Showcase for Soloists and other cameos

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Here finally is the album that many have wanted to own on CD!
"Showcase for Soloists" and other cameos
Original compositions by Robert Farnon

Showcase for Soloists

1 Trumpet Talk
2 Two’s Company
3 Piccolo Flight
4 Gentle Vibrations
5 A Violin Miniature
6 The Snow Goose
7 Travellin’ Jazz
8 Flute Fantasy
9 The Dame In Red
10 Clarinet Melange
11 Walkin’ Happy
12 Blue Waters
13 Globe Trotting
14 Country Girl
15 Westbound Passage
16 Horn-a-Plenty
17 Shepherds’ Delight
18 Toyland Tattoo
19 Pleasure Drive
20 Sounds Of History
21 Little Miss Molly
22 Here Comes The Band
23 Doing The Raccoon
24 Power And Glory
25 Winter Jasmine (Robert Farnon, Philip Buchel)
26 Portrait Of Lorraine
27 Closing The Ring
28 The Grand Alliance
29 Shepherds’ Warning
30 Western Panorama

All titles played by



15, 19 Roger Roger and his Orchestra
16, 17, 20, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30 Danish State Radio Orchestra conducted by Robert Farnon
22 Knightsbridge Symphonic Band conducted by Cecil Hunter
26 Eric Delaney and his Group

Vocalion CDLK4238

For some while Robert Farnon Society members have been asking me when Bob’s fine "Showcase for Soloists" LP would be included among the many reissues of his albums on a new CD. Well, here it is at last, with the bonus of a selection of tracks from the Chappell Recorded Music Library, some of them on commercial release for the very first time.

Although it only represents twelve of the thirty tracks, the main work on this album is "Showcase For Soloists", a collection of individual pieces each intended to highlight the particular talents of the gifted musicians for whom they were specially composed by Robert Farnon.

Since 1946 he had been contributing numerous orchestral cameos to Chappell’s Recorded Music Library specifically for use by radio, television and film companies worldwide. But Farnon’s works were recognised as being too good to be half-forgotten as incidental music ‘hidden’ in the background behind speech and sound effects. Initially a few were chosen as signature tunes or regular themes within programmes (Jumping Bean, A Star Is Born and Portrait Of A Flirt certainly fall into this category), and this brought them to the attention of the general public, resulting in commercial recordings.

Thereafter many new Farnon creations received well-deserved public airings on radio, television or records, even though most of them continued to appear first in the famous Chappell Library.

The twelve titles in "Showcase For Soloists" were also recorded by Chappells during 1972 and duly appeared on one of their LPs made strictly for the music business. Happily a small independent record company, Invicta, decided to license the tapes and a commercial LP was released in 1973. Invicta showed faith in their product by taking out a full-page advertisement in the prestigious British magazine The Gramophone in April, although one wonders if many of the readers of that classical music periodical would have been tempted to make a purchase. Not only was this collection made available on an LP, but Invicta also released it on cassette and 8-track cartridge. Unfortunately the release was delayed, because it was discovered that the original master disc was not producing satisfactory pressings. A new one was manufactured, and the LP eventually reached the shops early in June 1973. Invicta repeated much of their press advertising, which must have been a considerable financial commitment for a small record company.

Most of the soloists on the LP were regarded as being the best in the music business at the time, and many were regulars in the Robert Farnon Orchestra for its recordings and broadcasts. The album opens with a sparkling display from two great trumpeters – Kenny Baker and Stan Roderick. Sadly both of them are no longer with us, although Kenny was still thrilling audiences with his mastery of his instrument right up until his death in December 1999. Stan Roderick passed away in 1994 following a short retirement. Their legacy - Trumpet Talk - has long been regarded as a truly virtuoso performance.

Two’s Company is in complete contrast, with smooth sultry tones from the trombones of Bobby Lamb and Don Lusher, who received a well-deserved OBE in 2003. Robert Farnon’s earliest days as a composer are recalled in the following number, because Piccolo Flight is actually based on a theme in his first symphony, written at the end of the 1930s. Farnon has politely, but firmly, resisted all attempts to persuade him to let modern audiences hear this work, which was last performed in North America over 60 years ago. Therefore this catchy piece is all the more welcome, and in the capable hands of David Sandeman the piccolo darts about all over the place, ably supported by the strings of the orchestra.

