Whether it was in 2007 or 2008, it would turn out that bonny John’s very first time on the podium in the Albert Hall was (at age 35 or 36) conducting the 50-piece BBC Concert Orchestra in Sir William Walton’s score from the unseemly gorgeous war picture Battle of Britain. “Battle in the Air” is spirited, ravishing and very dramatic. I saw the film first run in Minneapolis, then again in London and then again in, of all places, Patras, Greece, but it’s the music I remember most.
Look at that punim. Du bist a gut zonneleh, Yonni.
A very nifty, lively, jazzy modernist piece written by Constant Lambert (The Who manager Kit Lambert’s dad) in 1927. Australian virtuoso Eileen Joyce, who famously played the heart-wrenching Rachmaninoff in the film Brief Encounter, is at the piano here. County Antrim-born Jean Allister, contralto soloist, joins her with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Chorus. At the podium is Sir Malcolm Sargent.
Composer-novelist Anthony Burgess, in his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God (Burgess’s given name was John Anthony Burgess Wilson) wrote, “Lambert, who admired Duke Ellington and proclaimed his harmonic roots in Frederick Delius (who in his turn had taken them from Debussy), was a fearless reconciler of what the academies and Tin Pan Alley alike presumed to be eternally opposed. I was present at that first performance, and so was my father. And, in 1972, on a plane from New York to Toronto, I found myself sitting next to Duke Ellington, who spoke almost with tears of the stature of Lambert, admitted that he had learned much from both Delius and Debussy, and expressed scorn for the old musical division, which had been almost as vicious as a colour bar. He had lived to see it dissolve and jazz become a legitimate item in the academic curricula.” [More Burgess on Lambert here.]
Release date 8 March 2018 from Chandos. After having creditably conducted a brass-heavy, atonal new Turnage piece with the LSO and a circus in Berlin for New Year’s (Circus Roncalli, named after Cardinal Roncalli, His Holiness Pope John XXIII) I suppose my darling lad was ready for a new challenge. Knowing nothing about the English brass tradition (even though it’s all over the BBC), maybe this isn’t the right album for me to be assessing musically. Still, I will follow (almost) anywhere my beloved leads me, so here we are.
The only fanfares I know at present are Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (here performed and riffed on by Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and—like any red-blooded American—the fanfare that begins Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek Theme” (repeated here); but I also remember from my girlhood a stirring, very English fanfare that provided the theme for the 1967 BBC series The Forsyte Saga, which I found out only recently is the beginning of the first movement entitled “Halcyon Days” from the suite The Three Elizabeths written by Eric Coates.
Said MusicWeb International of Fanfares: “John Wilson proves himself to be a deft and intelligent interpreter of this music which he allows to push on in flamboyant display or swagger with burnished grandeur as the mood demands. The playing of the expanded Onyx brass is of exactly the right kind of easy virtuosity and blazing brilliance.” Check back for my comments after I’ve heard in entirety every one of these 58 freakin cuts.