An extensively re-furbished Lauderdale House, in North London’s Highgate Village, was the venue for the annual Spring Concert given by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra. This was their sixteenth consecutive Bank Holiday event, which was well supported by many faithful ‘regulars’ – including several from the London Light Music Meetings Group – and in addition, a number of ‘first timers’.
Amongst the latter was Howard Del Monte, who had travelled from Hampshire to hear a spirited rendering of his father Sydney’s composition ‘ Bows and Bells ‘. This was a popular
favourite on BBC Radio around fifty years ago. Sydney Del Monte was a guitarist and banjo player, who was a regular member of The Banjoliers for many years.
We were treated once again to an afternoon of fine ‘Palm Court’ music in contrasting styles; a few ‘fast and jolly’ compositions, interspersed with some calmer pieces and garnished with some songs performed Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts.
Nearly one hundred years of musical heritage was represented, ranging from ‘light classical’ to ‘jazzy’. The programme featured a line-up of works, which, with one or two exceptions, have not previously been performed by the orchestra. These included two selections with a definite gipsy influence, from the Russian composer Yascha Krein and G. S. Mathis [a pseudonym of Hungarian émigré Matyas Seiber].
Other composers featured included Charles Ancliffe, Sigmund Romberg, Gerhard Winkler and Albert Ketelbey, who made two appearances with pieces written specifically to accompany silent films. A later generation was represented by, amongst others, Horst Jankowski, Ray Martin and Leroy Anderson.
A welcome surprise was the original version of the famous ‘American Patrol’ by Fred Meacham, in a very different rendition from the familiar arrangement made popular by Glenn Miller and others.
Adam Bakker, who runs and directs the orchestra, has recently acquired the entire collection of sheet music previously owned by Ann Adams, who was the founder of – and for many years conducted – the Ladies Palm Court Orchestra. Four of the items on the programme came from this source. Speaking to Adam during the interval, it became apparent that he faces a mammoth task of sorting and archiving this vast inventory of compositions !
As always, the orchestra’s performance was of a very high standard, the players obviously relishing the opportunity to perform repertoire from a ‘threatened genre’ which, most regrettably, achieves very little exposure these days.
Very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, for presenting another really enjoyable concert and especially for continuing to promote ‘Palm Court’ music.
By Robert Walton.
There was a school of thought that believed popular musicians with foreign sounding names had a commercial advantage over common or garden Anglo Saxon ones. Catchy names like Mantovani or Kostelanetz certainly had a ring to them but just because they looked or sounded more distinguished than say the Chacksfields or the Farnons of this world weren’t necessarily a guarantee of classier music. After all, most English born music directors had quite ordinary names, but unlike film stars and entertainers saw no reason to change them. Equally there were many serious composers like Harris and Bennett who didn’t find their names a problem. Nevertheless if you were born with an exotic name or had a nom de plume like Geraldo (Gerald Bright) or Roberto Inglez (Robert Inglis), there’s no doubt it added a touch of class to the image! Mind you, some musicians did exactly the opposite like John Gregori who anglicised his to Johnny Gregory. One English musician who was quite happy to keep his real name was George Melachrino, son of a Greek father and an English mother. Just as well he did because it certainly didn’t do his career any harm. It tripped off the tongue like any good solid homegrown name, and now after all these years seems as British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!
It was my father who introduced me to the music of George Melachrino - well to be exact, the Melachrino Strings. What attracted him was the unfussy style. He was very fond of light classics like Chanson de Matin, Estrellita, La Serenata, Mattinata, Poéme, Serenade (Schubert), Song of Paradise, and especially Bercuese de Jocelyn. Although there have been many different arrangements of these, no one ever improved upon the Melachrino format - unison violins often in their lower register bursting out into a rich tapestry of strings in close harmony. There was nothing corny, Palm Court-ish or syrupy and certainly not gimmicky. I could never understand why Classic FM didn’t feature any of these, especially as they were never over arranged and always faithful to the original. In some ways the Melachrino Strings were the light orchestral answer to the Boyd Neel String Orchestra. However, light classics represented only a part of the Melachrino Strings repertoire. Current songs, novelty instrumentals and the great standards all fitted into the style. In 1947 Melachrino made Masquerade, a lesser-known waltz of 1932 sound like his own composition. He would have been familiar with it from his dance band days. This tailor-made minor miracle written by Maharajah of Magador composer John Jacob Loeb was originally sung by Sam Browne with Ambrose. On the other hand, Melachrino’s own Vision d”Amour could easily have taken its place alongside those authentic classics.
But strings were only a part of Melachrino’s world. The full orchestra of fifty played an even bigger role, not least with those selections of film and show tunes. Again Melachrino cornered the market with those lush Hollywood style interpretations, but the arrangements and indeed recording quality had come a long way since Louis Levy’s Gaumont British Symphony. While the Melachrino Orchestra continued that tradition, no longer were singers part of the package. You either hummed along or sang the words to yourself, if you could remember them! In fact a policy of non-vocals extended into all his recordings, apart from rare occasions when he accompanied artists like the Luton Girls Choir, the Peter Knight Singers or Jean Sablon. You probably got more melodies for your money with a Melachrino medley, because despite the time constraints imposed by the 78rpm format, he cleverly interwove little extras into the kaleidoscope.
Melachrino never compromised his standards by churning out tune after tune. It was the long playing disc that put an end to all that by giving the arranger more freedom to be inventive, so you got better value on each individual song. When George arranged Broadway Melody from “Parade of the Film Hits” I wonder if he gave a thought to the other Broadway in Worcestershire where his mother came from? As well as the Orchestra and Strings, Melachrino had a lesser-known third group called the Masqueraders - a 16-piece light music combination.
