Whitlock: Holiday Suite (CD review)

Malcolm Riley, organ; Gavin Sutherland, RTE Concert Orchestra. Marco Polo 8.225162.

Isn't it remarkable how many early twentieth-century British composers of light orchestral music sound alike? Percy Whitlock lived from 1903 to 1946, producing the bulk of his musical output during the Twenties and Thirties. Although primarily known as a composer of organ music, he also wrote light music, and Marco Polo have resurrected some of this material for its series of discs called "British Light Music." Unfortunately, "Light" is hardly the word for it. Most of this stuff is in danger of floating right out of the CD player.

The music is all over the board, from waltzes to marches to polkas to romantic ballads. The program begins with a rambling "Concert Overture: The Feast of St. Benedict," and then proceeds through three suites: the derivative "Wessex Suite," the relatively delightful "Music for Orchestra," and the mundane "Holiday Suite," with shorter pieces like "Ballet of the Wood Creatures," "Come along Marnie," "Balloon Ballet," and "Susan, the Doggie and Me" in between. To be fair, the "Ballet" is often quite charming, while the others are mainly unmemorable.

Gavin Sutherland
The titles pretty much sum up the substance of these things. Best of all I liked the concluding march called "Dignity and Impudence," the title taken from a Victorian oil painting of two dogs but sounding like a take-off on Sir Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance." Indeed, it does sound exactly like a parody of the more-familiar march. So, at least if you view it as a spoof, as I did, it works. But maybe the composer meant it seriously, who knows.

Largely, though, this is a disc of cheerful, frothy, carefree, and totally forgettable music, mostly reminiscent of some of the folk melodies of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frank Bridge, Percy Grainger, and the like, but with not nearly their soul or essence. What's more, Maestro Gavin Sutherland and the RTE Concert Orchestra play almost everything in a wholly nondescript manner, serviceable, to be sure, but without too much flair, which might have helped the music out.

Likewise, Marco Polo's sound seems rather lacking in distinction. While not being bad in any obvious way, it is, nonetheless, somewhat soft and lifeless, with little depth and even less sparkle. This is the kind of album that might appeal to the completest who wants every piece of early twentieth-century British music he can lay his hands on. For the rest of us, it should come with a mild warning label.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa