More than fifty years ago, many recordings were made [unofficially and privately, and often off-air] – by studio technicians, orchestral players and production staff – of a BBC 'house' orchestra in Manchester.
The Original Recordings with Joseph Calleja
Decca 4850894 (48.53)
When as a long time Mantovani admirer I first joined the Robert Farnon Society, his name was hardly ever mentioned. It seemed to me that he was thought of by my fellow light music enthusiasts as being too “popular”, much as some people now think of André Rieu.
Emmanuel Pahud Flute
Orchestre National De France / Desplat
Warner Classics 0190295306878(56:22)
Regular readers will know from my review of ‘Little Women’* in February this year that I regard Alexandre Desplat as second only to the great John Williams as a composer in the world of film music. Following that earlier album, we now have this further welcome selection of his work.
Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra
SOMM ARIADNE 5009 (74:03)
This is a pleasing surprise follow-up to Great Classic Film Music (ARIADNE 5006), the virtues of which I extolled in 2019. The track selection here is noteworthy for being less hackneyed than in many of the comparable albums in the catalogue.
Andrế Previn / David Rose
Like Young & Like Blue
Sepia 1348 (78:29)
In June 1958, when distinctive pianist André Previn (“Piano Magic”) met David Rose with the 25 “Lush Strings” and rhythm section of his orchestra, they got together and produced a Billboard top 20 LP: ‘Like Young: Secret Songs for Young Lovers’. Nearly two years later there was a follow-up album, ‘Like Blue’. Both have now been released on this exceptionally well-filled stereo CD remastered by Robin Cherry.
(Van Heusen; Delange)
Reg Owen Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
One of the most underrated composers, arrangers and conductors of the 20th century European scene was Reg Owen (born George Owen Smith, (1921-1978). I first came across him as one of the original orchestrators for Ted Heath’s Music after WW2, with classics like Colonel Bogey, Blue Skies March, Sidewalks of Cuba, Cuban Crescendo (composer) and Village Fair.
Impressed as I was with these arrangements, there was something else he produced for which I shall be eternally grateful - The Reg Owen Arranging Method of 1956. It’s the best one of its kind easily outdoing many other big name manuals on how to orchestrate. Owen covered every aspect of arranging from the smallest combination to a full orchestra. Each instrument was thoroughly defined, including its range. His coverage of the subject was so complete that the book became my bible of music. If it hadn’t been for Owen, I would never have been so well informed and given the incentive to be an arranger.
He is mostly remembered as a ‘one hit wonder’ because of his 1958 best-selling recording of Manhattan Spiritual. His excellent film scores were also very much part of his career.
One of his non-dance band arrangements was an early 1938 Jimmy Van Heusen ballad called Deep in a Dream played by a studio orchestra in 1960. It’s a very apt title given its ethereal quality with good lyrics by bandleader Eddie DeLange. First to greet the ears are the unmistakable sounds of Flamingo even though it hadn’t been written then. A “Gordon Jenkins” type tempo accompanies a horn in a lazy start with a hint of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. This quite predictable melody creeps along at a snail’s pace sliding on to very basic chords. Time for the irresistible strings to make an entry which they invariably do. Like most arrangers who adore them, Reg Owen always kept one eye on the main chance ready to feed them in.
“Then from the ceiling, sweet flutes come stealing” giving the bridge a little stressful undertow with pizzicato strings, while taking us gently back to the main tune. Once again strings are the thing as we wander among the flamingos waking up from our serious siesta.
Guild Light Music
BBC Philharmonic / John Wilson
Chandos CHAN 20148 (57:00)
This is the release we have been waiting for: some of the very best of the kind of music we love the most. It is the second instalment in a series from our friend John Wilson, of whom it has been said that what he does not know about Eric Coates’ music is probably not worth knowing.
Works for Violin and Orchestra
Reto Kuppel, violin
Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra ● Marcus Bosch
Naxos 8.573993 (66:00)
This is quite a discovery: an album of melodic well-fashioned light classical music from a composer I have heard of but know nothing about, played by an orchestra and conductor whose names I have not even come across before.
By Robert Walton
Why do strings, especially those in a symphony orchestra, have such an effect on audiences, like transmitting a sublime message? Especially a composition with a lovely melody and beautiful harmonies.
By Robert Walton
Why do strings, especially those in a symphony orchestra, have such an effect on audiences, like transmitting a sublime message? Especially a composition with a lovely melody and beautiful harmonies. And like any gathering of performing instrumentalists, there’s always a distinctive air of mystery about the music. But more than that, the sound they create can be the most thrilling it’s possible for humans to produce. Think of it as a jumping off point for the listener to use his/her imagination in whatever way they choose. Add appropriate words and it can become a religious experience as, for example, in Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand. If there happens to be a handy choir around, there’s nothing else in the world that can beat that combination. Even the most unmusical ear can be affected in some small way by the forces of the most powerful and biggest artistic outburst.
So where do strings originate? They’re influenced entirely from the sound of the human voice. Even a wordless chorus or made-up lyrics can be a most moving experience. So the next time you sing with a group, remember you were once part of the most precious natural component waiting to be re-invented and played by man-made means. Although violins, violas, cellos and double basses were discovered and perfected by experts (Amati, Guarneri and Stradivari), it’s still our vocal chords, which inspired such a universal auditory creation.
Arrangers Ferde Grofé and Bill Challis were largely responsible for introducing classically orientated string sections into the dance band and jazz worlds via bandleaders Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman. Gershwin’s sensational Rhapsody in Blue was the culmination of these three cultures. After a modest string quartet Artie Shaw got hooked on a larger section, but the first real genius of string backings was Axel Stordahl who single-handedly gave them total legitimacy in the world of popular music for Frank Sinatra. In the process, Stordahl paved the way for Nelson Riddle.
Finally, and perhaps more than any other style, strings became the mainstay of light music (concert music in America) especially between 1940 and 1960, which was constantly heard on cinema newsreels and radio in general. This is sometimes called “The Golden Era of Light Music” when the finest practitioners of the highly specialized art of mood or production music reached its zenith - Eric Coates, Charles Williams, Sidney Torch, Clive Richardson, Wally Stott (Angela Morley), David Rose and many others. Before anyone screams out “What about Farnon?” I was just coming to him. In the 20th century, Robert Farnon was without doubt the greatest composer, arranger and string writer of them all! André Previn was absolutely right.