Children’s Overture (Roger Quilter)
8 The Haunted Ballroom (Geoffrey Toye)
9 Dusk (Armstrong Gibbs, arr. Jay Wilbur)
10 Shepherd Fennel’s Dance (Henry Balfour Gardiner) 

CD 2

Britain’s Choice TWO297

1 March from the ‘Colour Suite’ (Gordon Langford)
2 A La Claire Fontaine (Robert Farnon)
Suite of English Folk Dances (Ernest Tomlinson)
3 Jenny Pluck Pears
4 Ten Pound Lass
5 Dick’s Maggot
6 Nonesuch
7 Hunt the Squirrel
8 Woodicock
9 March from ‘A Little Suite’ (Trevor Duncan)
10 The Boulevardier (Frederic Curzon)
11 The Watermill (Ronald Binge)
12 Tabarinage (Robert Docker)
The King of Kerry – Suite (Peter Hope)
13 Jaunting Car
14 Lough Leane
15 Killorglin Fair

Vocalion CDLK4182 [2 CDs for the price of 1]

The Light Music Society (LMS) was formed in the 1950s at a time when it appeared that there was a danger that Light Music would no longer be heard as often on the radio or in the concert hall. There was also concern that the growing influence of teenagers on record sales would diminish the interest of record companies in this sphere of the music scene.

Membership of the society was open to anyone interested in Light Music, and many long-standing members of the Robert Farnon also participated in the activities of the LMS back in the 1960s and 1970s. However it has to be acknowledged that the strength was provided by the involvement of the very composers and publishers whose future was being threatened by changing musical tastes.

In retrospect it can be claimed that the existence of the LMS, through its contacts at a high level in the BBC, did delay the eventual decline in Light Music, that reached a nadir in the 1980s. By then the society had ceased to function actively, but this sorry state of affairs was reversed towards the end of the last century when the highly respected composer Ernest Tomlinson announced that he had undertaken a major restoration exercise in salvaging many priceless scores, often on the point of being consigned to landfill sites.

The current situation is that the Light Music Society is flourishing once again, and it is actively encouraging performances with practical assistance through the provision of manuscripts that are simply not available anywhere else. It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of Ernest Tomlinson’s tireless efforts: he deserves recognition at the highest level.

In 1968 the Light Music Society Orchestra gave its first public performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, heralding a new era of recordings and broadcasts. Their first two LPs are featured on this CD reissue, and they provide sparkling performances of some fine compositions that have never been bettered.

All of the composers represented on the first CD in this collection were born within a span of twelve years between 1877 and 1889. They grew up subject to the same musical influences, yet the wide diversity of their composing talents serves to illustrate the broad canvas that is encompassed by the term ‘Light Music’.

Six of the numbers were written by Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), born in Melbourne, Australia. He was already an accomplished pianist by the time he arrived in London in 1909, and he soon made a name for himself as a soloist. From boyhood he had developed a passionate interest in folk music, and in England he was one of the first to take around with him a primitive phonograph which enabled him to record folk tunes on cylinders (he rediscovered Brigg Fair in Lincolnshire, and gave it to Delius).

Country Gardens and Shepherd's Hey are Morris Dance versions of the old songs The Vicar of Bray and The Keel Row, supplied to Grainger by Cecil J. Sharp. The Bray of the former is in Berkshire and the latter song has long been particularly associated with Tyneside. Molly on the Shore is a combination of two Irish reel tunes and so fond was Grainger of this that he arranged it successively for string quartet, small orchestra and large orchestra. Londonderry Air is really better named ‘Air from County Derry’. Widely regarded as one of the loveliest tunes in the whole of music, it was taken down by Miss Jane Ross of Limavady from a peasant who visited the little town on market day. It first appeared in print in 1855. The bright and brilliant Handel in the Strand and Mock Morris are not folk tune arrangements although anyone might be forgiven for thinking they were. The composer himself has told us that the former was inspired by his delight on returning to the exhilarating sea air of the Dutch coast after giving a series of concerts inland, and that the latter was influenced by a popular music hall ditty ‘Always merry and bright’.

Roger Quilter (1877-1953) was born in London and educated at Eton. Essentially a miniaturist, it is for his songs, particularly his settings of poems by Shakespeare and Herrick, that he is and always will be chiefly remembered. The delicately dancing Children's Overture dates from 1914 and was inspired by a volume of nursery rhymes called ‘Baby's Opera’ and delightfully illustrated by Walter Crane, friend of William Morris and sometime Principal of the Royal College of Art, South Kensington. The tunes are put together with supreme sensitivity and skill, and orchestrated with rare transparency.

Geoffrey Toye (1889-1942) was the younger son of John Toye, a house master at Winchester who for a long time ran a musical society for the boys. After leaving the Royal Academy of Music, Toye conducted at several theatres in London. Following his war service he undertook some more important conducting engagements and then became in turn a Governor of the Sadler's Wells Theatre and Managing Director of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. It was while at Sadler's Wells that he wrote the book and music of his ballet The Haunted Ballroom (first produced in 1934), from which this waltz was arranged and orchestrated by Frank Tapp.

Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) was born in Cheltenham and educated at Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music. Like Roger Quilter, he is chiefly remembered by his songs. In 1936 he wrote an orchestral suite to which he gave the name Fancy Dress. Some years later he fitted the third movement, the rather barcarolle-like waltz which we hear here, with words, and it is by its new name Dusk that it has become best known, whether sung or played.

Henry Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950) was born in London, educated at Charterhouse and Oxford, and spent some time as music master at Winchester before launching himself upon a career as a composer. He was highly self-critical and had the rare gift of recognising his own limitations, and so spent a great deal of his time and much of his private means helping others. It was he, for instance, who gave HoIst the opportunity of first hearing The Planets at a semi-private concert in the old Queen's Hall, London. He wrote music in various forms but little of it is heard today. Shepherd Fennel’s Dance however, has always, and rightly, been a prime favourite, particularly with 'Prom' audiences some decades ago. It dates from 1911 and was inspired by an episode in Thomas Hardy's ‘Wessex Tales’.

The numbers included in Britain’s Choice were chosen by a panel set up by the LMS in association with the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain. As the LP notes confirm, the degree of unanimity among the panel was such that the items virtually chose themselves.

The opening spirited March from Colour Suite by Gordon Langford (b. 1930) is typical of the bright, modern sounds that rejuvenated Light Music in the post-war years. Gordon is well known for his work with brass bands, and he is equally appreciated as a fine pianist. As a composer and arranger he is just as happy working in jazz or symphonic works.

Another all-round musician whose capabilities know no bounds is Robert Farnon (b. 1917), widely regarded as the greatest living composer of Light Music. He composed A La Claire Fontaine in the 1950s for his suite of "Canadian Impressions" (on Vocalion CDLK4104), revealing a sensitive side to his nature in stark contrast to the vitality of his Jumping Bean and Portrait of a Flirt.

We will let Ernest Tomlinson (b. 1924) describe how he came to compose his Suite of English Folk Dances : "In 1951 I went along to a festival given by the English Folk Dance and Song Society at the Royal Albert Hall, and was so enchanted with the lovely tunes they danced to that I came away inspired to write a suite based on some of them. The ones I finally chose were all taken from John Playford’s ‘The English Dancing Master’ published in various editions between 1650 and 1728. My aim was to preserve as far as possible the spirit of the original dances, which spirit was beautifully conveyed by the performers in the studio."

‘Trevor Duncan’ is actually Leonard Trebilco (b. 1924), born in Cornwall and educated at Trinity College of Music. He has written an amazing amount of music specifically for use in television, documentaries and films, and the choice of the March from his Little Suite as the signature tune for BBC Television’s ‘Dr. Finlay’s Casebook’ confirmed his position as one of our top composers.

Frederic Curzon (1899-1973 ) enjoyed early success as a composer in the 1930s with his Robin Hood Suite at a time when Eric Coates and Haydn Wood were still contributing many fine works to the Light Music repertoire. Curzon was also an organist, and an executive with a leading publisher, in which capacity he assisted many young composers in developing their careers. His Boulevardier became very popular when first recorded in the 1940s, and it has remained so ever since.

Ronald Binge (1910-1979) was responsible for devising the ‘cascading strings’ sound that allowed Mantovani to enjoy his worldwide fame – a fact not widely known until some years later. Happily for Ron he did achieve great success as a composer in his own right, firstly through Elizabethan Serenade, and later with Sailing By, the music that closed Radio 4 for so long.

Robert Docker (1918-1992) was a regular broadcaster, mainly as a pianist, but also through his activities ‘behind the scenes’ as a composer and arranger, working closely with people such as Sidney Torch. His Tabarinage (Buffoonery) takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the Can-Can.

Peter Hope (b. 1930) completes the selection with his Ring of Kerry Suite which won him a well-deserved Ivor Novello Award in 1969. The name describes a popular tourist road in the south-west of Ireland, and the suite paints some of the scenes along the way.

The brilliant conductor involved in all of these performances was Sir Vivian Dunn, KCVO, OBE, FRAM (1908-1995). As a Lieutenant-Colonel of the Royal Marines he was the first Military Director of Music to be knighted. He spent nearly 40 years with the Royal Marines Band Service, establishing it as one of the finest of its kind in the world. Before he was appointed Director of Music of the Portsmouth Division Band in 1931, at the age of 22, he had been a member of the first violin section of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Adrian Boult. Although he made a career in military music, Sir Vivian did not neglect orchestral music, and during World War 2 he conducted many broadcasts to the Forces with the Orchestra of the Portsmouth Division, Royal Marines. In the cinema he scored the film "Cockleshell Heroes" and the catchy march has become a firm favourite.

His choice as the conductor of the Light Music Society Orchestra was inspired, and many of the composers of the music on these recordings were fulsome in their praise of his interpretations of their work. During the last years of his life we were honoured to have Sir Vivian as a member of the Robert Farnon Society. He attended several of our London meetings, and members who were privileged to meet him will forever remember how approachable and charming he was.

David Ades

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