Philip Lane: Sleighbell Serenade, Prestbury Park etc.

Royal Ballet Sinfonia

Conducted by Gavin Sutherland

Naxos 8555880

Having heard a good amount of Philip Lane’s output in other releases, I was frankly ashamed not to be more familiar with this release, not least because Lane is one of the instrumental driving forces behind the Marco Polo British Light Music series when they were first issued. What genial musical company it is in which we find ourselves! From the wonderful curtain raiser London Salute, a march-like evocation of the English capital, we hear wonderfully assured melody writing and a supreme gift for orchestration. This first track was actually written for the sixtieth anniversary of the BBC and carries a suitable sweep and sense of national pride without ever tipping over into cliche.

Diversions on a theme of Paganini follows hot on its heels and of course it is a theme that has been adapted more than once in the history of music. It is truly credit to Lane’s inspiration here that the music feels so remarkably fresh and so completely at home in the annals of Light Orchestral Music (although, as Gavin Sutherland’s liner notes point out, it was actually written originally for brass quintet). Sutherland also point out that it is important to acknowledge that these are not variations in the Rachmaninovian sense, but more a series of musings, in which the central theme is most entertainingly adapted over a range of musical emotions.

Cotswold Dances is a remarkable piece, well deserving of a place in any Light Music concert. All the more remarkable is the fact that it is the composer’s earliest piece that he is happy to have performed.

What shines through all of the works on the disc is Lane’s flair for orchestration, particularly exemplified in the Cotswold Dances and the Maritime Overture, the latter boasting especially colourful use of percussion. There are considerable contrasts in timbre and mood, often placed quite close together, but the contrasts are always convincing and never jarring.

Two smaller-scale works provide a wonderful timbral contrast to the small and full orchestra pieces on the disc: the Divertissement for Clarinet and String Orchestra (featuring a lovely violin solo with which the clarinet duets at one point) and the Three Nautical Miniatures for Strings. In the latter work, Lane showcases his skill as an arranger as well as composer and orchestrator. These miniatures were also originally written for brass (brass band in this case), but their setting for string orchestra is a real highlight of the disc for me, with its perfect mix of whimsical surprising harmonisations married to well known tunes.

The spectre of Leroy Anderson may hover somewhere over the final work on the disc Prestbury Park, with its wonderful closing horse whinny, but in Lane’s hands these orchestral tricks are secondary to an extremely well wrought and highly original melodic work, evoking the famous Cheltenham Racecourse.

Given the range of orchestral colours on show, it is also the forces of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia on display here, under the flawless direction of former LMS chairman Gavin Sutherland (those of us familiar with his style can almost picture him conducting many of these tracks!). The sharp contrasts of moods are expertly executed and well articulated, resulting in a cd full of variety, exceptionally performed and testimony to the work of a living Light Music composer demonstrating just how alive and well this aspect of music really is. Highly recommended on all fronts.


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