Born in London in 1909, George Melachrino was probably the most versatile of all the light orchestral leaders. He was a conductor, arranger, composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer and occasional juggler and knockabout comedian! But these skills weren’t achieved overnight. Even as a youngster he must have been extremely focused, because from the age of four he knew that strings were to be his forte when he became the proud owner of a miniature violin. Apart from the piano and harp, he mastered every instrument of the orchestra. Although Melachrino had been classically trained as a teenager at Trinity, when it came to seeking employment he underwent a complete change of musical direction. It was his first BBC broadcast in 1927 that opened up a whole new world of dance music. His brilliant sight reading and natural ability on saxophones, clarinet, violin and viola made him in great demand for the bands of Jack Jackson, Van Phillips, Jay Wilbur, Harry Hudson (playing alongside Mantovani and Ted Heath), Ambrose and Carroll Gibbons. And being able to sing well was rare for an instrumentalist. By 1939 he had his own dance orchestra at the Café de Paris.
It’s a sad fact of history that wars can often tragically cut short promising careers, but equally they can offer undreamed of opportunities for entertainers and musicians. In WW2 while serving as a military policeman, Melachrino suffered a back injury that proved to be his lucky break. He became musical director of the Army Radio Unit and toured with ‘Stars in Battledress’. This allowed him to work with a 50-piece orchestra. When the British Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was formed he was the obvious choice for conductor alongside Glenn Miller and Robert Farnon who directed the American and Canadian Bands - the most amazing triumvirate of talent ever assembled in Britain.
Now Melachrino was given an incredible 80 players, virtually a full-sized symphony orchestra, and in retrospect a heaven sent opportunity for his civilian style to be developed. One of his early arrangements was Pennsylvania Polka, a song originally introduced by the Andrews Sisters, whose father was also Greek! Being part of that exciting environment must have been a tremendous learning curve. As well as the usual dance band lineup of saxophones and brass, each orchestra had its own string section, so it must have been an unprecedented opportunity to compare notes. It was during this period that Melachrino acquired a lot of his string ideas, not necessarily from strings, but saxophones. After all, arranger Melachrino being no stranger to playing tenor sax and clarinet, could relate to reeds. He might not have been aware of it but even when he was playing in dance bands he was serving an apprenticeship for string writing. I believe the Melachrino Strings were firmly rooted in the Glenn Miller sound (clarinet, 2 altos and 2 tenors). In string terms that would be something like distributing a 5 note chord between the violins (3 notes), and the violas and cellos one each. And yet Melachrino sounds a million miles away from Miller. Listen to Moonlight Serenade played by the Strings. Even a simple four note close harmony chord (E,G,A,C) has the Melachrino sound written all over it.
A vital element for any successful composer/arranger is a right hand man. Robert Farnon had Bruce Campbell, Nelson Riddle had Gilbert Grau and George Melachrino had William Hill-Bowen. He was a brilliant arranger, composer and pianist and a great asset to the Melachrino Organization. Three well known compositions of his were Paris Promenade and Paris Metro recorded by the Orchestra, and Park Avenue Waltz recorded by the Strings. In Robert Docker’s Legend, William Hill-Bowen showed what a superb soloist he was.
Melachrino might not have been as prolific as Farnon or Torch but nevertheless he wrote some beautiful miniatures, starting at the age of 4 with Up the Mountains, the notation of which resembled a mountain range. Most of them exuded a certain Englishness, just as Coates’s music had. There’s never a dull moment in one of Melachrino’s most interesting instrumentals, the playful Les Jeux living up top its name (Playing) with its teasing time signature changes. Violins in the Night obviously has a lyric because the title fits so perfectly with the opening strain. I half expected to hear George himself singing it with the strings. And talking of vocal numbers, in the hands of arranger Melachrino, Robert Farnon’s My Song of Spring was truly transformed into a Sophistication Waltz! Busybodies was in the Shooting Star mould and the Vaughan Wiliams-like Woodland Revel again reveals Melachrino’s facility for strings. Copper Concerto possibly inspired by Melachrino’s experiences in the military police, contains quotes from If You Want to Know the Time Ask a Policeman, Policeman’s Holiday and his own Winter Sunshine. Starlight Roof Waltz has to be one of the most exhilarating waltzes of all time. In Portrait of a Lady there’s a passing resemblance to Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and one of the most untypical Melachrino tunes was the Danse d’Extase from the film “No Orchids for Miss Blandish”. But the undisputed Melachrino masterpiece is Winter Sunshine with its slightly sinister Slaughter on Tenth Avenue-like opening and its absolutely thrilling build-up to a colossal climax, followed by one of the most peaceful passages in all music.
I first learnt about George Melachrino’s untimely death on June 18 1965 on a newspaper display board outside Earl’s Court tube station in London. It hit me particularly hard because only the day before I had met up with a member of the Melachrino team, a Mr Jones. As well as a fixer for Melachrino recording dates he was also looking for background material for America and asked me to write some. He played several Melachrino tapes but what really impressed me was seeing at first hand George’s original score of I Remember the Cornfields.
If Paul Weston was the pioneer of mood music albums, then Melachrino was the undisputed master on this side of the Atlantic. Of all British light orchestras, Melachrino’s stood alone as the truly “symphonic” aggregation even if it wasn’t quite as modern or light as some of the others. In spite of the mighty Melachrino Orchestra’s international reputation, George Melachrino will be remembered, not for those powerful cinematic images, but something far more subtle and understated - that sublime string sound which he made his own.
ELGAR Complete Works for Wind Quintet, Chandos CHAN 241-33 Athena Ensemble. Don’t be put off by the title because this is one of the most charming and delightful double CDs you will ever encounter. Light and jolly salon music of the very highest quality it comes at a bargain price of around just £10 and you won’t find better value anywhere. Before Elgar became famous he wrote several light tuneful pieces for a youthful wind quintet in which he played the bassoon. The members amused themselves privately but with an occasional public performance, including a local mental hospital. It is quite possible you may recognise some of the pieces from radio and television themes, and after you have played them you will definitely want to hear them again. You will also find the tunes buzzing around in your head for the rest of your life which, just for the record, are as follows: Harmony Music No. 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5; Five Intermezzos; Six Promenades; Four Dances; Evesham Andante; Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Originally released as a double LP it makes a wonderful double CD, deal for the car or background music at home. Beware, though, the tunes are addictive and you will find yourself humming them incessantly! Why? Try Harmony Music No. 4 which is subtitled The Farmyard!
