Archibald Joyce: Dreaming etc.

RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Andrew Penny
Naxos 8.555218
Once christened “The English Waltz King”, Archibald Joyce was a prolific composer of dance music, a number of whose pieces were standard repertoire for the orchestras of the White Star Line. This particular disc of his works opens with perhaps the composer’s greatest hit, the waltz Dreaming, which was popular in dancehalls worldwide, introduced in the US as a song rather than an orchestral work with lyrics by Earl Carroll. It is a charming lilting work, that lends itself easily to dancing as well as boasting an instantly memorable tune. More recently, it was performed at an LMS AGM weekend, when it was selected by Howard Rogerson as one of the pieces the ensemble could play. Also featured are 1000 Kisses and Dream of Autumn, the latter a slightly more wistful affair and both of which found their way into the soundtrack for Charles Chaplin’s Gold Rush (the soundtrack made ‘official’ some time after its initial release, when it would have been accompanied by an improvising pianist). It isn’t all waltzes here, however. There are marches such as the Prince of Wales Grand March which, while it may not show the composer at his best, still boasts a memorable tune. There is the rather Straussian and decidedly fun Frou-Frou Polka, and the dramatic exotically tinged The Passing of Salome. The most ambitious work on the disc is the Caravan Suite, which nods to Native American melodies and is, for the most part, highly atmospheric, but it rather disappoints as a whole work, as it doesn’t quite hang together and often feels more like pastiche than a more evocative series of musical pictures. That said, one could imagine it being cinematically appropriate, as are the aforementioned pieces that were used alongside silent movies. The RTÉ Orchestra never disappoint under the direction of Andrew Penny, but they particularly shine in the more atmospheric sections of the disc. There are sections where I feel the interpreters could not really have done much more to make the less inspired musical items more engaging, but it is testament to their skill and talent that they hold the attention as well as they do. Mr. Joyce found his niche and worked well within it when it came to hummable waltz and polka melodies, but he does seem to struggle a little much beyond this. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding a formula and being able to achieve success with it and the CD is sure to provide many an item for orchestras looking for items in the aforementioned genres without relying too heavily on the usual suspects from the Strauss family! DA

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