Fanfare and Ceremonial Prelude
Concertino for Trumpet and Orchestra
Four Movements for String Orchestra
A Song for All Seasons *
First Suite of Dances
Spirit of London Overture
The Hippodrome Waltz
Colour Suite Pastorale; March
Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet)
William Stephenson (piano) *
BBC Concert Orchestra
Recorded on 26 & 27 February 2003 at BBC Studios, Maida Vale
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: January 2004
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10115
The name Gordon Langford, I thought, was new to me. The fact is, of course, that I had (albeit unwittingly) come across him before – as arranger of film scores such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman II, Clash of the Titans – which I only realise now in retrospect.
The biography given in this new Chandos release of his orchestral music mentions that he has worked on various West End musicals which means I may well have encountered him there (although no specific shows are titled). Langford himself introduces the music in a personal booklet note and comes over as a nostalgic man, bemoaning the Beeching closures of the branch-line railways in the 1960s (Greenways – seemingly the derelict tracks that were meant to be grassed over and become rambler paths) or the implicit loss of what was the Spirit of London, “a tribute to a once great city (capital of a once great nation)”, quoting the defiance to the Blitz as an example of such spirit.
I would argue that London is still a great city and, while recognising certain – sometimes all-too-prevalent flaws – the nation is still pretty great as well! One way it might seem better is for it to recognise the quality of Gordon Langford’s music – this is (all of it) consummate stuff.Covering a 30-year period, the earliest works, from the mid-’sixties, are the Spirit of London Overture, the Four Movements for String Orchestra, and the two movements from a projected (but never completed) Colour Suite. Only the March has been recorded before, so here we have over 75 minutes of hugely enjoyable orchestral music newly available.
The latest works are the revision to the Fanfare and Ceremonial Prelude (1981/1995) – what a rousing opener it is – and the 1997 piano “fantasie” A Song for All Seasons which quickly dissipates from its Shostakovich-like opening stringency into jazzier climes (a passage from which seems instantly recognisable to me, so I presume it has been taken up for an advert or a TV programme, although nothing is mentioned in the notes). Langford was the soloist in the work’s première, although here it is William Stephenson. Langford’s brass expertise (he has composed many brass band works) is on show for the Trumpet Concertino, here with Crispian Steele-Perkins assuming the role that John Wilbrahams took in the work’s 1979 première; it was Wilbrahams’s suggestion that the slow movement should be for flugelhorn.
Rich string tones characterise Greenways (1970), although there is no real attempt at a ghostly reminiscence of the trains that once ran along these very routes, whereas the later Hippodrome Waltz (1988) – written for the orchestra on this disc, the BBC Concert Orchestra, its home has been the Golders Green Hippodrome for many years – cannot help conjure up “Friday Night is Music Night”. The 1973 First Suite of Dances is wonderfully tuneful and witty, so why they haven’t the currency of Arnold’s national dances I really don’t know.
Langford’s instrumental fecundity is on display throughout, beautiful touches, whether imitating a fairground in Spirit of London or the infectious rhythms of each of the dances. It is ’light’ music because it proffers no underlying deeper purpose, but that should not be regarded as a criticism.As in Eric Coates and the plethora of composers now best known for their film music, so roundly celebrated by Chandos’s enterprising recording policy (and most under the energetic and consistently splendid leadership, as here, of Rumon Gamba), Langford’s pieces are charming, easy on the ear, and memorable.
In fact this recorded collection is probably the best way to hear them. Do get this disc – and derive much pleasure from Langford’s lyrical inspiration and delicious orchestrations.