conducted by John Wilson
Warner Classics 9029555123 (123:00)
Although he is now a big name in classical circles, I am guessing that for John Wilson our kind of music is still his first love. This is the charismatic conductor in lighter mode. His 70-piece orchestra, with its big band element, specialising in numbers from the golden years of Hollywood and Broadway musicals, has been wowing BBC Proms audiences every year since 2009 and must be one of – if not the best – orchestras of its kind in the world.
Written by Peter Burt
BBC Philharmonic ● John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5222 (66:09)Aaron Copland (1900-90) devotees will no doubt have been waiting for this release – the last in a series – recorded in March this year at MediaCityUK, Salford. I favourably reviewed the first here in January 2016, devoted as it was to the composer’s popular ballet music.
Robert Farnon’s arrangement
Analysed by Robert Walton
These days we’re constantly bombarded with attractive specials from supermarkets and shops like “buy one and get one free”. In a Robert Farnon arrangement you get “three for the price of one”. The song comes first (often from the “Great American Songbook”) followed by the actual arrangement and then to top it all it’s full of elements of his own compositions both serious and light. There is no musician on earth who has the ability to mix and match with a sound that is completely unique. He re-invented the word taste. Wherever you happen to land on any of his recordings, even briefly, it’s unmistakably Robert Farnon and often all under 3 minutes. To hear Farnon is to hear an open-minded composer who has absorbed such an enormous amount of music, put it all together and created his own universe. In fact every time I listen to a Robert Farnon arrangement I can’t help feeling Hollywood lost out to his talents (similar to those of MGM’s Conrad Salinger). It’s understandable though because Farnon fell on his feet in so many ways when he came to England and stayed. Of course he was a remainer!
It’s unusual for a songwriter to praise a specific arrangement, but Arthur Schwartz did just that when he personally corresponded with Farnon, singling out Louisiana Hayride from the album “Something To Remember You By” as one of the finest orchestrations and performances he’d ever heard.
Starting straight but soon let loose into swing mode, the first thing I noticed about this brassy piece of big band/light orchestral music is that Farnon keeps the whole thing under control. It could have so easily descended into chaos under another conductor. Also there’s always a temptation with this kind of material to show off. The fact that he kept his cool and made it simple was the very reason that made it attractive.
After a chorus, things begin to warm up with a little Bach-ish like polyphony between the brass and saxes and snatches of the sort of tricky woodwind one might hear in a light orchestral Farnon score. And keeping things moving, a touch of the Ted Heath sound from the saxes. The strings enter for the last time before the drummer (remember Farnon in his youth was one?) keeps the orchestra under strict order with his sticks. There are some echoes of Pete Rugolo in this final section.
Robert Farnon has always been associated with strings but let’s not forget his brilliance with brass and wizardry with woodwind. In fact the whole orchestra is his world.
GEORGE GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, PIANO CONCERTO, etc.
Leopold Godowsky lll, piano / Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Josė Serebrier, conductor
SOMM - Ariadne 5003 (67:22)
This is an interesting historical re-issue – first appearing on Dinemec Classics 20 years ago – in celebration of the composer’s Centennial...
Festival March – Snapshots of London: Suite – Cities of Romance – Egypta-An Egyptian Suite – Three Famous Cinema Stars – Royal Castles Suite – Manx Countryside Sketches
BBC CONCERT ORCHESTRA / GAVIN SUTHERLAND
Produced in association with BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Concert Orchestra
Playing time: 77:02
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7357
Mantovani and his Orchestra
Your reviewer was surprised and delighted to find this release listed by the enterprising Australian classical label. It contains the two best albums of Christmas music ever recorded by a non-American light orchestra.
Main Title analysed by Robert Walton
One of the most memorable tension-ridden moments in cinema history has got to be the nail-biting sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when Cary Grant was chased by a crop-dusting aeroplane on prairie wasteland. There was no music during this segment and apart from sudden spurts of sound from the aeroplane, silence reigned. If you’ve never seen the film I urge you to...
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Main Title analysed by Robert Walton
One of the most memorable tension-ridden moments in cinema history has got to be the nail-biting sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when Cary Grant was chased by a crop-dusting aeroplane on prairie wasteland. There was no music during this segment and apart from sudden spurts of sound from the aeroplane, silence reigned. If you’ve never seen the film I urge you to.
However it’s the opening of the film I’d like to concentrate on. Although originally Spanish (there is a school of thought that says it’s of South American origin), the “fandango” became one of the main dances of Portugal in alternating 3/4 and 6/8 time, danced to the accompaniment of singing, castanets and guitar. Originating in the 18th century, it’s similar in rhythm to the bolero but different in style as it is designed to be danced. Basically it’s an exuberant courtship dance of Moorish origin and survives to this day as a folk dance in Spain, Portugal, southern France and Latin America. The fandango was first used by Gluck in his ballet Don Juan (1761), then by Mozart in The Marriage of Figaro (1786) and Rimsky-Korsakov in his Caprice Espagnol (1887).
In my view, the fandango was never used to such great effect as in the opening of the 1959 film North by Northwest. The main title music is a ‘kaleidoscopic orchestral fandango designed to kick-start the exciting routine’. Saul Bass’ opening design intersecting horizontal and oblique lines, melts into a Washington cityscape with a ‘crazy dance about to take place between Cary Grant and the world’. Bernard Herrmann employs it for no other reason, than its propulsive rhythm, reminding one of Fred Astaire. The movie is sometimes called a comedy-thriller with reference perhaps to the springy rhythm and harsh brilliance of the orchestral sonority.
The dance is a recurrent musical symbol continuing behind Grant’s crazy-drunk drive along the cliff edge and ending up in a three-car pile-up. Then we hear a crestfallen, grotesquely scored version of the dance, especially at the time of Townsend’s assassination.
The most elaborately choreographed scene is the pursuit and the fight to the death on top of the National Monument on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. At this point the dance assumes an appropriately black-veiled character in the scoring, but as the pace quickens it energizes the ending in its brazen and glittering main title guise. When Grant is first shown Eva Marie Saint’s table in the train’s restaurant car, “lift” music in piped form is being played. Gradually though it reverts to Herrmann’s background score with a telling clarinet solo. But we mustn’t forget another burst of dance, which completes the picture as the train carrying Grant and Saint disappears into the tunnel.
The fandango will never be quite the same again!
Original Motion Picture Scores
Brandenburgische Philharmonie Potsdam
Capriccio 10 469
Renaud Capuçon (violin) ● Brussels Philharmonic,
Stėphane Denève Erato 190295633936 (76:17)
Having already established that nowadays new recordings of ’our kind of music’ are almost as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth, it makes this album all the more welcome.