One decade an enfant terrible, the next decade a reactionary: isn't that always the way? Take the career of Constant Lambert. In the '20s, Lambert was celebrated as the snappiest composer of the postwar England, a position he unwillingly surrendered in the '30s to more aggressively modernist composers. These days, Lambert is remembered less for his once fashionable music and more for his massively depressing Music Ho! -- a book prophesizing the musical end of the world that neatly coincided with Lambert's own eclipse.
Heard here in direct and convincing performances by Norman del Mar and the English Chamber Orchestra, Lambert's two ballets written for Diaghilev in the mid-'20s sound like first-rate conservative modernist music. Romeo and Juliet and Pomona prove supple and charming neo-classical pastiches, dancing with effortless elegance and singing with real lyricism when it's called for. As a bonus, the disc includes two more abstract examples of Lambert's art: Music for Orchestra from 1927 and King Pest Rondo Burlesca, the final movement from his masterpiece Summer's Last Will and Testament from 1935-1936. The richly colorful and masterfully structured Music for Orchestra is performed with strength and conviction by Barry Wordsworth leading the London Philharmonic Orchestra while the archly sarcastic King Pest is played with deft energy by Simon Joly leading the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. If one had heard the Music for Orchestra in 1927, one might be forgiven for thinking it embodied the best spirit of its time. And, if one were also the composer, one might be forgiven for later being bitter about the way things actually turned out. Lyrita's stereo sound is, as always, rich, clear, and detailed.