CD Review – Dicky Bird Hop

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Dicky Bird Hop CD ReviewCD Review – Dicky Bird Hop
Solo Piano Arrangements Of Light Music Classics, Performed By Paul Guinery.
Twenty-two tracks by – inter-alia – Geoffrey Toye , Jack Strachey Richard Addinsell, Haydn Wood, Vivian Ellis, Billy Mayerl, Madeleine Dring, Eric Coates, etc. Total playing time 78 min. 31 sec.

The name Paul Guinery might possibly 'ring a bell' to those who may recognise him as a staff announcer on BBC Radio Three and also the World Service; he still appears on-air from time-to-time as a freelance radio newsreader.

However, this has been a parallel career to that of his great love – of being an accomplished professional pianist, embracing a wide range of repertoire, from the music of Bach, Delius and Rachmaninov on the one hand, to Richard Rodgers on the other.

The practice of performing light-orchestral pieces in piano-reduction guise is not particularly new. In the heyday of Light Music, publishers would regularly produce versions for solo piano, very probably keeping more than a few staff arrangers gainfully employed, and helping to bolster sheet-music sales in the process !

This CD, recently released by the enterprising company EM RECORDS, brings together the works of no less than sixteen composers, two of whom are represented by a couple of works each. It takes its title from the eponymous 1926 novelty-song The Dicky Bird Hop, by the blind composer and broadcaster Reginald Gourlay. This became popular very many years ago in a recording by Gracie Fields. The piano arrangement here was made in 1938, by the one-time head of BBC Light Music, Fred Hartley.

Nearly all the composers' names are familiar, as will be many of their pieces, although a there are a few that are lesser-known. Notable amongst these is the world premiere recording of the Valse from the Three Lyric Pieces by Eric Coates, dating from 1930. These were, unusually, actually written for solo piano, probably at the behest of the publishers. In common with many of Coates' 'valses', it is really a concert-waltz, to be listened-to, rather than danced-to !

Initially, it was instructive to compare a few of the original orchestral versions with these solo piano renditions, some of the latter seeming to 'work' better than others. As an example, one of the two Jack Strachey compositions, Theatreland – which, incidentally, opens Paul Guinery’s programme – although beautifully executed, loses some of its impact, because it ideally needs the 'colour' of a full orchestra, whereas the other, In Party Mood is, I feel, rather more successful.

After a while, I stopped attempting to make 'like-for-like' comparisons and just concentrated on listening to the pieces as piano performances in their own right. Guinery makes much use of gentle rubato throughout, introducing rallentandi / ritardandi to great effect. He also frequently includes his own little flourishes and decorations, which greatly add to the enjoyment of his inspired interpretations.

There are two similar pieces included which were both written for epic WW2 films, viz. Herbert Bath's 1944 Cornish Rhapsody, and the Warsaw Concerto, dating from 1941, attributed to Richard Addinsell. [Most regrettably, no mention is made of the fact that most – some consider all – of the latter opus is in reality the work of Roy Douglas, who never received sufficient acknowledgement, nor indeed adequate financial reward, for his considerable labours expended in realising this composition].
Whilst both are effectively miniature concertos for piano and orchestra, [often dubbed 'Denham Concertos'], Paul Guinery delivers the piano parts, and combines them with a reduction of the orchestral lines, in a highly virtuosic manner.

The CD is accompanied by a beautifully produced 32-page booklet, which contains comprehensive details about each composer, together with descriptive notes about the pieces themselves – all penned by Paul Guinery. There is no doubt that he has a very intuitive 'feel' for this music, to which he has added his own special 'signature'.

I can thoroughly recommend this very enjoyable CD to all devotees of Light Music, especially to those who are interested in experiencing something 'just a bit different'.

Many congratulations to Paul Guinery – and indeed EM records– who can be contacted as follows:-

© Tony Clayden 2021

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