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.
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: