15 Mar

CD Review – 'Classical Changes'

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CD Review – 'Classical Changes'
Art Deco Trio
SOMM CD0663 [73’03]

We discovered the Art Deco Trio with their impressive debut album Gershwinicity a couple of years ago, and here they are again in a release that is largely fun from beginning to end.

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09 Mar

Pelosi

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Pelosi
By Robert Walton

If you’re interested in American politics, you will know Nancy Pelosi was the 52nd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. It was big news when the break-in of her San Francisco residence occurred in which her businessman husband Paul suffered serious injuries from an intruder.

Every time she appears on television, I’m reminded of another Pelosi who was in the music business - songwriter Don Pelosi.

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Pelosi
By Robert Walton

If you’re interested in American politics, you will know Nancy Pelosi was the 52nd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. It was big news when the break-in of her San Francisco residence occurred in which her businessman husband Paul suffered serious injuries from an intruder.

Every time she appears on television, I’m reminded of another Pelosi who was in the music business - songwriter Don Pelosi. He was born Leonardo Domenico Pelosi in North London, the son of Domenico, an Italian from Picinisco, a historical town in the Lazio region. The young Pelosi was born within the sounds of The ‘Bow Bells’ of the church of St. Mary le-Bow. He grew up in Clerkenwell or ‘Little Italy’ in London. (The only other Pelosi I knew was a Welsh priest).

Whenever the great song standards of the 20th Century are discussed, it’s a fair bet that The Stars Will Remember from 1947 will not be amongst them. Why? It might not be in the top echelon of evergreens but this pretty little British ditty can’t be ignored. After all it was recorded by Steve Conway, Robert Farnon (Dick James), Vera Lynn, Scotty McHarg, Vaughn Monroe, Monte Rey and Billy Thorburn. My favourite version of the song from the 1948 film “Smart Girls Don’t Talk” was by one of the most underrated vocalists of the 1940s, Howard Jones with Joe Loss and His Orchestra.

However the most notable recording was by Frank Sinatra with Axel Stordahl’s Orchestra. On the current Google this isn’t even mentioned unless you specifically ask for it. I thought that Sinatra’s connection would have easily warranted an automatic inclusion.

I was first attracted to this plaintive melody because it was easy to play by ear. It’s a no-frills tune, some might say quite ordinary, but it’s that very directness which distinguishes it from other songs of the post war era. It’s an intuitive melody which may well have come to the composer on the spur of the moment. Whilst there’s a definite hymn-like quality about it, the tune would make an excellent national anthem. Listen to the brass at the close of the Joe Loss arrangement.

Unlike most quality ballads with the climax near the end, this one gets to the point very quickly. As early as bar 5 the tune swells quite naturally on the word “stars” appropriately on a top D supported by a major 9 chord, repeating the title in a highly emotive way. And then as an afterthought the words “so will I” are tagged on. Some may have thought that was the actual title. (Strangely enough twenty years earlier there was a song actually called So Will I ).

The listener has now got the message loud and clear. Every time the whole phrase occurs, it tugs at your heartstrings. Bringing a celestial element into the equation is perhaps the ultimate romantic illusion taking the song out of the common place into the rare. It worked well on this occasion. Lyricist Leo Towers keeping his feet firmly on the ground, doesn’t forget earthly things like a rose and a kiss. But his lyrical masterstroke, although he wouldn’t have been aware of it then, was quoting the song which has become the best known in the entire golden era of popular music, As Time Goes By.

Still in the written key of C, the tune slips effortlessly into a totally predictable middle section where we find our lovesick lover in a lonely lane, whose only company are those friendly stars. Harmonically nothing special happens, and yet step by step the melody quickly builds into a modest but perfectly formed climax alighting on the word “call” after the brokenhearted lover imagines he or she hears the ex lover’s voice. So what is the appeal of the song? In a word, simplicity. There are many more ‘star’ songs but none tells this touching little tale so evocatively in a way we can all relate to. And it’s underplayed so brilliantly that one really feels for the unfortunate victim. In such an uncomplicated setting, the pain and suffering seem truly genuine. A perfect match of words and music.

But even when this much neglected song falls into complete oblivion, at least we can be reassured that the stars will remember, and come to think of it, so will I!

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14 Feb

Music For Romance

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Music For Romance
(Sherwin, Maschwitz)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The American practice of using surnames as first names has always appealed to me, firstly because they’re different and secondly they sound more engaging and impressive. One that comes immediately to mind is Manning Sherwin (1902-1974). (a name not a million miles from Gershwin).

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Music For Romance
(Sherwin, Maschwitz)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The American practice of using surnames as first names has always appealed to me, firstly because they’re different and secondly they sound more engaging and impressive. One that comes immediately to mind is Manning Sherwin (1902-1974). (a name not a million miles from Gershwin).

Born in Philadelphia, Sherwin went to Columbia University and had a long career in musical theatre and films. He was known for “Empire of the Sun” and “Hi Gang”. However his main claim to fame was as tunesmith for one of the best songs of the 20th century - A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square with words by Eric Maschwitz written for “New Faces”. From Binnie Hale’s 1939 operetta “Magyar Melody”, Albert Sandler gives his typical Palm Court treatment of Music for Romance - a world away from Berkeley Square.

