01 Sep

CD Review – From Russia Music for Clarinet and Orchestra

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CD REVIEW   From Russiadivine art dda 25233 [52:56]

This year's releases get better and better. The Divine Art label – located in "God's own county" of Yorkshire – has recorded for our delight this attractive disc of melodic Russian/Slav music.

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22 Aug

Sweet And Lovely - (Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare)

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Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

Robert Farnon had the unique ability to bring out the best in a song by always treating it with the utmost respect in terms of its original style, by adding just the right amount of modernism and freshness. In other words he was guided intuitively by his byword: “taste”.

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Sweet And Lovely
(Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare)
Robert Farnon’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton

Robert Farnon had the unique ability to bring out the best in a song by always treating it with the utmost respect in terms of its original style, by adding just the right amount of modernism and freshness. In other words he was guided intuitively by his byword: “taste”. At the same time he was constantly ahead of the game with his original and daring orchestrations. Even now in the 21st century they still sound advanced.

The utter simplicity of the start of Sweet and Lovely, like one of his own light orchestral miniatures, belies the fact that from thousands of musical ideas going around in his head, he only selected sounds that were totally appropriate for the current job in hand. In his own world he was a self-disciplinarian knowing instinctively how far to go. He was never tempted to stray too far into foreign territory. Despite that, Farnon constantly relished discovering new things to say in his “travels into tunes”. It was probably the unusual harmony that first attracted him to this early ballad.

This 1931 ditty was the “sweet and lovely” theme song of Gus Arnheim’s Orchestra. The first recording was by his orchestra featuring vocalist Donald Novis but it was Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo who brought it to a wider audience.

After that haunting introduction, lightly swinging woodwind go straight into Sweet and Lovely for a double whammy of song and arrangement providing a romantic slow foxtrot with some decorative glockenspiel. A harp heralds the first appearance of the famous Farnon fiddles (“Who would want a sweeter surprise”). Staying with the strings a gentle cutting oboe continues the tune.

Then a muted trumpet advises that the bridge is ready for crossing with the saxes making the first move towards a beautifully controlled orchestral climax.

Back to the tune as thin-sounding ethereal violins on the same note shoot up high with the help of harmonics to have a commanding view over the proceedings. Frolicking flutes make themselves felt in no uncertain terms. Then another reminder of that warm Farnon harmony. The brass is back with the strings making a typically gorgeous key change like no one else in the business. The saxes are heard again and gradually the orchestra returns with the brass.

By now it becomes all too clear that Farnon’s arrangement of Sweet and Lovely is an excellent example of a series of thrilling climaxes. The orchestra sounds completely relaxed as it tags along for the ride, enjoying the many “swells” which abound. Strings, oboe and a violin playing the title in atonal style are parachuted into the coda mix. Talking of keyless music, Robert Farnon’s charts are famous for teetering on the edge of atonality, like a high wire act. That’s why his arrangements have an air of mystery and “what’s he going to do next?” about them. In retrospect, these early popular standards have proved to be perfect vehicles for Farnon’s inventiveness.

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17 Aug

CD Review – Mosaic - A4 Brass Quartet

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CD REVIEW   Mosaic  A4 Brass QuartetSomm Recordings SOMM D0638 [70:59]

'Here is another slightly left-field release of the kind that makes this label so fascinating. It will definitely be of interest to lovers of brass bands and, indeed, anyone who favours instruments being blown rather than bowed. So, we have the principals from four of the UK's top bands, including Black Dyke, Foden's, and Brighouse & Rastrick … don’t know why the fourth gets no mention.

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01 Aug

CD Review – Richard Addinsell British Light Music - 1

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CD REVIEW - Richard Addinsell - British Light Music

CD Review – Richard Addinsell
British Light Music - 1
Philip Martin, Roderick Elms, Piano
BBC Concert Orchestra / Kenneth Alwyn
Naxos 8.555229 [68:16]

It is good to have this album back in the catalogue. It was originally released on the Marco Polo label in 1994 and appears to be the first in a new series from Naxos of 'British Light Music', which is something to be celebrated.

