The Art of Constant Lambert = BLISS: Miracle in the Gorbals; GORDON: The Rake’s Progress; LAMBERT: Music for Orchestra; WALTON: Façade – excerpts – Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden/ British Ballet Orchestra/ Philharmonia Orch. – Dutton

by | Jul 7, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Art of Constant Lambert = BLISS: Miracle in the Gorbals; GORDON: The Rake’s Progress; LAMBERT: Music for Orchestra; WALTON: Façade – excerpts – Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden (Bliss)/ British Ballet Orchestra (Gordon)/ Philharmonia Orchestra (Lambert) Edith Sitwell, and Constant Lambert, narration; Ensemble cond. William Walton (Walton)

Dutton CDBP 9761, 71:13 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:

Only two months ago I reviewed a Living Stage label tribute to conductor Constant Lambert (1905-1951), the versatile musician and master of the ballet medium, but whose own music embraced the theater and film, the latter notably for Anna Karenina, with Vivian Leigh. I owned the Columbia LPs of the Bliss six-movement Miracle of the Gorbals (18 March 1946), a 10-inch affair with noisy surfaces. The scenario is a rather lurid “street scene,” with all thanks to Elmer Rice, the music–except for the touching The Discovery of the Suicide’s Body–marked by hard-driving rhythms and colorful dissonances. Although CBS issued a long-play disc of Gordon’s Restoration-period ballet The Rakes Progress, the suite inscribed here (16 April 1945) includes the omitted The Dancing Lesson sequence, which plays as a delicate serenade for winds, strings and harp. The style is an updated Pergolesi orchestration, very like Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. Violas rule for the opening of The Faithful Girl movement. The last sequence has the provocative title The Orgy, and it whirls in the flutes a bit like a combination of circus music, wild birdcalls, and bits from The Bourgeois Gentilhomme of Richard Strauss.

Lambert verbally introduces his own Music for Orchestra (1929), which he composed for Diaghilev and recorded 2 July 1948. It has no program as such, merely two interlinked sections in three tempos, Andante–Risoluto–Vivace. The score indicates a solid sense of orchestration as well as counterpoint, similar to the Romantic efforts from Aaron Copland. The suite from Façade is again the premiere recording of the work (28 November 1929) in ten sections led by the composer, the same as on the Living Stage issue. Edith Sitwell and Lambert narrate in their dry, detached manner, and the music proceeds with all due parody. Michael Dutton’s surfaces are the soul of quiet. But the best may be saved for last: a 24 August 1936 inscription of Lambert discussing–for 3:21–the subjects Diaghilev, Tchaikovsky and the Ballet.  Lambert says of Diaghilev, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, that he had a firm knowledge of music and a firm grasp of its technical qualities. They read together at sight a score by Satie. Lambert says of Adam’s Giselle that it survives not for its music, but for its opportunities for the prima ballerina and its romantic story. Tchaikovsky’s music (Swan Lake) seems perfectly fitted to the stage, so it is impossible to believe it was called too heavy for the dancing. To hear his music in the theater, we realize he is to ballet what Verdi is to opera. Lambert than goes on to call The Sleeping Beauty Tchaikovsky’s greatest music in any genre. I’m convinced.

— Gary Lemco

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