Notes and Editorial Reviews
I am sure I am not alone in still doing a brief double-take when I see the Guild label on a disc of Light Music. Yet, what a service they are providing - excusing the pun given their history of church music! To my enduring shame these are the first two discs in this extensive series - the liner-notes list another 57 releases - that I have heard and all I can say is the loss is mine. I suspect that many readers of this will be familiar with the style and content of these discs but for those who are not it is worth making clear a couple of points. These are historical performances all dating from the 1950s featuring an enormous variety of composers, arrangers, conductors and orchestras. So, there will be two key elements in ensuring the
success of this disc and indeed the series that goes above and beyond the inherent quality of the music or the performances. They are the technical quality of the transfers and re-mastering and the coherence of the programming and track selection. I have nothing but praise for both of these departments. Not that that should be a surprise when one sees that the audio restoration is in the safe hands of Alan Bunting and the series production and compilation is overseen by phenomenally knowledgeable David Ades. He has also written the extensive, informative and interesting liner-notes. Allied to track-listings that include original release information and quirky artwork and you have an exemplary release. Before dealing with the discs separately and in greater detail there are a couple of other general thoughts that struck me while listening. The 1950s were a time when this was truly a music industry. The sheer volume of music being written and recorded - and performed live - was extraordinary. These two discs total 48 tracks featuring about 39 orchestras with nearly as many composers and the like. This was the golden age for musicians who were part of the hallowed inner circle of session players who could and often did achieve the holy grail of the 21 session week - literally 3 three hour sessions every day of the week. David Ades in his very illuminating notes goes some way to explaining the complexities of contractual and union rulings that meant orchestras and groups often appeared under totally spurious names and this is an area that is both fascinating and mind-boggling. But ultimately does that matter when you can sit back and listen to such scintillating group of entertaining pieces?
The first disc is the aptly named A Box of Light Musical Allsorts. This is a perfect title. The delight of this selection is exactly that of a box of chocolates. Everyone will have different favourites, surprise new discoveries and occasional old favourites. And if there's a piece that does not quite appeal, don't worry, another will be along in a minute! Separating the artistic from the technical again for a moment; I marvelled anew at the sheer quality of the execution of all of these tracks. For sure, different performance and recording styles were employed - generally the sound is close and tight - but there is not a single piece where you don't find yourself smiling with delight at some aspect of the performance. The opening track My object all sublime played and arranged by Robert Farnon and his Orchestra is a case in point. It fairly rockets off - a really demanding opening tossed off with cocky aplomb by the excellent orchestra - with the new-fangled stereo recording allowing a tap dancer to stroll across your hi-fi! From there on it really is nearly eighty minutes of unalloyed pleasure. Every listener will enjoy some tracks more than others. My favourites for what they are worth are Three-Two-One Zero by Norrie Paramor and Canadian in Mayfair - creating an instantly familiar atmosphere with its combination of Holiday for Strings manic pizzicati and multiple voice lush string voicings. The Concerto in Jazz and Worcester Beacon - the earliest recording - from 1946 - and the most sonically limited although not to any excessive degree - and particularly St. Boniface Down. This last was written by the wonderful Trevor Duncan. These were happy discoveries although the latter moves away from the library music style of most of the disc towards something a little more individual and serious/light if that's not verging on the oxymoronic.
Clearly, because this disc builds on the library of recordings previously released they compliment those and allow other purchasers to build their own collections. My only query is the inclusion of the Mackerras/LSO Coates The Three Bears. This appears to be the same recording that has graced the Classics for Pleasure Coates compilation for so many years. Assuming that to be so, and when surrounded by so much that is unfamiliar and rare, it feels like a little piece of unnecessary potential duplication. That being said it is fascinating to juxtapose the quite different recording/performance of the LSO performance with the rest of the disc - and it is a fine performance in its own right.
The second disc reviewed here is
That's Light Musical Entertainment. All of the high values of performance and production that were mentioned above are in evidence here too. As a matter of simply musical taste this album appeals to me far less than the former. With the previous disc the bulk of the performances are of original orchestral pieces. On this disc the bulk are instrumental/orchestral versions of vocal standards or show songs. So you are immediately into a debate about the degree of 'intervention' of the arranger. Is it to be a straight transcription or an elaborated treatment? If the former, well listen to the song and if the latter at what point does the arrangement overwhelm the melody? The Angela Morley/Robert Farnon team responsible for A Canadian in Mayfair above produce another gem with Farnon's justly famous Westminster Waltz and I always have a soft spot for pretty much any Ronald Binge so I enjoyed I'll see you in my dreams. Conrad Salinger is the one arranger who can inflate the simplest tune into something of spectacular scale and yet somehow 'make it work' - the Straussian brass writing has a lot to do with it! - so his version of That's Entertainment! that opens the disc is a guilty pleasure. By contrast I find the version of All My Life by Geraldo and his New Concert Orchestra to be too predictable and saccharine. Likewise, David Rose's take on Come Rain or come Shine leaves me quite unmoved. It's a purely personal reaction I know but I find that the orchestrations that are charming in original scores become rather hackneyed in arrangements - when does a piece cross that elusive barrier from 'light' to 'middle of the road'? Obviously, the bulk of the music on both these discs was written with little view to its longevity - I suspect most of the composers and arrangers involved would be tickled pink to think that their work was still being listened to fifty years after the event. However, to my ear the song arrangements wear their years less lightly and are less interesting in consequence. But, if they do appeal, you will find them here in exemplary performances and transfers so do not hesitate.
Compulsory purchases for followers of this series and excellent discs for nostalgia seekers everywhere.
-- Nick Barnard, MusicWeb International
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