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Collins: Vanity Fair, Etc / Wilson, Bbc Concert Orchestra

Release Date: 06/13/2006 
Label:  Dutton Laboratories/Vocalion   Catalog #: 7162   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Anthony Collins
Conductor:  John Wilson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The name Anthony Collins (1893–1963) calls up for older collectors the distinguished conductor of highly regarded interpretations of late-Romantic music recorded for the English Decca/London label, especially his then-definitive Sibelius cycle. Not many knew about his parallel extensive work as a film composer—some dozens of scores written during the 1930s and 1940s, plus even a handful of post-war Hollywood films, such as “Swiss Family Robinson.” And yet this former orchestral violist and pupil of Holst also produced a catalog of large-scale concert music, including four symphonies and two violin concertos, many of which were never published and are now considered lost.

So this varied and lively survey of his work as a
Read more composer—the first recording of its kind ever—is reduced to highlighting some of his more modest pieces, intended for either film or radio broadcast and in a few instances approaching the category of “light music.”

Unfortunately for this listener, many of these works, however superficially and appealingly innocuous, leave a nebulous impression without conveying any sense of a real personality. There is no gainsaying that Collins was a professional craftsman who could turn his hand to practically any kind of musical requirement, his most distinctive efforts falling into the field of miniatures, such as the duly famous and much-recorded Vanity Fair, with another memorable short item here being the “Valse lente” from The Saga of Odette, which was available years ago in the shellac era, and the quite touching “Santa Cecilia” madrigal.

One of the more enjoyable surprises in this program is the collection of Louis XV Silhouettes, some of them less than a minute in length. Instead of the anticipated pastiches of standard rococo forms, such as tabourin, pavane, forlande, and passacaille, Collins gives us very melodic and slightly offbeat themes that transcend the level of 18th-century musical everyday and sound after a while remarkably 20th century. Though, when he goes for the more pompous or dramatic, as in the Waltonian Festival Royal Overture or the Gaelic Eire suite and the Prelude and Valse Variations from The Lady with a Lamp film score, Collins loses much of his charm and begins to come across as heavy-handed and perfunctory. Whereas the short but intense Song of Erin lamentation is probably the most deeply felt music here, the Symphony for Strings (No. 1) is nothing more than a simplistic and imitative neo-rococo concoction intended for semi-professional ensembles.

John Wilson is one of the most versatile younger conductors in England (his repertoire includes the pop-tune arrangements of Angela Morley), and he delivers appropriately eloquent readings. Acoustically, the disc is rich and bright, with perhaps at times too wide a dynamic range from soft to loud for comfortable home listening.

For all its minor shortcomings, this release presents a rare opportunity to expand one’s listening horizons without the least strain.

FANFARE: Paul A. Snook
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Works on This Recording

Vanity Fair by Anthony Collins
Conductor:  John Wilson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Eire Suite by Anthony Collins
Conductor:  John Wilson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1938; England 

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