Analysed by Robert Walton
When Tony Tamburello died in 1992 at the age of 72, a brief obituary in the New York Times described him as a jazz pianist and vocal coach of the famous. His pupils included Tony Bennett (whom he once managed), Judy Garland, Juliet Prowse, Jerry Vale and Tommy Leonetti. The story goes he had a van permanently parked in a New York street for the purpose of teaching. The only recorded evidence I have that he played piano, was on a 10” LP of selections from Oklahoma and South Pacific by the Tony Burrello Trio, spelt you’ll notice with two r’s. When questioned about the identity of the pianist he immediately denied it. But his real love was composing, especially of the lighter kind but like songwriters Vivian Ellis and Jack Stachey who often strayed into the world of light music he couldn’t orchestrate, so it was necessary to seek the services of an arranger.
I only met him once but what a get together that proved to be. It was in London and I was showing him a few of my songs for Tony Bennett. It wasn’t long before the subject of light music came up, and just a mention of a certain Canadian soon revealed Tamburello was Farnon crazy. But when I casually threw in the title Melody Fair to get his reaction, Tony said “Now you’re talking, it might be only two and a half minutes but that’s my favourite piece of music of all time!” Clearly Farnon was his God! I had never met anyone who was quite so besotted.
There’s no doubt that ‘busy’ music if played well can be very exciting especially if it’s imaginatively arranged. Bach was one of the first composers to test musicians’ technique to the limit with lots of quick notes and if it came off the result could be thrilling.
In the field of light orchestral music the effect can be just as exciting. In the mid-1940s one of the first such British successes to appeal to the public was RunawayRocking Horse. Sidney Torch’s Shooting Star was another classic proactive piece. If you want to experience an exceptional roller coaster of a ride in a classical vein, have a listen to the opening bars of Glinka’s overture to Ruslan andLyudmila then you’ll understand what exceeding the speed limit means!
However when it comes to Tony Tamburello’s Always Busy it’s comparatively relaxed, not too fast but a very listenable composition. That’s because it has a good tune unlike many soundalikes of the period that were just thrown together with corny backings.
The flute is basically in charge of the introduction with a touch of the Scotch Snap - a rhythmic device in which a dotted note is preceded by a note of shorter value. And then it’s all systems go as this exciting string exercise gets underway, reminding us of the work ethic or someone who simply can’t relax. It’s a beautifully logical tune that you might find yourself humming. As soon as it’s finished we’re into Angela Morley country with a lovely contrasting jazz-influenced bridge, a sort of staycation for strings. And talking of string breaks, the David Rose influence is loud and clear. Right on cue the energetic strings return with another vigorous rendition.
What follows is an expansion of the previous ‘Morley’ section starting with the flute and then strings. Before leading back to the intro, the sound of another intro, that of RadioRomantic takes us back to AlwaysBusy for what effectively is a repeat from the top. More bustling strings of which I honestly can’t get enough. Then more ‘Morley’ but in elegant waltz time before the lively strings complete the workout. Radio Romantic is brought back to finish the job with the woodwind having the last staccato say.
Always Busy is a good example of a musical ‘baton’ being passed down from one composer to another. Robert Farnon gave it to Angela Morley while she handed it on to Tony Tamburello. Whatever Tony wrote was always of a very high standard indicating a real understanding of this unique genre with its refreshingly modern tunes, harmonies and implied decoration. I’m only guessing but I suspect the arrangement was by Bruce Campbell. I’m already looking forward to analysing more Tamburello, so watch this space.
Always Busy is played by The Telecast Orchestra on a Chappell 78rpm disc C598.
Analysed by Robert Walton
After constantly analysing a great deal of light music in all its diverse forms, it’s always nice to return to the comfort zone of the legendary Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, rummaging through its archives for more marvels I may have missed. Such is its worldwide reputation, it’s one orchestra always guaranteed to give a perfect performance with state of the art compositions. One such classic is Dance of the Blue Marionettes written by Leslie Clair. His real name was Leslie Judah Solley (1905-1968) who was at one time an MP for the Thurrock constituency of Essex.
Cinema organist Sidney Torch recorded an old-fashioned syncopated version of Dance of the Blue Marionettes in 1933. Fourteen years later in 1947, Torch having reinvented himself as a light orchestral composer, again had a part to play, albeit a smaller one as conductor of the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. You would have thought Torch was in the ideal position to score it himself but it was not to be. Instead, one of the best backroom boys in the business, Len Stevens, fulfilled that role creating a brilliant makeover of Dance of the Blue Marionettes. In a slower tempo than the original, he gave it the wash and brush up it badly needed. Composer Clair couldn’t have dreamt of the result. Ironically it sounded very much like a Torch arrangement full of invention, crispness and wit. So with that in mind let’s dissect it and investigate the anatomy of a marionette.
Pizzicato strings, flute and muted brass set the scene in an unusually long introduction (12 bars) including a particularly skilful section just before the start. The composition promises to be a great little workout for all concerned. The opening of Dance of the Blue Marionettes is identical to the first two bars of Music, Music, Music, but there the resemblance ends. We continue with that toe-tapping tune completely comfortable and contented in its new clothes. In bar 9 to avoid monotony that same tune is heard in a new key. Then sensitive strings come into their own with 8 bars of gorgeous sweeping brushstrokes acting as an excellent contrast. So back to the familiar strain low lighted with a bass line of sustained strings.
