CD Review – Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra
Café Bonheur – 'In Memory of Ana Arnold'
This is the latest in a series of six CDs which date back to 1998. It had been planned to produce it a couple of years ago, however the recording session had to be postponed three times, due to the pandemic.
In February this year, however, the orchestra finally convened at Chateau Charly Studios in Cherbourg, North-Western France.
Tragically, Anastasia Arnold, the ensemble's flautist, met with a fatal road accident whilst travelling to the studio. Miraculously, there was another flautist on hand, Claire Harmsworth, who, without any preparation, gallantly agreed to perform with the orchestra for the session.
Ana had chosen both the studio and the album's title – Café Bonheur – (named after the eponymous 'valse musette' by Henry Krein), which is of course featured on the CD.
The twenty tracks combine to form an eclectic mixture of pieces performed in the ADRO's trademark Palm Court style. Like similar orchestras of the past, it is often necessary to adapt the music to suit the instrumentation and Ana Arnold made several of the arrangements featured here, sometimes reconstructing an entire orchestral score from just the piano part.
Some of the pieces are definitely unfamiliar, but amongst the illustrious composers' names we find those of Charles Chaplin, Joe Rixner, Sigmund Romberg, Ernest Tomlinson, Clive Richardson, two 'Woods' – Haydn and his elder brother Harry – Abe Holzman and Sydney del Monte. As per usual, the programme contains several vocal items beautifully executed by Liz Menezes and Camilla Cutts.
This enjoyable CD has just kept me company (and sane!) on a lengthy and traffic-jammed car journey. I was struck by the recorded balance, which made the ensemble sound rather larger-than-life at times. This is probably a combination of the studio's acoustic properties and the types and positioning of the microphones used, but the end result is really excellent.
In common with the previously-issued CDs, the booklet – and indeed the disc itself – features some highly original illustrations by Dr. Henry Mintz, GP, who is also a very talented artist.
It is a sad reality that the Palm Court genre is rarely heard these days, so that CDs like this are most welcome.
Congratulations and indeed very many thanks are due to Adam Bakker and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra for such a fine production, which is a fitting memorial to the late [and I'm sure already greatly-missed] Ana Arnold.
© Tony Clayden 2022
Copies of the CD may be obtained from the ADRO – for full details see the orchestra's website at www.aspidstra.org