Stanley Black’s version analysed by Robert Walton
It was back in the mid-1950s as a member of the New Zealand Territorial Armed Forces, I was sent to the Whangaparaoa Peninsular in the north of the North Island for a weekend’s exercise. The Army, not exactly noted for any cultural or refined qualities, surprised everyone with the playing of German composer Paul Lincke’s tune Beautiful Spring over the public address system. It perfectly reflected the glorious Saturday morning we awoke to. Mind you, some of the boys weren’t quite as enthusiastic as me. It was the performance and especially the arrangement by the Stanley Black Orchestra, which caught my ear. So military matters were the last thing on my mind.
The opening of this recording reminded me of some of the radio signature tunes heard on the BBC Light Programme in the 1940s and 50s. In fact Stanley Black conducted many of these post WW2 themes even if he didn’t actually arrange all of them himself. Thrilling trumpets act as a sort of attention-grabbing “fanfare”, followed by the melody played by trombones and woodwind. The arrangement really comes alive when the strings suddenly sweep in, buzzing below individual trumpets that come together in a harmonic block like the opening.
Now we are in pure Farnonland as a flute and pizzicato strings continue the tune, answered by muted brass. In my view this sound is the rhythmic kernel of the finest in light orchestral music. David Rose started the ball rolling in America in 1944 with Holiday for Strings, but Robert Farnon took the formula to new heights never surpassed.
Hard to keep the strings away but in this very specialized environment they are fundamental to the style. There is nothing in serious music that sounds anything like this. With brass interjections and the harp demonstrating its ability with two showy swells, unison strings continue to play the tune. Calmer sustained woodwind led to brass surrounded by pizzicato and busy arco strings.
Then a section of rich close harmony strings with the melody. Suddenly we go into four emphatic brass beats that sound like a march coming on, interspersed with a glorious short string passage. But back to the march with a touch of timpani and brought to a final halt by the brass. If by now you’re somewhat out of breath and staggered with how this average tune was transformed.... put the blame on Angela! Morley of course. Well, who else?
On Blue Decca 78 rpm (F.10351)
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