Warm woodwind repeat the strokes in closer harmony but the strings can’t resist the chance to show how it’s really done. The whole thing is then repeated (except the warm woodwind) until we finally reach an imaginative fun-filled coda and Dance of the Blue Marionettes comes to a carefree close.
I can’t think of a better example of a 1930’s tune being transformed so deftly into the 1940s when light music truly came of age and sounding quite at home in its new surroundings. This was an undoubted triumph for boffin Stevens!
Dance of the Blue Marionettes can be heard on “Childhood Memories” on Guild’s Golden Age of Light Music (GLCD 5125).
An article by William Zucker.
Just a little over two years ago, I wrote an article for the RFS site with the title "Differing Versions of the Same Set Light Music Selections."
Over this time period, I have obtained information that would necessitate my adding additional material, as well as correcting some erroneous assumptions that I had made in the absence of such information.
Much of this that I now have to share has come and is continuing to come from the uploads of Mr. Graham Miles, a fellow RFS member whose channel on YouTube I now subscribe to.
There have been made available a considerable number of recordings that originated in the various mood libraries, not previously available. I in turn have shared many videos from YouTube with Graham, and the exchange of information has become mutually profitable, even though at present, I do not have the ability to upload files whereas with Graham it is a passion - he will even take recordings that I request that he upload if I observe that they have not been uploaded by others, if he happens to have them available. As may be gathered, his collection of light music selections from various sources is considerable, and he does explore other channels offering such music, as I have been myself.
What I would like to embark on here would be to go over my article of January, 2015, and take it point by point to make additions, corrections, and general observations as a result of this additional information I have obtained over this period, throwing in some comments that I feel are pertinent:
With Leroy Anderson, I had mentioned that the earliest versions he had recorded of his selections were in my considered opinion, the best ones, and gave my reasons for this preference, and have even urged any interested listener to consider these when a choice was to be made,
The same, by the way, would apply to the Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler recordings I had specified; namely, "Serenata, "Sleigh Ride," "Fiddle Faddle," and the Irish Suite. Here too, I would give the palm to the earliest versions. With the Irish Suite, I have noted that all performances by the Boston Pops that have been posted on YouTube are apparently from a live performance, not from the original recording, as there is applause between each movement. Many listeners conceivably might not wish to have this intrusion within the work but would greatly prefer to listen to it uninterruptedly, fine as the rendition itself may be.
David Rose comes under discussion here as well, as Graham has uploaded a later version of "On a Little Country Road in Switzerland," one of Mr. Rose's most endearing selections - actually the two versions were uploaded side by side so that a direct comparison could be made.
In this later version, which I have hitherto remained totally unaware of, unlike the case of the drastic overhaul with "Gay Spirits" and the major touchups with "Holiday for Strings," in this case the composition remained essentially unchanged, save for the elimination of the charming yodeling effect that appears at the beginning and end of the piece. One might well ask why Mr. Rose saw fit to eliminate this when it so beautifully sets off the piece in its original version. The overall instrumentation is somewhat heavier as well, whereas a light touch is clearly needed in this piece.
Which brings me to Percy Faith, whose work along these lines is a subject in itself.
Quite recently, I became aware of the fact that when Mr. Faith was contracted to make recordings for Columbia, he expressed a lack of interest in working with soloists in his recordings, whether vocal or instrumental. The deal was made sweeter for him when he was advised that he would only need to cut a few recordings with soloists, and with all the rest of these he could produce as he wished. This disinclination and lack of interest I refer to unfortunately evidenced itself in his recordings, and it potentially represents a side of him that I could well imagine that his admirers would choose to overlook and forgive.
In one or two of the recordings he made with a soloist, his accompaniment in itself was so flamboyant (think of "Rags to Riches" he made with Tony Bennett as an example) as to threaten to steal the attention from the soloist who quite properly should be in the foreground. In them, Mr. Faith sounds almost like a caged animal fighting to break the bonds of his imposed limitations.
This had other manifestations in that a number of recordings that he did make with a soloist or soloists, he felt that he actually had to go back and rerecord these totally on his own, and one can only speculate on the need for this.
Thus we have his classic hit with Felicia Sanders of Auric's "Song from Moulin Rouge," although here at least in his later instrumental version he gave us an expanded double length version which did not occur elsewhere in these instances. We have the song "Non Dimenticar" which he originally recorded with Jerry Vale, which recording made the charts, but then he immediately went back to record a nearly identical version musically, entirely on his own, without the vocal line.
Two of the most enchantingly beautiful settings he recorded was with a wordless chorus dubbed "The Magic Voices" featured in "Zez Confrey's "Dizzy Fingers" and Rodgers' "If I Loved You" from "Carousel;" both really lovely settings I still listen to with pleasure today, and then for whatever reason he had to go back and redo both of these selections without the wordless chorus, and without the charm of the original, to dubious purpose.
And I already mentioned the selections from his album "Music Until Midnight" which featured Mitch Miller as oboe/cor anglais soloist, which was one of the most successful albums of mood music ever made, and then Mr. Faith right afterward had to rerecord many of the selections from this album without the wind solos, with a corresponding loss of shape and focus in the way the selections now presented themselves.
One may well ask, why did he feel the need to rerecord so many selections that he did with featured soloists over again without them? Was the matter of working with soloists so disagreeable to him for whatever reason that he felt the need to "cleanse" them in some way? I do not have a clue as to the reason for what unmistakably took place, and knowing the circumstances under which he signed his contract with Columbia records, I can only say that it is perhaps kindest to overlook this facet of his work as not entirely complimentary to him, as he was a truly great artist in this genre, so perhaps we should allow him some slack as he has overall more than earned our admiration for his accomplishments. But one could also point out the numerous remakes even of outstanding instrumental selections from his earlier years, which prompts me here too to advise people to stick with the earlier versions as much better showing off the genius in his settings, as against the cheapening and coarsening of his work in their later incarnations, probably in the interests of commercialization, although in that regard he was not alone in this field, as has been pointed out.
