Classical Reissue Reviews
CONSTANT LAMBERT: Rio Grande (complete) – Hamilton Harty, piano / St. Michael’s Singers (A. W. Whitehead, contralto soloist) / The Hallé Orchestra cond. by Constant Lambert – Pristine Audio
Published on October 10, 2008
CONSTANT LAMBERT: Rio Grande (complete) – Hamilton Harty, piano / St. Michael’s Singers (A. W. Whitehead, contralto soloist) / The Hallé Orchestra cond. by Constant Lambert – Pristine Audio PACO028; 13:41**** www.pristineclassical.com (download or actual CD-R available):
(Recorded 11 January, 1930 in Central Hall, Westminster)
Constant Lambert (1905-1951) was a highly talented composer, conductor and musician. He had perhaps more talent than he could handle, and early triumphs may have put him under pressure to continue to produce works of the undoubted quality of Rio Grande.
Angus Morrison, the pianist in the first performance and Lambert’s brother-in-law, wrote that Lambert and Walton were much taken with Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire at some time before Rio Grande and Façade were composed, and Lambert’s love of jazz had come as a defining moment when he heard Florence Mills singing in the show “Dover Street to Dixie” in 1922. Rio Grande has many moments of that sad sweetness and sombre sentimentality which ring true even today.
First performed for a BBC broadcast in February 1928 with Angus Morrison as pianist, it was then first performed in public on 12 December 1929 with Lambert conducting the Hallé Orchestra and Sir Hamilton Harty as pianist. It was received very well by the critics who praised its combination of romanticism and jazz influences. The first recording is under review here and was made in Central Hall, Westminster, with generous acoustic, on 11 January 1930, and first issued on UK Columbia 78s L2373-4, matrix numbers WAX 5330-3, all second takes – unsurprising when you look at the score and its fiendishly difficult and virtuoso piano part.
Lambert’s setting of Sacheverell Sitwell’s words (the brother of Edith, who wrote the poems for Walton’s Façade) paints the text with the sounds of a carnival in some American riverside town with all its various moods.
This recording is remarkable for the fluency of the playing and singing and the security of the rhythms. Albert Walter Whitehead sings the short solo part for alto simply, the part Gladys Ripley sang when Lambert recorded the piece again in early 1949 with the Philharmonia, a good performance which doesn’t have the same sense of levity where necessary as did the earlier one. Harty, on this evidence, was a hugely talented pianist, the solo passages played with bravura and tenderness. Angus Morrison, the dedicatee, continued playing in performances until the late 1980s.
Mark Obert-Thorn has made the restoration for this release, his first for Pristine Audio, and the quality of his work here will surprise none who have bought some of the 300 Naxos CDs or 200 for other companies which he has produced in the last twenty years! There is depth to the sound, the piano whether in the flashy parts or quiet sentimental ones sounds well, and there is only the slightest of surface noise to remind one of the age of this recording. The chorus is a little backward, but is quite audible; otherwise this is still a fine recording 78 years later!
Pristine’s website has the complete Sitwell text and the original notes supplied about the composition. This issue is very well worth investigating; if you don’t know the work already, the music has an insidious charm which may very well hook you.