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01 Aug

CD Review - Nicola Benedetti - Baroque

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CD Review - Nicola Benedetti - BaroqueCD Review - Nicola Benedetti
Baroque
Decca 4851891 [52’26]

It was not my intention to review this album here but then I read what Nicola Benedetti had written in her introductory notes, that "Many find it (the Italian baroque) light fare: too populist, repetitive and predictable." So maybe, putting these descriptions aside, it will appeal to our reader.

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01 Aug

CD Review - Sumertime Isata Kanneh-Mason piano

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CD Review - Sumertime
Isata Kanneh-Mason piano
Decca 4851663 [62’52]

CD Review - Sumertime - Isata Kanneh-Mason pianoMy last review was of a new release from one of the world’s best-loved queens of the keyboard and now we have this album of 20th century American music from a princess of the piano. Aged 25, Isata is the eldest daughter in the remarkable Kanneh-Mason musical family.

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27 Jul

The Folks Who Live On The Hill

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(Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II)
Peggy Lee
Analysed by Robert Walton

Whenever I’m asked to name one of my favourite songs in that largely neglected period, the Golden Era of Popular Music between 1920 - 1960, without hesitation my reply is always The Folks Who Live on the Hill sung by Peggy Lee.

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(Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II)
Peggy Lee
Analysed by Robert Walton

Whenever I’m asked to name one of my favourite songs in that largely neglected period, the Golden Era of Popular Music between 1920 - 1960, without hesitation my reply is always The Folks Who Live on the Hill sung by Peggy Lee. But as you’ll find out there’s a heck of a lot more packed into just one short track. For some reason the location in my imagination has always been the Tauranga region of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty - a truly rural spot a few miles inland from the mighty Pacific Ocean. What a setting and what a singer! So much so, I simply can’t wait to proceed with my analysis. Before that though I must tell you the song was composed in 1937 and first sung in the film “High, Wide and Handsome” by Irene Dunne. Twenty years later in 1957, Capitol Records revived it for surely what must be the definitive version, which is not surprising with all the talent involved.

This Mahler-inspired hymn-like miniature miracle begins with strings and harp creeping in to create one of the most beautiful feelgood atmospheres ever heard. The whole thing is cradled by Nelson Riddle’s brilliant score. And as if that isn’t enough, a solo trumpet pops up proclaiming something of great importance is about to be announced. Then a haunting oboe continues this short introduction via more trumpet with an added horn bringing the section to a close. (It reminds one of Western movie music).

Husky-voiced Peggy Lee now delivers Hammerstein’s glorious lyric making a very ordinary scenario quite special, with Kern’s equally gorgeous melody. Plan A, building a home on a hill has overtones of the TV series “Grand Designs”. The 43 bar tune including a bridge of 6 bars might be unusual but the overwhelming message is one of complete normality. Peggy sings about two people falling in love, bringing up kids and refers to many things families experience during one’s life. Every time she mentions the title, that trumpet joins her and goose pimples magically appear. And she insists on being called “folks”. No problem. We will oblige. It’s more like a prayer of thanks and hope for the future.

Oh yes, I almost forgot one small detail. Frank Sinatra waved the baton over the whole affair! At this difficult time of Covid and Climate Change, it was like a breath of fresh air!

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08 Jul

CD Review – Love Songs Angela Hewitt, piano

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CD Review – Love Songs Angela Hewitt pianoCD Review – Love Songs
Angela Hewitt piano

Hyperion CDA68341 [75’57]

We are constantly being encouraged to meditate during – and beyond – these still uncertain times. Researched, put together and recorded during lockdown, this album with its musical declarations of love across the centuries would be an ideal accompaniment to any such activity.

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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.