Various Artists

Best of British Light Music [Box]

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The range of musical figures represented on this five-CD set is imposing, covering a period of more than a century of English music. And considering that it is built around "light music," some of the names are pretty imposing as well: William Alwyn, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Eric Fenby, Gordon Jacob, and Clifton Parker, to name just a few of the more prominent composers whose works are presented by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the BBC Concert Orchestra, under conductors Gavin Sutherland and Barry Wordsworth. There was no shortage of superb music in England during the twentieth century, even if not all of it was as exalted critically as the concert works of Ralph Vaughan Williams or Benjamin Britten, and this set is brimming over with it, starting with Arnold's overture from his score for the movie The Roots of Heaven (a John Huston African adventure film that didn't fare as well with critics or audiences as The African Queen, though not through any fault of the music) and Alwyn's Suite of Scottish Dances. But even the works of somewhat less well-known composers such as David Fanshawe and Paul Lewis have been well-selected and better performed -- one has to give ASV Records much credit for generating a huge body of first-rate performances of works that often have been unfairly overlooked as "filler" on recordings or concert programs of more ambitious pieces. The earliest composer represented here is Lionel Monckton (1861-1924), but many of the others are still with us and still active as of 2005. The range of styles is, as one might expect, fairly impressive -- but all are accessible, which is, one imagines, what makes this material qualify as "light music," a designation unique to the British musical culture, intended to designate a work as intended for a general audience, beyond the self-selected boundaries of the classical public (although most of the works here undoubtedly have been programmed in orchestral concerts). That the material is accessible doesn't mean it isn't challenging or enlightening on a musical level, and there's an education to be found on this set even for a British music veteran. The sound is excellent and the annotation reasonably thorough, and one can even wish for a second volume, in which we could hear some of the less-often-played works of figures such as Victor Hely-Hutchinson or Trevor Duncan.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
The Roots of Heaven, film score
1
5:08
Suite of Scottish Dances
2 1:07
3 0:49
4 2:11
5 0:57
6 1:01
7 0:47
8 0:55
9
7:20
The Glass Slipper, children's operetta
10 3:16
11
5:57
12 4:34
13
14:02
14
5:18
Little Suite, for orchestra
15
2:49
16
1:25
17
2:13
18
2:17
19
1:05
20 6:50

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Little Suite No. 4, for orchestra, Op. 80a (arr. Philip Lane)
1
2:01
2
3:34
3
2:07
4
6:15
Traditional Hornpipe Suite, for orchestra
5
1:26
6
1:27
7
1:04
8
0:55
9
0:43
10
1:33
Rossini on Ilckla Moor, Overture for orchestra
11 6:42
Wexford Bells, Suite on Old Irish Tunes for orchestra
12
2:43
13
3:33
14
1:54
15
3:28
16
6:50
Ayrshire Serenade, for orchestra, Op. 42
17
3:12
18
3:50
19
3:16
20 5:32
Suite of Cotswold Folk Dances, for orchestra
21 1:44
22 2:26
23 1:59
24 1:32
25 1:52
26 2:14

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
3:06
Divertissement, for orchestra
2
1:39
3
2:52
4
3:55
5
2:20
6 3:58
Three Dances for orchestra
7 3:28
8 3:49
9 2:20
10
3:55
Romeo and Juliet, ballet in 2 tableaux
11 1:53
12 3:22
13 1:57
14 2:53
15 2:27
16 1:30
17 1:32
18 3:49
19 5:32
Celestial Fire, ballet
20
3:44
21
4:01
22
1:59
23
2:31
24
2:13

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Partita for orchestra
1 7:21
2
6:49
3
7:02
Suite Française for orchestra
4
3:07
5
2:46
6
2:29
7
3:49
8 8:16
Battersea Park Suite, for orchestra
9
1:17
10
2:23
11
1:44
12
0:50
13
1:43
14
2:09
Dance Diversions, for orchestra
15
2:56
16
2:33
17
1:48
18
3:45
19
2:40
A Miniature Symphony
20 1:07
21 1:15
22 1:19
23 1:19
blue highlight denotes track pick