Romeo and Juliet – A Ballet in two Tableaux
Pomona – A Ballet in one Act
Music for Orchestra
Summer’s Last Will and Testament – King Pest: Rondo Burlesca
English Chamber Orchestra
Norman Del Mar [Romeo and Juliet; Pomona]
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Barry Wordsworth [Music for Orchestra]
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Romeo and Juliet & Pomona recorded July 1977 in Kingsway Hall, London
No other recording information supplied in Lyrita’s booklet
Reviewed by: Jimmy Hughes
Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.215
Duration: 73 minutes
The incredible story of how Diaghilev commissioned the 20-year-old Constant Lambert (still technically a music student) to write a piece for the Ballets Russes, and the ensuing arguments and controversy that followed, is recounted in the booklet note. It’s an amazing tale.
Lambert’s Romeo and Juliet music is certainly brilliant and witty. The score (written 1924/5) is one of great vivacity and colour, though listening you’d never guess its topic! Apparently, Diaghilev saw Romeo and Juliet as a “typically English subject” and devised a Cocktail Ballet (whatever that is) around the music. Lambert was not impressed, and tried to get his music back. Diaghilev responded by putting the orchestral parts under Police guard. The ballet lasts thirty minutes.
Pomona (1926) is cast in a single act and lasts about twenty minutes. Quieter and less brilliantly scored, but still full of interest, in many respects it marks an advance over Romeo and Juliet. While, superficially, the music is less impressive and ‘catchy’, it has a lovely wistful delicacy and far greater depth and repose. The score comprises a ‘Prelude’ followed by a series of short classical dances – ‘Courante’, ‘Pastorale’, ‘Menuetto’, ‘Rigadoon’, etc. – with the penultimate movement being a ‘Siciliana’ that Lambert himself apparently had a special affection for.
The original 1979 Lyrita LP (containing the two ballet scores conducted by Norman Del Mar) was one of the best-sounding vinyl-discs on this label. The recording had fantastic brilliance and immediacy, with a vivid holographic soundstage. The way that the solo horn all but ‘materialised’ out of the left-hand loudspeaker at the end of the first movement was quite magical! The sound has transferred well to CD, but does not seem quite as outstanding as the LP – I still have the Decca pressing and the subsequent one from Nimbus (from the mid-80s). Don’t get me wrong; the sound is still very, very good. It’s just that it no longer sounds exceptional.
Music for Orchestra (1927) and King Pest: Rondo Burlesca are later recordings; both are DDD although no session dates are given. The former consists of two interlinked movements and lasts about thirteen minutes. The opening Andante is haunting and elegiac, demonstrating Lambert’s ability to write highly atmospheric music of great beauty. But the mood soon changes and a fugue ensues.
The final work – King Pest: Rondo Burlesca – forms the sixth movement of Lambert’s masterpiece “Summer’s Last Will and Testament” – a setting of words by Thomas Nashe for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Two of the seven movements are for orchestra. Rondo Burlesca: King Pest being one of them. It lasts about nine minutes and takes its title from the tale of the same name by Edgar Allen Poe. The work is an extended orchestral scherzo of great brilliance and darting movement – a ‘danse macabre’ of demonic drive and power. This performance under Simon Joly captures its malevolent intensity and inexorable power perfectly, and the recording has impressive amplitude and weight.