Essentially it’s a fast waltz introduced by a series of impressionistic harmonies - the sort that Dizzy Gillespie borrowed for bebop. It’s essentially a piano solo with orchestra starting the number off in a 1930s/40s style. Of particular note is the excellent touch of the pianist. The orchestra stays for the bridge and together they continue to support each other in this section. The bridge returns quite quickly with our soloist resuming his role.

Now we come to the highlight of the piece with a subtle upward key change when violinist Sandler gets mesmerized by the tune and treats it with the utmost respect by slowing it down and squeezing every inch out of its beautiful melody. Only Sandler could do that in his own special way. If you listen carefully you will hear the Sherwin harmonic style even in this comparatively straight tune. Most composers never completely lose it.

Back to the orchestra as it gradually builds up to the original tempo while the piano performs an accompanying role for a well-controlled ending. Finally a word about Sandler’s tone. He never applies any tricks but sticks closely to the tune without any apparent effort. The result is pure perfection. He has no need to be a prodigy because his vibrato is so absolutely “natural”. And there lies the word that sums up this artist of extraordinary talent. There aren’t many left now!

Golden Age of Light Music - the 1940s
Guild GLCD 5102

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29 Jan

Prokofiev - Suites from Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet

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Prokofiev
Suites from Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet
Ian Scott clarinet Jonathan Higgins piano
divine art dda 25232 [50:09]

Born in Ukraine, Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) is probably best-known by light music enthusiasts for Peter and the Wolf but these ballet suites are not far behind in popularity.

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29 Jan

Blue Tango -- Very Best of Leroy Anderson Light Classics -- Iain Sutherland Concert Orchestra

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 "Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was arguably the most successful 20th century American composer of light orchestral music, at a time when the genre was known internationally.

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(reposted 29 Januari 2023)

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New Leroy Anderson CD
IAIN SUTHERLAND CONCERT ORCHESTRA.
ALTO ALC 1324

"Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was arguably the most successful 20th century American composer of light orchestral music, at a time when the genre was known internationally. Sadly, opportunities today to hear the music of Anderson and many other highly gifted composers of music in the lighter vein are exceptionally rare, so it is through the medium of recordings that we can still experience, and react to, such wonderfully inspired and attractive music as we find on this CD.

Iain Sutherland was for many years conductor of BBC's "Friday Night is Music Night" broadcasts (one of the very few regular programmes to feature this style of music), and his performances of music of this character are endemic to a conductor who seems to have these pieces as part of his cardio-vascular system. Throughout this highly enjoyable CD, the performances are just as they should be - this colourful and attractive music benefiting hugely from the quality this gifted conductor brings to it.

Iain Sutherland's Concert Orchestra is made up of excellent players and of full orchestral strength. The recordings are excellently balanced. But, the main attraction is the music itself - a piece such as "Serenata" is manifestly inspired; once heard, this wonderful music becomes quite unforgettable. Highly recommended.

Robert Mathew-Walker.
With acknowledgements to ‘/Musical Opinion’ / Classical Music Magazine

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27 Jan

Bright Lights

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(Victor Young)
by Robert Walton

When David Rose wrote Holiday for Strings he probably had no idea how much it would influence a whole generation of light orchestral composers...

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(reposted 27 Januari 2023)

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(Victor Young)
by Robert Walton

When David Rose wrote Holiday for Strings he probably had no idea how much it would influence a whole generation of light orchestral composers. His original formula of a bustling opening and sweeping middle section soon became a universal model. Every light music writer in the 1940s and 1950s fell completely under its spell, especially with the use of pizzicato. Rose’s employment of plucked strings clearly had its classical roots in the popular Pizzicato Polka (Johann Strauss 2nd/Josef Strauss) and in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony.

Even the great Victor Young was inspired by Rose’s format. The unconventional angular opening of his Bright Lights gives the impression of a modern piano concerto. Certainly you couldn’t hum the repetitive segment of Bright Lights like you could Holiday for Strings, but the idea is obviously borrowed from the English-born composer. It’s a sort of 20th century Bach playing with polyphony.

Then suddenly the rhythm section with a rhumba beat sounding like an introduction to The Trolley Song, announces the imminent arrival of the eagerly anticipated middle section. We are immediately enveloped by Young’s dazzling arco string extravaganza, while the ‘piano concerto’ style of the first part continues in an accompanying role, skillfully incorporated into the mix. Listen out for a suggestion of Ellington’s I Got It Bad and a touch of Trevor Duncan’s High Heels?

So what’s Victor Young going to do now? Why, get the orchestra to play 16 bars from the top! That’s what. You might well say, “it goes on a bit”. But clearly Young knows what he’s doing because it all makes musical sense. Then the piano is given a solo spot playing the first half of the middle section. There’s every likelihood that Ray (“Sparky’s Magic Piano”) Turner was the pianist often heard with Young. The strings dying to rejoin the orchestra become subtle opportunists weaving their way back in and eventually succeeding. Guess what happens in the coda? You’re absolutely right; those 16 bars are brought back and neatly finish the job. I expect by now you’ll be able to whistle that difficult phrase!

Victor Young might have been indebted to Rose, but at the same time he in turn created a classic unlike any other in the light orchestral canon.

Bright Lights (Young) from The Golden Age of Light Music “The Composer Conducts”
Available on Guild Records (GLCD 5214)

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.

John Barry Plays 007 - new book

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The stories and artwork behind the music of every James Bond film scored by John Barry alongside 300+ colour images, Oct 27, 2022, English
    By Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker || Cover design and artwork by: Ruud Rozemeijer.