* * *
The situation with the recordings from the UK, notably those that originated in the various mood libraries, remains as confusing as ever. Often a piece was recorded more than once by the same conductor, producing two different versions, although in most cases I indicate a preference for the composer's own original versions, with the exceptions as I have noted in the article, but with the additional information I have received from viewing Graham's uploads, questions still abound. I find dealing with this to put things in their proper places as inordinately challenging, and for the moment I don't know where to begin.
Take "Portrait of a Flirt," for example. Robert Farnon's first recording of the piece with his own orchestra (the best, in my opinion) has appeared in the market with the orchestra designated as "his orchestra," the "New Promenade Orchestra," and the "Kingsway Symphony Orchestra." I couldn't at this point state which is correct, but the fact remains that they are the self-same identical recording, not to be confused with a later one he made of the same piece. There are also two recordings by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra, stated as being conducted by Robert Farnon and by Sidney Torch as given to us. These are two noticeably different recordings, neither of which I give a recommendation to, for various reasons. Of course, I am not taking into account the version by David Rose which in my opinion is a distortion, and I will not include it for purposes of this discussion.
I raised the question as to whether Sidney Torch conducted two different recordings of Haydn Wood's "Wellington Barracks," distinguishable to me by the final cadence at the end, and have finally established that such was indeed the case, but would then raise the question as to why the rerecording was even necessary. (Incidentally, the longer version of Wood's "Soliloquy" I referred to in my article was performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, probably under Adrian Leaper, but as I had stated, I greatly prefer the shorter version with the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Robert Farnon.)
I stated in my article "pieces by Felton Rapley and by Peter Yorke, as performed by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra and by these composers conducting their own orchestras," or words to that effect. This was a natural assumption made in the absence of complete information. As it turns out, Felton Rapley was not a conductor and did not conduct any of his pieces - he was an organist and pianist. Peter Yorke did lead an orchestra of his own, but actually recorded very few of his own pieces. Most of these were done by Robert Farnon or Sidney Torch with the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra, although the former recorded some of these with the Danish Radio Orchestra under an assumed name due to a musicians' strike occurring at the time these recordings were made. Other Yorke selections, rather interestingly, were recorded by Dolf van der Linden, who frequently crossed over into this repertoire by the composers who wrote for the various British mood music libraries, a rather interesting combination of talents in this case.
With "Spring Cruise" by Peter Yorke, a very confusing situation exists in regard to the genesis of the recording. I have long known this piece as the final number in an album by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra (no conductor's name given) entitled "Very Very Dry," released in the USA in the mid-1950's. I next came across it on YouTube in an uploaded album of Peter Yorke selections entitled "Melody of the Stars." In an album put together in that manner, I reasonably assumed that the aggregate of all Yorke selections was conducted by Peter Yorke himself. Most recently, Graham has uploaded a recording from his collection of this piece as performed by the "Melodi Light Orchestra" as conducted by "Ole Jensen" which was the nom de disc for the Danish Radio Orchestra under Robert Farnon during the musician's strike concurrently taking place. The point that I am making here is that all of these recordings that I am enumerating of Peter Yorke's "Spring Cruise" are the identical performance - there is no discernable difference between them. Which designation, then, should we go by, and what actually took place in the preparation of these recordings - what is the actual truth of what had occurred here?
Similarly, a selection entitled "Pizzicato Boogie" by Jerek Centeno, appearing in an album conducted by Dolf van der Linden (recording under the name "Van Lynn") in an LP album entitled "Escape" on the American Decca label, also appeared in an EP set entitled "Dutch Treat" featuring what is dubbed the "Hilversum Orchestra" on the "X" label, which appears to have been an offshoot of RCA Victor, judging by the graphics on the label. The two recordings are identical; they are the same rendition. Both of these cases I bring up can be very confusing to individuals attempting to determine the actual genesis of a recording.
There is a video posted on YouTube of Acquaviva's performance of Bob Haymes' "Curtain Time," claiming to be an "original version" as distinct from the recording on MGM records that was commercially available for many years and which is also posted, but upon listening to this alleged "original version" I could find absolutely no difference from the version commercially available and will assume that it is the very same rendition.
Oftentimes, when a recording appearing on a 78/45 RPM single was taken over into an LP album, it was not a simple transfer of a recording but an entirely different take was used. I have noted this in a few cases such as with Robert Farnon's own original recording of "A Star is Born" which originally appeared as a single and then in the 10" LP album "A Robert Farnon Concert." Looking back, I have also noted that the Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops recording of Leroy Anderson's "Jazz Pizzicato" on the original single and the one appearing afterward in the album "Classical Juke Box," both from the late 1940's, were noticeably not the same recording.
And we can often assume when a group of compositions by a given artist appear together in an album, especially when that artist is an established conductor, we might well assume that all of these selections were recorded by the artist himself in his own music, but such is not always the case. I raised the question above about "Portrait of a Flirt" in two performances by the Queen's Hall Light Orchestra which are notably different, one by Robert Farnon himself and the other apparently by Sidney Torch. This remains an open question but it is generally known that the original version of "Journey Into Melody" with its expanded introduction was conducted not by Robert Farnon but by Charles Williams.
Charles Williams himself was a notable conductor and composer who made many recordings conducting both the Queen's Hall group and his own orchestra, yet his "A Quiet Stroll" which exists in two renditions were both conducted by Sidney Torch.
