Melody of the Star

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A new Living Era CD fills many of the gaps left by previous Peter Yorke CDs of his Columbia 78s

PETER YORKE and his Concert Orchestra


"Melody of the Stars"

1 MELODY OF THE STARS (Peter Yorke) DB2569
2 TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY - selection DB2297
4 CARNIVAL IN COSTA RICA - selection DB2329
6 BLUE SKIES - selection DB2273
7 DAWN FANTASY (Peter Yorke) DB2639
10 IT’S MAGIC - selection DB2510
12 NIGHT AND DAY – selection DB2285
14 BAMBI - selection DB2396
16 LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING - selection DB2615

Sanctuary Group Living Era CDAJA5501

 The name Peter Yorke will be familiar to most readers of Journal Into Melody. He conducted one of Britain’s most popular broadcasting orchestras from the 1940s until the 1960s. He was also a gifted composer and he created many stunning arrangements that brought out some fine performances from the top musicians he always employed.

He was born in London on 4 December 1902, the son of a printer, and he was already an accomplished organist by the age of 16. While still in his teens he was appointed choir-master and organist at a London church, and he completed his education at Trinity College, London. His early musical career found him working as a pianist in a west London orchestra, and his skill as an arranger was so apparent that, within a couple of years, he was providing scores to most of the important bands in London. During 1927-28 he appeared as pianist and arranger on British dance band 78s by Percival Mackey, thereafter with George Fisher (1928), Jay Whidden (1928), Jack Hylton (1929-33), and Henry Hall (1932-33).

With Hylton he eventually found the continuous travelling stressful, so for a while he formed his own orchestra which concentrated on providing broadcasts for European radio stations.

In 1936 he began a fruitful collaboration as chief arranger with Louis Levy, one of the pioneers of music for British films, who employed several talented writers such as Clive Richardson, Charles Williams and Jack Beaver, but seldom gave them any credit on-screen. (Typically Levy never mentions Peter’s contributions once in his 1948 book ‘Music For The Movies’). Yorke’s experience and skills were ideally suited to the big, lush sound conjured up by Louis Levy and his Gaumont-British Orchestra on their many recordings and broadcasts.

Peter Yorke joined the Royal Air Force in 1940, and within six months he was transferred to the Broadcasting Section of the three services. Demobilised in 1946, he returned to composing and arranging, and formed his own large Concert Orchestra, which built upon the symphonic sound he had developed before the war under Louis Levy.

‘Sweet Serenade’, ‘Our Kind of Music’ and ‘The Peter Yorke Melody Hour’ became popular on BBC radio, allowing listeners to enjoy sophisticated versions of popular tunes of the day, alongside some of his own pieces of light music. He was a prolific writer, with his compositions accepted by many publishers including Chappells, Francis Day & Hunter, Bosworth, Harmonic, Conroy, Paxton, Southern and Josef Weinberger. He chose his own Sapphires and Sables as his main theme, although he often also used Melody of the Stars, which opens this CD. Possibly his best-known work was Silks and Satins which, for ten years from 1957, was heard on British television several nights each week as the closing theme for the popular soap-opera ‘Emergency Ward 10’.

For his broadcasts and records, the Peter Yorke Concert Orchestra usually comprised between 30 to 40 musicians, and leading the saxes was a talented player called Freddy Gardner. He could reach notes on the saxophone which didn’t exist as far as other players were concerned, and his golden tone can be heard soaring above the strings and brass on many recordings that are highly prized by collectors. It is not fanciful to suggest that I Only Have Eyes For You is one of the top ten orchestral 78s of all time, with a superlative arrangement matched by supreme playing from the entire ensemble – with the added bonus of what can only be described as a virtuoso performance by Gardner at the peak of his charmed career. This was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road studios on 29 April 1948, just two years before his sudden death from a brain haemorrhage on 26 July 1950 at the early age of 39. For three other examples of Freddy’s brilliance just listen to Old Man River, These Foolish Things and Time On My Hands.

Steve Conway (whose real name was Walter James Groom) was one of several fine vocalists regularly chosen by Peter Yorke for his recordings and broadcasts, and it is a tragedy that he died so young (on 19 April 1952 aged only 31) barely six years after his first broadcast on BBC Light Programme’s "Variety Bandbox". His recorded legacy is not large, and some of his best performances were with Peter Yorke, prime examples being his five songs in this collection: Another Night Like This and Mi Vida (from "Carnival in Costa Rica"); It’s Magic and It’s You Or No One (from "It’s Magic"); and No Orchids For My Lady.

All of the tracks on this CD feature Peter Yorke’s own bull-bodied arrangements, with the big concert-orchestra sound that had made him (and earlier Louis Levy) so popular. His style was well-suited to the film selections that formed a large part of his repertoire, and Hollywood provided plenty of inspiration, with the numerous musicals made during the 1940s as escapist entertainment from the grim realities of the real world during that miserable period of our history. The storylines of the likes of Till The Clouds Roll By, Carnival in Costa Rica, Blue Skies, The Time The Place and The Girl, It’s Magic, Night and Day and Look For The Silver Lining now seem incredibly dated – as does the music, but surely that is in its favour!

Walt Disney made a point of employing top songwriters for his cartoon features. Perhaps Bambi had less hits than some of the others, although you wouldn’t realise it from Peter Yorke’s tasteful score.

As well as the title track Melody Of The Stars, Peter Yorke is also represented as a composer with his Dawn Fantasy. It is largely forgotten today, but achieved considerable popularity during the era when Warsaw Concerto spawned a glut of similar works which broadcaster Steve Race astutely dubbed ‘the Denham concertos’, because it seemed that most films emanating from that once-prolific British studio had a full-blown piano pseudo-concerto on the soundtrack.

Mention should also be made of the radio series "ITMA" featuring comedian Tommy Handley, because one of the musical interludes performed by the orchestra under the baton of Charles Shadwell often featured a specially commissioned arrangement of a popular novelty. Peter Yorke was a frequent contributor, and Humpty Dumpty was just one of his inventive creations.

Happily this is not the only compact disc currently available that pays tribute to Peter Yorke’s wonderful music. Care has been taken to avoid too many duplications with other releases, but hopefully collectors will find that this particular selection is an accurate portrayal of the many facets of his genius. He died aged 63 on 2 February 1966 when his shows were still a popular part of the Light Programme schedules, and one suspects that people will still enjoy his tuneful music for decades to come.

David Ades

Other Peter Yorke CDs which deserve to be in your collection:


"FREDDY GARDNER" Naxos 8120506 [14 tracks with Peter Yorke]

"FREDDY GARDNER" Living Era CDAJA5454 [7 tracks with Peter Yorke]

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