Analysed by Robert Walton
There can’t be many arrangements which are defined by a constant brass interjection, but that’s the very thing that attracted me to Wagon Lit . It’s a typical Torch touch on which the whole composition rests and is perfectly in keeping with his strict policy of crispness. This syncopated feature is first heard just after the third beat of the opening bar of the tune; in fact the second quaver of the third beat. Yes, I know it’s an unlikely component of a chart to choose, but this accentuation, part and parcel of the rhythm of a train, is somehow crying out to be noticed. You may have spotted the composition is slightly more subdued than most instrumental train records, perhaps giving consideration to the passengers in the sleeping compartment of this European railroad car!
Starting out on a bright and breezy note, Wagon Lit quickly gets into its stride with a perky little tune punctuated by the said staccato insertion that only Torch, a master ‘painter’ of mood music could create. Although the orchestration is basically lighthearted, there’s an element of drama and excitement too. And then taking a brief break from all this musical sandwiching, the brass takes over the tune in a new key. Before returning to the original key, Torch brilliantly brings the orchestra back down to earth free falling no less than nine times caught very neatly in a safety net by the harp. But no sooner has the first chorus finished, than Torch retains this wonderful sense of fun and freedom with brass and pizzicato strings darting about. Finally a French horn heralds the middle section.
For once we can quite legitimately call this a ‘bridge’, the word not unconnected to a train. But an engineer called Rose who just happened to be very keen on trains himself originally designed this one! After that monumental moment in light orchestral history with his Holiday for Strings, subdivisions like this provided the perfect contrast to busier openings. Of course Torch made them entirely his own, like this one which sort of creeps in with nothing to indicate its about to start. But when it does, this gentle song-like tune provides the perfect causeway. Halfway through, the maestro can’t resist one of his favourite sounds, pizzicato strings. After the brass job-share an upwardly mobile broken chord, arco strings with more feeling and tension, leave us in no doubt that the main melody is about the return.
Which means of course we’re back to that delightful opening with those persistent trumpets slotting in at the exact moment with the now familiar exclamation. Torch never wasted a good idea so it was no surprise that he ended Wagon Lit in the same way as he embellished it. His imagination and arranging skill could well have been acquired from his organ playing days when he was required to improvise on occasions. Incidentally in that early part of his career he also caught the baton-waving bug.
Wagon Lit might not have been such a high profile number in its day, probably because it wasn’t available commercially, but after having been neglected for so long, I would thoroughly recommend you to give it a listen. The art of Sidney Torch is a wonder to behold. And with the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by the composer it’s a bonus.
The original Chappell recording of Wagon Lit is available on the Guild CD "The 1940s" (GLCD 5102)