All these situations that I refer to are enough to drive the would be cataloguer of these light music recordings absolutely insane, and I'm beginning to doubt that even David, had he been approached on these questions, would have been able to answer all of them. What I'm witnessing here is something absolutely unknown in the USA, at least to the extent I have just described. Conductor/composer/arrangers stuck with their own material, and there was never a dispute as to whom each of the selections belonged to when there was any sort of duplication - even the multiplicity of version many were wont to come out with always remained clearly distinguishable from one another, so that the only issue in question was why these individuals saw fit to release these multiple versions, although they still did not record each other's selections for one another to the same extent (or when such occurred, the distinctions were always very clear) as we are seeing today from the days of the Chappell and other mood libraries whose material is thankfully being brought to light once again. But my reasons for going into all of these situations is simply to correct any erroneous assumptions I had made in my article of just over two years ago. I also have to correct the final sentence in my article on Peter Yorke's "In the Country" for reasons I have already outlined above.
* * *
I had made a comment on Camarata's "Rumbalero" stating that though I claim to have heard a performance by Paul Whiteman leading a group at a live concert (via a radio broadcast) in 1953, I knew of no recorded performance other than the composer's own, which remains as my standard.
More recently, I discovered a posting on YouTube of a recording by a group billed as the "Broadway Orchestra," no conductor's name given, on an off-label given as "Halo." There are apparently other recordings in this series that were posted.
In my article on this piece I wrote some time afterward, I commented on this recording but did not provide any information, as the quality evidenced regarding both performance and sound was not sufficiently viable in my opinion to furnish further details, although for completeness of information, I am providing that here, even though I would still not recommend the recording and urge interested readers to stick with the composer's own recording on London/Decca records, where he is conducting the Kingsway Symphony Orchestra, despite the slight disadvantage of a bad side break occasioned in this double length selection.
The recording of De Freitas' "Fiddlesticks" that I could not recall was by Roger Roger.
With Cyril Stapleton, I had meant to also include "Latin Lady" as a selection that he recorded appearing in another version.
I hope these updates that I am offering are helpful to my readers, and as I continue to obtain additional information, I will accordingly present further updates.
De Montfort Hall, Leicester – Friday 24th March 2017
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd
Presenter: Henry Kelly
It had been the best part of a year since I had booked my tickets for this event – one of two concerts in the ‘Philharmonia at the Movies’ series with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd. The second was to be held two days later at The Anvil in Basingstoke. I had not seen a concert of John Barry music since the Nottingham event in February 2014 so was thoroughly looking forward to it. On that occasion Dodd had conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and, upon examination, the set list here was exactly the same, though two tracks in the first half had been reversed. This said, each performance always has something new to offer with a different orchestra involved and Dodd’s conducting was as immaculate as the orchestra’s playing. Compère for the evening was TV and radio presenter, and good friend of Barry, Henry Kelly – who had interviewed him at length for an issue of Classic FM in October 2001.
‘Goldfinger’ (1964) opened the proceedings and I was thrilled from my front row seat on the balcony to be able to see the whole of the orchestra, concentrating on certain sections where relevant. The rousing main title from ‘Zulu’- also from 1964 - followed and I recall this being played at a slighter faster pace than the soundtrack version. The timpanist Adrian Bending looked so confident and professional. The third title was another Bond theme – a charming instrumental version of ‘We Have all the Time in the World’ from ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ (1969), always a favourite of mine in its instrumental form.
Kelly reminded us that both of Barry’s parents had died a year or two before the 1980 film ‘Somewhere in Time’ and that these events had influenced his writing of the score. Also, that its co-star Jane Seymour – another good friend of Barry’s – had recommended him for the score. It’s certainly a very moving piece of music, especially when heard in its concert form.
Kelly also explained that the following selection was not from a film, though it was originally written for one. Not withstanding that, ‘Moviola’ (1991) was well received by the audience. After all, it is such a majestic theme, from beginning to end, and made a fine title for the album on which it appeared in 1995.
I couldn’t wait for the next selection – one that’s been a favourite of mine since I heard it played live at his comeback concert in 1998. ‘The Persuaders!’ (1971) is still one of my all-time favourite TV themes and programmes. I looked for the musician playing the keyboards but couldn’t see him - but realised later that he was slightly hidden behind his piano. Another great performance by the orchestra and solo pianist Ben Dawson. Many of the audience appreciated and remembered this theme.
‘Mary Queen of Scots’ (1971) was next, followed by the charming ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969) theme with a nice harmonica solo by Philip Achille. Side one ended with the usual cues from the Oscar-winning ‘Dances With Wolves’ (1991) – Kelly described this as being in ‘four movements.’ ‘The John Dunbar Theme’ gave us another opportunity to hear the fine playing of the harmonica player.
Some 20-25 minutes later the orchestra leader appeared, followed by the conductor; and programme two began with another Oscar-winning theme – ‘Born Free’ (1966). This has always been a firm favourite at John Barry concerts and one of the most-recorded themes ever. Presenter Kelly failed to refer to the next title by its correct name ‘All Time High’ but Barry’s main theme from ‘Octopussy’ (1983) has also been a regular feature in recent John Barry concerts, despite it not being that well-known. I’ve always liked the arrangement that hasn’t changed since I first heard it played in concert. Though it hadn’t got the energy of the vocal by Rita Coolidge, it still sounds great in concert form.
It was Oscar time again with the main theme from ‘Out of Africa’ (1986); followed by another personal favourite of mine ‘Body Heat’, which I recall seeing three times when it first appeared in 1981. This tune always brings forth a gorgeous alto sax solo and Nick Moss did a fantastic job with a slight variation on previous versions I’d heard.
I don’t dislike ‘Chaplin’ (1992) – it’s a great piece of music - but I’d much prefer to hear another incidental cue from this film, which is laden with some great music. Kelly reminded the audience that this film score had been nominated for an Oscar – looking back it is sad to think that both this and Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the hugely-popular ‘Basic Instinct’ lost out to Alan Menken’s ‘Aladdin’.
