Light Music composer finally honoured with new CD

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An unjustly neglected Light Music composer is finally honoured with a superb new CD of his music


Revelry Overture; Moorland Idyll; Four Dances from "The Rebel Maid"; Symphony in C Minor – Spring Rondo, Summer Nocturne; A Surrey Suite – Richmond Park, The Shadowy Pines, Kingston Market; A Shakespearean Scherzo – ‘Titania and her Elvish’; Arabesque No. 2; Sinfonietta in C BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Gavin Sutherland Dutton Epoch CDLX 7140

Compared with such contemporaries as Eric Coates, Haydn Wood, Percy Fletcher and Albert Ketèlbey, Montague Phillips has not, in recent years, enjoyed the recognition which he undoubtedly deserves.

Although his compositions could at one time be heard on radio broadcasts, very little of his output has ever appeared on disc; consequently most of the items here are making their recording debut. All credit is due to Philip Lane, Fiona Shelmerdine of BBC Radio 3, and Mike Dutton for realising this splendid CD, especially as previous similar projects planned by other record companies have never reached fruition.

Born in Tottenham, North London, in 1885, Montague Fawcett Phillips was a chorister at St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, before winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. By the age of 12 he was playing the organ for church services and gained his FRCO at only 19. Four years later he took up residence at the console of Esher Parish Church, Surrey, where he was to serve for 35 years.

After the first world war, he was appointed a professor of harmony and composition at the RAM; this enabled him to pursue a second career as a soloist, accompanist, conductor and, most relevantly, as a composer.

Like Albert Ketèlbey and Haydn Wood, Phillips was married to a singer (Clara Butterworth), and for her he wrote over 100 songs; with these, together with his operetta "The Rebel Maid", he was to achieve his greatest success. Also in common with Haydn Wood – and Edward German (not to mention their illustrious predecessor, Arthur Sullivan), he aspired to write ‘serious’ music. He produced two Piano Concertos, a Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, a String Quartet and a number of solo piano pieces.

His other main area of interest was the well-crafted orchestral miniature, and although this genre tends to be classified as ‘light music’, in reality much of the material bridges the gap between our out-and-out ‘light’ on the one hand, and ‘serious’ on the other – yet another significant parallel with Wood and German.

Not surprisingly, Phillips’ music has a considerable affinity with the works of the other composers mentioned so far; in addition there are occasional overtones of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and at other times foreshades of Frederic Curzon. The Spring Rondo and Summer Nocturne are Phillips’ own reworking of the two central movements in his Symphony in C. Here are strong suggestions of Antonin Dvorak and Edward Elgar; the latter’s guiding hand is also most apparent in the Moorland Idyll.

The programme includes familiar items such as the Overture – Revelry and the "Rebel Maid" Dances, which could often be heard on the BBC in the good old days, together with the Surrey Suite. This has been recorded before, albeit in the composer’s own arrangement for military band, and it is good to hear it now in its original form.

All-in-all, there is much to delight the listener. Gavin Sutherland and the BBC Concert Orchestra are in sparkling form, whilst engineer Paul Waton has worked wonders with the acoustics at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio 1. Put together with Lewis Foreman’s excellent liner notes, this has to be one of the most important new CD releases of 2004, and must be regarded as a mandatory addition to every serious collector’s library.

Tony Clayden

This CD is available from the RFS Record Service for £10 [US $20] plus postage and packing.

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