ALBUM TITLE: Collection: English String Miniatures, Vol. 4
PERFORMER: Northern Sinfonia/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555070
British light music seems to be proliferating at the moment, at least on disc. Is its easy, tuneful charm and skilful craftsmanship really attracting new audiences? Or is it just a branch of the nostalgia industry?
Hyperion’s collection of concertinos and suchlike for piano and strings, from the early Twenties to the mid-Fifties, will certainly arouse nostalgia in many listeners. Most of the music is pleasant enough, tinged by folksong (Cyril Rootham, Robin Milford), neo-classical cleanness (Gordon Jacob) or jazzy syncopation (Madeleine Dring). But the first movement at least of Armstrong Gibbs’s 1942 Concertino goes deeper, starting with a Shostakovich-like tune of deceptive innocence and gradually running into the sand. Martin Roscoe plays neatly and musically, but occasionally overpowers the small group of Guildhall Strings.
ASV’s anthology of overtures ranges more widely, from the Victorian sturdiness of Walter Carroll’s Festive Overture and the Edwardian gaiety of Lionel Monckton’s The Arcadians, to the showbizzy pottering of Herbert Chappell’s Boy Wizard. Among much else, James Langley’s Overture and Beginners stands out for its accomplished scoring, Thomas Pitfield’s 1950 Concert Overture holds a few surprises, and Thomas Dunhill’s Tantivy Towers overture conjures up the lost world of between-the-wars operetta. The performances by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Gavin Sutherland are spirited, though not without a few anxious moments.
Naxos’s collection benefits from outstandingly assured and responsive playing by the Northern Sinfonia strings, under the experienced David Lloyd-Jones, and an excellent recording. And the pieces in the ‘light music’ genre, by the likes of Peter Hope and Paul Lewis, are complemented by items by major omposers: two enjoyable early pieces by Frank Bridge; the exquisite Two Aquarelles arranged by Eric Fenby from wordless choruses by Delius; and Holst’s string orchestra version of his inventive Moorside Suite for brass band. Of these three discs, this is the one which holds most appeal beyond nostalgia. Anthony Burton