Another ‘blast from the past’ – with the emphasis on ‘blast’ - was up next. This was another of my favourite pieces of music that couldn’t have been more fitting to the sequence it accompanied in ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967). ‘Space March’ was immaculate, but the ending seems to have been toned down somewhat since Barry blasted us in 1998! You can’t have a Barry concert without this title.
Barry had conducted ‘The Knack’ (1965) at his concerts in the early 70s. It’s a great theme but it never really gets going and it’s over all too quickly – a bit like ‘Wednesday’s Child’, which, sadly, wasn’t on the agenda. To me, it lacks the great organ solo played on the soundtrack and film by the late Alan Haven. Nevertheless it’s a nice laid-back theme, giving the audience time to catch their breath after the rousing ‘Space March’.
Sadly, the concert was nearing a conclusion but, as always, the ‘James Bond Medley’ ended the proceedings. As Kelly explained, all the themes were from Connery’s Bond films except one and that explanation suited me fine. Dodd furiously conducted the orchestra, which was going full tilt right to the very end. Tremendous stuff.
It had been another immaculate performance from Nicholas Dodd and the Philharmonia Orchestra - no mention of ‘the other fella’ who played Bond or some guy who composed a certain Bond theme; and rapturous applause from the audience who had thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Only one thing remained – an encore – as always ‘The James Bond Theme’.
Thank you Nicholas Dodd for a great concert and for signing my flyer after the concert. Here’s to the next one – hopefully in Nottingham.
Zulu – Main Title
We Have All the Time in the World
Somewhere in Time
Mary, Queen of Scots
Dances with Wolves – Suite:
John Dunbar Theme / Journey to Fort Sedgewick / Two Socks-The Wolf Theme /
Farewell & Finale
Octopussy (All Time High)
Out of Africa
Space March (From ‘You Only Live Twice’)
James Bond Suite:
James Bond Theme / From Russia With Love / Thunderball / 007 /
You Only Live Twice / O.H.M.S.S. / Diamonds Are Forever
Encore: James Bond Theme
© Gareth Bramley – March 2017
CASCADES TO THE SEA
Analysed by Robert Walton
I first found the title Cascades to the Sea quite by chance while searching for information about Robert Farnon in K B Sandved’s superb 1954 encyclopedia “The World of Music”. It was then described as a tone poem. Also mentioned were Farnon’s first two symphonies, some études and several comedy symphonettes that at the time were all a complete mystery. However the aforementioned Cascades to the Sea (1944) from which came In a Calm, bears little resemblance to a later composition of the same name. In fact the two Cascades were composed more than half a century apart. The second completed in 1997 emerged as a piano concerto or to be exact, a tone poem concerto for piano and orchestra.
Before we take an in-depth look at Cascades to the Sea, allow me to provide you with Farnon’s description and inspiration for the work:
“The music begins at the spring above a mountain stream which makes its way downhill, gradually gathering in quantity and speed to the edge of a waterfall. From there it plunges down, giving the river its own rhythm and currents as it follows a route created millions of years ago. Carving its way through mountains, meadows, rapids and deltas, it finally arrives at the open sea joining forces with an outgoing tide, flowing to the tranquility of a distant horizon”.
So let’s make a closer examination of Cascades to the Sea. The opening spellbinding (“waiting for something to happen”) chord has Farnon’s DNA written all over it. Pianist Peter Breiner tickles the ivories with the harp and together they trace a tapestry of trickles in the treble from a subterranean source. Some solid brass chords reminiscent of Stan Kenton, quote the start of Debussy’s Nuages. Throughout the work, the piano’s constant presence never lets you forget who’s in charge. An oboe keeps things moving towards what sounds like the first chord of Laura.
Then after some exciting piano, from the depths of the earth the Farnon strings rise up majestically making their presence felt in no uncertain terms with all the controlled intensity they can muster. It’s a unique sound in music. For the first time in the work, Farnon has laid down his format. After more sparkling piano, the strings and brass again powerfully push upwards, supported by the horns. The piano plays a thrilling scale passage with a touch of classically trained Carmen Cavallaro. In fact right through Cascades to the Sea you’ll hear more showy embellishments in the Cavallaro manner.
Then suddenly the orchestra sounds an alarm warning the listener of possible trouble. Don’t worry, not a problem. I suspect we’ve just reached the edge of the waterfall. All part of the grand plan. Now it’s become calm again and displaying another facet in the Farnon firmament is the seductive flute. This is followed by the oboe accompanying the piano. The strings, horn and piano play a lovely joyous melody that we’re going to hear a lot more of.
After a distinct break, (mind the gap) the piano has a short solo passage. It’s all so beautifully pianistic but not surprising as Farnon’s ability for writing for any instrument is legendary, though this is the first time I’ve encountered such an extensive work of his for the keyboard. After two more pauses, the piano plays some Bach-ish runs. Just after the catchy tune receives its most prominent exposure from the orchestra, listen for a simply gorgeous symphonic moment. The soloist echoes some of Farnon’s early decorative devices before the composer with tongue in cheek deliberately cuts short some phrases. After all this activity we eventually arrive at a typically peaceful Farnon passage with the piano, strings and woodwind. It’s back to more Farnon tremors with a further quote from the now familiar melodic fragment followed by an exciting mix of brass and strings. The solo piano plays the merest suggestion of All the Way. Some Debussyian bell-like chords soon attract the attention of the strings.
Then the penultimate Farnon surge with brass, strings and an ominous oboe while the piano continues to exercise its authority. The orchestra very gradually builds up to an absolutely thrilling ending with a difference - more an afterthought really. With single notes, the piano gently leads you to a totally unexpected experience. It’s the last thing you’d expect at the end of a piano concerto - a violin solo! The most moving moment in the entire work. In Farnon’s world that means one thing - a sublime weepy affair. It succeeds admirably and depicts a consummate convergence with the sea, where fresh meets salt. Also it’s probably one of the longest codas ever heard in a Farnon composition.
