Mantovani – By Special Request

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IClick to enlarget seems that Mantovani fans cannot get enough of their favourite Orchestra. The Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ series now focuses on some vintage tracks previously unavailable on CD.

Mantovani – By Special Request

1 Begin The Beguine (Cole Porter)
2 Carriage And Pair (Benjamin Frankel/Purcell)
3 Destiny Waltz (Sydney Baynes)
4 The Way To The Stars – theme from the film (Nicholas Brodszky)
5 Tropical (Morton Gould)
6 Blithe Spirit – Waltz Theme – from the film (Richard Addinsell)
7 Whirlwind (Ronald Binge)
8 September Nocturne (Mantovani)
9 The Timbalero – Rumba (Stanley/Borguno/Arres)
10 Passing Clouds (Phil Cardew)
11 Blue Mantilla (Pedro Manilla)
12 Flying Saucers (Bees in the Bonnet) (Dennis Fern)
13 El Choclo (Kiss Of Fire) (A Villoldo arr. Barry)
14 Love Here Is My Heart (Adrian Ross/Lao Silesu)
15 When The Lilac Blooms Again (Doelle/Mair)
16 Love’s Roundabout (La Ronde de L’Amour) (Oscar Straus, Ducreux, Purcell)
17 A Media Luz (E Donato)
18 Poème (My Moonlight Madonna) (Zdenek Fibich)
19 Love’s Dream After The Ball (Alfons Czibulka)
20 Amoureuse (So Madly In Love) (Berger)
21 Chiquita Mia (Paul Remy/Felix King)
22 Love’s Last Word Is Spoken (Bixio/Sievier)
23 Blauer Himmel (Josef Rixner)
24 Suddenly (Im Chambre Separeé) (Heuberger/Cochran)
25 The Whistling Boy (Ian Stewart)
26 The Agnes Waltz (Hannah/William/Kennedy)

Guild GLCD5110

I must admit that there have been times during the past thirty years when I have tended to pay little attention to recordings by Mantovani and his Orchestra. Things were certainly different in the early 1950s: just in my teens, I was captivated by the wonderful string sounds emanating from his orchestra, possibly partly due to the considerable enthusiasm exhibited by my mother. She bought his records, and was over the moon when she read that he would be conducting a concert locally. I can still recall accompanying her on that magical occasion, and being slightly embarrassed by the adulation she displayed in her front row seat – (Mantovani certainly didn’t mind!).

But as the years rolled by I paid more attention to original compositions in the world of light music, and tended to disregard what I considered to be predictable arrangements of tunes I didn’t particularly like. I now realise that the Mantovani recordings I heard on the radio were only part of the story, and that I was ignorant of his true achievements. In particular, the years immediately prior to Charmaine, when he was making records of light music that now stand out as being very fine indeed. For example, I was very familiar with the George Melachrino 78 of the film music from "The Way To The Stars", yet I now consider the Mantovani recording more enchanting. And what a superb recording of Out of this World he made – not to mention Carriage and Pair and the Waltz from "Blithe Spirit".

His later recordings also deserve far greater praise than I gave them at the time. I grew tired of the ‘cascading strings’, yet they really didn’t overwhelm his records as much as I seemed to imagine. The Vocalion CDs of his Decca LPs have been a revelation, yet they have only scratched the surface of his vast recorded repertoire.

I don’t think that anyone can honestly argue with the statement that Mantovani was one of the greatest conductors of popular orchestral music during the 20th century. Therefore it was inevitable that the Guild series honouring ‘The Golden Age of Light Music’ would eventually turn the spotlight on him.

In compiling this collection, Guild Music has asked many Mantovani collectors exactly which pieces they would like to have digitally restored on a new CD. The intention has been to provide a selection of music that has been largely ignored so far – not due to it being inferior in any way, but simply because no one has yet taken the time and trouble to do the necessary research to discover which musical gems are missing from the current catalogues. Thus this is not intended to be a ‘Best of …’ collection (there are plenty of those around already), but more importantly a CD that will be welcomed especially by Mantovani fans around the world – because it is just what they, themselves, have requested.

At this point it is appropriate to remind ourselves about the great man himself. Annunzio Paolo Mantovani was born in Venice, Italy on 15 November 1905. His father was principal violinist at La Scala, Milan, with the legendary Arturo Toscanini. Although details are difficult to confirm, Mantovani always maintained that he came to England when aged only four, and it is believed that he may have accompanied his father who was playing with a touring Italian opera company which performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1909. The family seems to have settled permanently in England in 1912.

During his formal studies at Trinity College he excelled on the violin, performing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 when only 16. But the young Mantovani showed leanings towards the popular music of the day, and he embarked upon a career that was typical for many aspiring musicians in the early years of the last century. His studies had equipped him well as both a violinist and pianist, and it was not long before he became proficient at composing and arranging. Living in the capital city there were plenty of opportunities for work in restaurants, hotels and theatres, and while still in his teens he realised that conducting was another skill that came easily to him. In 1923 he took a quintet into the Midland Hotel in Birmingham; by 1925 he was at London’s Metropole Hotel where one of his later players was another talented youngster who would one day become one of the most famous light music conductors alongside Mantovani – none other than George Melachrino. (It seems that Mantovani engaged Melachrino as his first violinist; with other dance bands during the 1930s he could be heard on various instruments, and he also had a pleasant singing voice.)

This was the era that witnessed the birth of radio, and the emergence of gramophone records as a major source of home entertainment. Naturally Mantovani was in demand for both, and by 1932 his name was starting to be recognised by music lovers: it was in this year that he began his series of popular recordings conducting his Tipica Orchestra. There was a steady demand for dance music, and Mantovani tended to specialise in Latin American styles, resulting in two minor hits in the USA in 1935 and 1936 (Red Sails in the Sunset and Serenade in the Night). Gradually his recorded repertoire expanded to include pieces of concert-style light music, and this laid the foundations for the large orchestra, with the emphasis on strings, that was to bring him universal acclaim from the early 1950s onwards.

In addition to all his other commitments, he conducted the theatre orchestra in West End productions such as "Sigh No More", "Pacific 1860" and "Ace of Clubs" (all Noel Coward shows), and Vivian Ellis’ "And So To Bed". But the world-wide acclaim that greeted Charmaine in 1951 forced him to devote all his energies thereafter to recording and performing concerts with the great orchestra that has ensured his well-deserved place in the history of popular music.

Today it is well-known that Ronald Binge (1910-1979) deserves recognition as the talented arranger responsible for creating the distinctive string sound (sometimes called ‘cascading strings’) which made Mantovani famous throughout the world. At times it has been unkindly suggested that the Maestro unfairly took the credit for this, but this criticism does not seem justified: for example, the label of the 1952 Decca 78 of Poème (My Moonlight Madonna) clearly states ‘orchestration by Ronald Binge’, and this appears on other titles as well.

It is far better to regard both Mantovani and Ronald Binge as partners in a famous musical team that produced numerous recordings over a long period, stretching way back many years before Charmaine took the musical world by storm.

Binge’s success with the ‘Mantovani sound’ sometimes eclipses his own distinguished career. Their partnership began in 1935 when Ronnie joined Mantovani to write arrangements for the Tipica Orchestra, and this collaboration lasted well into the 1950s. He once explained that he achieved the ‘cascading strings’ effect by emulating the technique of sacred music composers from previous centuries, who had to allow for the long reverberation in large cathedrals. Binge divided the strings into several separate sections, each allotted a different note in turn, which they would sustain until required to move on to the next passage.

Although the major part of his work closely involved Mantovani, Ronnie was keen to develop his own career in composing and arranging, and eventually he branched out on his own. Several of his works had been recorded by Mantovani during the 1940s (one example is Whirlwind on this CD), but his first major success as a composer came with Elizabethan Serenade (this was actually performed as early as 1952 by Mantovani on a transcription recording), to be followed by titles such as The Watermill, Miss Melanie and Sailing By – familiar to millions of radio listeners as the closing theme for BBC Radio 4.

Mantovani himself is represented as the composer of three titles in this collection: he wrote the charming September Nocturne which features Arthur Sandford on piano, but for Blue Mantilla he uses the pseudonym ‘Pedro Manilla’, and he appears as ‘Paul Remy’ as the co-composer with Felix King on Chiquita Mia. Other ‘hidden identities’ also include ‘Roy Faye’, ‘Leonello Gandino’, ‘Paul Monty’ and ‘Tulio Trapani’ – to name just some.

Our collection opens appropriately with the melody which Mantovani was using as his theme song at the time – Begin The Beguine. This style (reminding us of his earlier successes with his Tipica Orchestra) resurfaces again in Tropical and The Timbalero. Music from three notable British films – "So Long At The Fair" (from which comes Benjamin Frankel’s catchy Carriage And Pair), "The Way To The Stars" and "Blithe Spirit" – all offer refreshingly different arrangements from others that were recorded at the time.

The influence of Charmaine is evident from the recordings dating from the 1950s, but even in 1946 (for example Chiquita Mia) there are strong hints of the way in which Ronnie Binge’s arrangements were already exploring new ideas with the strings – all achieved by clever scoring.

The Mantovani story contains many highlights, such as the numerous awards from his colleagues in the profession, and the fact that he was the first person to have sold more than one million stereo LPs. His tours, both at home and abroad, brought him into close contact with his loyal fans, and he became a familiar friend to millions more through his television broadcasts.

By 1975 the constant travelling and concert appearances were proving to be too much of a strain, and Mantovani finally made the reluctant decision to retire through ill-health. He and his wife Winifred moved the following year to their last home together at Canford Cliffs, in Dorset. Eventually he had to go into a nursing home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where he died on 30 March 1980 aged 74. He gave the world so much wonderful music, and he truly was one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century.

David Ades

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