Alan Hakin is featured on vibraphone, one of the most popular of the tuned percussion instruments, and this charming slow melody exploits its nuances to the full. For many years Raymond Cohen occupied the leader’s chair in the Robert Farnon Orchestra, and his romantic warm tone admirably suits A Violin Miniature. This short work bears some slight similarity with Robert Farnon’s major opus Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra which was commissioned by the BBC in 1958, featuring Raymond Cohen as the solo violinist.

The spotlight falls on Frank Reidy for two numbers in this collection: first of all he excels on Cor Anglais in The Snow Goose (no connection with the similarly titled popular song), then later he reappears with his B flat clarinet in the aptly titled Clarinet Melange. Robert Farnon has worked with several talented pianists (Sidney Bright – brother of bandleader Geraldo – and Douglas Gamley being two prime examples), but his choice of Dennis Wilson was undoubtedly correct for Travellin’ Jazz. This bright up-tempo piece of piano jazz, backed by a swinging orchestration, was ideally suited to the style that kept Dennis at the top of his profession for so long.

Another soloist who appears twice is the great Roy Willox, happily still working today on top sessions such as the John Wilson Abbey Road recordings for Vocalion in May 2003. A master of so many reed instruments, he is superb in both Flute Fantasy on flute, and with his favourite alto saxophone on The Dame In Red. He has been a familiar face among the reeds in so many Farnon sessions. Few harpists have chosen to exploit the jazz possibilities of the harp to the full. Fans of British Dance Bands still remember Mario ‘Harp’ Lorenzi from his 78s in the 1930s, and in the USA Casper Reardon rose to stardom until his premature death in 1941. David Snell is a master of the instrument, as he proves in Walkin’ Happy. An all-round musician, David is also a fine conductor.

Robert Farnon’s tribute to musicians he greatly admires comes to an end with a slow lyrical melody, Blue Waters, which exploits the beauty in Judd Proctor’s guitar.

The remaining eighteen compositions on this CD are further examples of Robert Farnon’s mastery of so many different idioms and styles. The listener has to be prepared for a wide variety of contrasting moods, although the first number following the "Showcase" collection – Globe Trotting – has been deliberately chosen to maintain the bright, easy going jazzy feel that has been evident until now. But with Country Girl we are into completely different territory, although few people still remember that it was originally a failed entrant in that glorious annual example of blatant international xenophobia – otherwise known as the Eurovision Song Contest. In the early days of this musical bunfight the BBC used to invite established composers to submit entries, and in 1966 Country Girl was one of five chosen for Kenneth McKellar to sing in the British heats. It didn’t win, so McKellar didn’t go on to sing it in Europe. He didn’t win either, but Farnon was the outright winner in the long run, because Country Girl was picked up by Tony Bennett and it has since become one of the most popular songs in his repertoire.

Many of the titles of the remaining melodies are self-descriptive, with fine examples of Farnon’s gift for scenic beauty (notably Westbound Passage and Western Panorama) plus a few in the style of the quirky novelties for which he is much admired (Horn-a-Plenty, Toyland Tattoo and the delicate Little Miss Molly). Pleasure Drive is in the true Farnon tradition of free-flowing bright up-tempo numbers, while his tongue is definitely firmly in his cheek for Doing The Raccoon, with a suitably happy-go-lucky sound from the musicians who may have just returned to the studio from a liquid lunch!

Portrait of Lorraine evokes images of smoke-filled bars around closing time, while a distinct martial feel – reminiscent of many war movies – is present in Sounds of History, Power and Glory, Closing the Ring and The Grand Alliance. Shepherd’s Warning is perhaps the most wistful piece in this collection and, like many other pieces included here, this is the first time that it has been available on a commercial recording.

Together these thirty tracks make up a varied and highly entertaining collection of original compositions that could only have been written by Robert Farnon.

David Ades

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