From a lowly spring to the mighty ocean, we have completed our fourteen minute journey with our guide, the piano. I hope the various signposts along the way have been helpful in identifying approximately where you are in the music at any given moment.
When I first heard Cascades to the Sea I must admit I found the piano part a bit hard to assimilate, but now after repeated playings, I have completely changed my mind. It has grown on me so much that it is unquestionably one of Robert Farnon’s finest creations and one of the most unusual piano concertos in the repertoire.
Finally, I must congratulate the Slovak pianist Peter Breiner on his brilliant interpretation of a very demanding work. And equal praise must go to the composer’s son David, who did a magnificent job conducting the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra and keeping the whole thing flowing. Cascades to the Sea deserves to be heard and performed much more!
Cascades to the Sea from
“The Wide World of Robert Farnon”
Vocalion (CDLK 4146) Also on Google.
Jan Stoeckart (November 1927 – January 2017) was a Dutch composer, conductor and radio producer, who often worked under various pseudonyms, including Willy Faust, Peter Milray, Julius Steffaro and Jack Trombey. Graduating from the Amsterdam Conservatory in 1950, he began his career as a trombone and double bass player, and as a music producer for various radio shows. He composed and arranged for Dutch films and brass bands, and worked with the Metropole Orchestra and the Dutch Promenade Orchestra.
In the early 1960s, the conductor Hugo de Groot introduced Stoeckart to the de Wolfe music publishing house in London, and he obtained a contract to compose library music for that company. He wrote in excess of 1200 works; his biggest success was with Eye Level, the theme tune to the British TV series Van der Valk in the early 1970s, penned under the name of Jack Trombey.
The piece became a big hit with viewers and record buyers, and the recording – made by the Simon Park Orchestra – reached no. 1 in the UK singles charts in 1973.
As Julius Steffaro, Stoeckart composed theme and music for the famous Dutch TV series "Floris", 1969, starring Rutger Hauer and directed by Paul Verhoeven.
A cold, wet, and windy Sunday February 26th saw a second concert of British Light Music performed by the Mark Fitz-Gerald Orchestra. The venue was once again the British Home and Hospital in Streatham, South-West London. The event followed-on from the success of the first concert in 2016, and was held in aid of funds for the Home.
The programme, which was devised – as before – by Ian Finn, included a number of well-known Light Music compositions, together with some lesser-known works.
After the introductory piece, Theatreland by Jack Strachey, (which has now become the orchestra’s signature tune !), we heard Robert Farnon’s Westminster Waltz, followed by The Three Bears – A Phantasy by ‘The Uncrowned King Of Light Music’, Eric Coates.
This work has an interesting history. Originally composed in 1926, Coates made a new recording for Decca in London’s Kingsway Hall in 1949, featuring a revision of the foxtrot section [sub-titled ‘The Three Bears make the best of it and return home in the best of humour’]. The brass accompaniment is re-scored to become ’jazzier’ than the original, complete with the use of swing rhythms. It appears that Coates approached Robert Farnon, saying ‘I can’t write jazz, would you mind rewriting this for me? ‘ Bob duly obliged, although he was un-credited on the record and Coates never mentioned his assistance; apparently, it was kept a secret between the two men for many years!
Mark Fitz-Gerald was anxious to use this revised version, and although several enquiries were made, no trace was found of the sheet music. Mark therefore resorted to listening to Coates’ recording and transcribing it for performance at this concert; he told me afterwards that he believes he has achieved a pretty accurate replication of Bob Farnon’s arrangement.
We were treated to two solo piano interludes by Stephen Dickinson, featuring compositions by Billy Mayerl. In the first of these, we heard the famous Marigold – and Autumn Crocus. Later on in the programme, Stephen played Shallow Waters and Evening Primrose. A very keen gardener, Mayerl named many of his compositions after plants and flowers!
The orchestra continued with a very interesting, although little-known, work by the London-born Herman Fink – ( he of In The Shadows fame) – entitled The Last Dance Of Summer ; this was followed by the March from Trevor Duncan’s Little Suite, very familiar due to its use as the signature tune for the television series Dr. Finlay’s Casebook.
Next-up was a composition by ‘our own’ Brian Reynolds – Elizabethan Tapestry, in a arrangement made for Brian by the late Cyril Watters. We were then treated to a lesser-known but lively composition by Derby-born Percy Eastman Fletcher, from his suite of Three Light Pieces, entitled Lubbly Lulu, after which the members of the audience were encouraged to join-in with singing the lyrics of John Bratton’s world-famous Teddy Bears’ Picnic – which they did, lustily!
From the set of Nell Gwyn Dances by Edward German we heard the Pastoral Dance, following which a member of the string section, the soprano Tessa Crilly, stepped forward for a lovely rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night from the musical show My Fair Lady, by Lerner and Lowe.
The next item was by a ‘local boy’ – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who spent much of his tragically short life in nearby Croydon. From his well-known Petite Suite de Concert, we heard Sonnet d’Amour.
Stephen Dickinson then joined the ensemble for a performance of Percy Grainger’s ‘clog dance’ Handel In The Strand. Although scored for full orchestra, the piece was notable for not including the double basses!
The final ‘billed’ item was another Eric Coates masterpiece – in fact probably one of his most famous and frequently-played tunes – the march Knightsbridge from his London Suite.
After a rousing response from the audience demanding an encore, Mark Fitz-Gerald and his orchestra brought the proceedings to their final conclusion with the well-known Jamaican Rhumba by the Australian composer Arthur Benjamin.
It was great to be present at this most enjoyable afternoon, presented by an such an enthusiastic musical director – and champion of Light Music – and his excellent orchestra, and it is hoped that they will return once again in 2018.
Very many thanks to Mark Fitz-Gerald, to Ian Finn, and to the British Home and Hospital at Streatham.
© Tony Clayden