09 Nov

CD Review – Andrew Lloyd Webber – Symphonic Suites

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CD REVIEW Andrew Lloyd Webber   Symphonic Suites

CD Review – Andrew Lloyd Webber – Symphonic Suites
The Andrew Lloyd Webber Orchestra/Simon Lee
Decca 3819953

Here at last is this new release of what for many of us is our kind of music performed by a full orchestra. It has been a while coming as it was announced at the end of August and the release date then put back two months. Nevertheless, well worth waiting for.

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06 Nov

Ballet Egyptien (Alexandre Clément Léon Joseph Luigini)

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 Do you remember comedian Jimmy Durante at the piano, showing off his apparent familiarity with foreign names in music?

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Ballet Egyptien (Alexandre Clément Léon Joseph Luigini)
Ronnie Munro And His Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Do you remember comedian Jimmy Durante at the piano, showing off his apparent familiarity with foreign names in music? It was during his recording of I’m The Guy Who Found The Lost Chord when he said he was playing Mozart’s Minuet, Have a Banana from “Carmen” and whistling the Sextet from the Luiginis, all at the same time! But it immediately alerted me to the composer Luigini, the French conductor, violinist and composer. He is remembered for just one composition Ballet Egyptien - and then only the Finale! And largely responsible for keeping Luigini’s music alive were the popular British music hall and vaudeville act in the middle of last century, Wilson, Keppel and Betty.

Wilson (born Manchester), Keppel (County Cork) and Betty Knox (Kansas). The highlight of their sand dance was a parody of postures from Egyptian tomb paintings and references to Arabic costume, following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Audiences found their routine hilarious. You can still enjoy it on Google.

The quiet tense opening of Ballet Egyptian seems to be setting the scene for a waltz, more like building up to something dramatic. There is certainly a balletic feel to the music, which continues at some length with a pleasant melody keeping the listener guessing when the climax will hit town. Even when you expect it, Luigini craftily holds it back.

At last the sound of an oboe and violin hint that this lively dance associated with this talented trio is about to start. The famous tune suddenly kicks in, courtesy the lower strings, and we’re in a world of soft-shoe shuffle on sand. It’s a gentle rhythmic tune with controlled enthusiasm. It’s best to watch it with WK & B doing their stuff on a video. By the way there’s a slight Irish touch to the dance. This is followed by a little development when the melody speeds up to reach its conclusion.

Incidentally you might be interested in that “lost chord” Durante was on about. Nothing to do with Sullivan’s The Lost Chord of 1877 which was considered as the archetypal Victorian drawing-room ballad.

Perhaps you might like to try and analyse it from Durante’s disc, which you’ll find on Google.

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01 Nov

Chamber Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold

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Chamber Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Eusibius Quartet ● Alastair Beatson Piano

SOMM Recordings SOMMCD 0642 [68:30]

Pre-pandemic I would have been put off reviewing this album by its title but since March 2019, with lockdown and social distancing, most of the new releases have needed to be by small groups or soloists; and with more time to listen my appreciation of these genres has been increased.

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28 Oct

Gemini

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(Hal Mooney)
Analysed by Robert Walton

I first encountered Hal Mooney’s Orchestra on an MGM 78 of Helen Forrest singing I Wish I didn’t Love You So. Strings and voice dominated this 1947 Frank Loesser song, spoilt slightly by the shrillness which was sometimes a problem with early MGM discs.

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(Hal Mooney)
Analysed by Robert Walton

I first encountered Hal Mooney’s Orchestra on an MGM 78 of Helen Forrest singing I Wish I didn’t Love You So. Strings and voice dominated this 1947 Frank Loesser song, spoilt slightly by the shrillness which was sometimes a problem with early MGM discs. Mooney was first noticed in the business by two of his swing tunes Swamp Fire and Rigmarole, which played the rounds of the dance bands in the mid-30s. Joining another Hal, (Kemp), Mooney became his arranger-pianist in 1937. After settling in California he scored for Bing Crosby, Haymes, Lee, Starr, Garland, Sinatra and Vaughan.

But to give you a more detailed idea of his ability for string writing, I strongly advise you to take a listen to Gemini. It’s one of the fastest light orchestral pieces I’ve ever heard, but more than that, it’s played with a perfection that only a group of the finest fiddlers could produce. No room for “dead wood” or hangers-on in this recording session! In fact it’s as if they were all chosen from the same symphony orchestra. Hence the outstanding result.

A brilliant solo flute with pizzicato strings introduces this attempt at “breaking” the world record. While muted brass interject, the strings immediately switch to arco in readiness for one of the greatest sprints in musical history. There’s no way any tortoises could violate the start but the rest all leave their blocks together! Woodwind and brass provide the necessary fills.

Then taking a leaf out of the David Rose format, suddenly and very sensibly, the orchestra takes a well-earned break. The brass play three solid chords before the strings resting on their laurels spin a gorgeous slow tune based on the frantic theme, interspersed with the oboe and flute.

We’re soon back up to speed with the main melody but this time the horn and brass echo what the strings have just been playing. It’s a staggering performance of a brilliant arrangement which I doubt could ever be achieved again. A sort of “one off” job you might say. Even the listeners are out of breath, let alone the players. It’s the kind of composition/orchestration that the British were famous for. Clearly the Americans had caught up!

Guild Light Music GLCD 5153. (Gemini is from the 1957 LP “Musical Horoscope”)

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02 Oct

CD Review - Jean-Yves Thibaudet - Carte Blanche

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CD REVIEW   Carte BlancheCD Review - Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Carte Blanche
Decca 485 2081 [79:09']

When those nice people from Decca, with an eye to business, invited the virtuosic French-American pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet to record his own personal selection for an album celebrating his 60th birthday, they might have shown even more potential sales optimism

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02 Oct

Ronald Binge - Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra

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Ernest Tomlinson
Naxos 8.555190 [72’21”]

Our hopes fulfilled: we have not had to wait long for Vol.2 of ‘British Light Music’ and – after Addison – it looks as if the series is going to be in alphabetical order.

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23 Sep

Rose-Marie

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Rose-Marie
(Friml,Harbach,Hammerstein II)
Billy May’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Right in the centre of a collage created by my wife of my personal and professional life, is a photograph of me holding a 10 inch 1950’s 78rpm disc of Billy May’s Rose-Marie. This was around the time the long playing disc first saw the light of day. It represented one of the first highly technical big band recordings on a 78, standing out as something really special.

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Rose-Marie
(Friml,Harbach,Hammerstein II)
Billy May’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton

Right in the centre of a collage created by my wife of my personal and professional life, is a photograph of me holding a 10 inch 1950’s 78rpm disc of Billy May’s Rose-Marie. This was around the time the long playing disc first saw the light of day. It represented one of the first highly technical big band recordings on a 78, standing out as something really special. Capitol Record’s engineers had somehow managed to put all that brass and saxophones on to a simple 78, sounding a million miles from the 1940s. It was as if a brand new era had emerged. In fact it almost gave the impression of stereo on a 78. One wonders had the new 78 technology arrived earlier in the previous decade, would Stan Kenton have benefited?

When I was working in radio at Station 1ZB Auckland in 1955, there was a strict policy of the sort of music to be selected for the morning Breakfast Session. Nothing too noisy or jazzy was permitted. Music of a calm and cheerful mood was the order of the day, like Powder Your Face with Sunshine, Manhattan Playboy, or Dear Hearts and Gentle People. One morning (you’ve guessed it) a record planner had inexplicably included Rose-Marie in the mix. By the time the Head of Programmes and Station Manager arrived at the beautiful Art Deco building for work, they were absolutely apoplectic. The planner almost lost his job! That was the only time Billy made the Breakfast Session! Great dance music it certainly was but more suitable for late night consumption.

Billy May was perhaps the most versatile arranger of them all. An early outstanding chart was Carnival by two Harrys: composer Warren and trumpeter James. Then there were those brilliant scores for the Sparky Children’s Series. But May is best remembered for his glissing unison saxes, reviving Jimmy Lunceford’s lightly swinging style. Sometimes May was more “Nelson Riddle” than Riddle with Autumn in New York and Moonlight in Vermont for Frank Sinatra. However, simple tunes like Friml’s 1924 Rose-Marie proved to be ideal for May’s style, in fact even in the 21st Century that style is still the standard sound for any big band.

The opening trumpets with some perfectly placed piano comping is as fresh today as it was then. The slurping saxes take a turn at the tune, but when the brass return for the finale the orchestra erupts into a virtual volcano. On the San Andreas Big Band Fault Line, May’s outburst will remain etched on the memory forever!

Billy May “Naughty Operetta” EMI 4 98836 2

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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.