Lane Orchestral Works Sutherland Naxos 8.555880

Philip Lane (b. 1950)
London Salute (1982)
Diversions on a Theme of Paganini (1989/2000)
Cotswold Dances (1973)
Divertissement for clarinet, strings, and harp (1994/2000)
Three Christmas Pictures (1980s)
A Maritime Overture (1982)
Three Nautical Miniatures (1980-2000)
Prestbury Park (1975/1978)
Verity Butler (clarinet, Divertissement)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. 2001, Henry Wood Hall, London
Naxos 8.555880 [74]

“Philip Lane has long been a stalwart of British light music”, says the blurb. Next, we learn that this disc “provides an excellent survey of his concert works”; it was first issued on Marco Polo (review). This is the fifteenth instalment of Naxos’s reissue of the recordings in this genre. (Philip Lane has an entry in Wikipedia.)

I like the booklet’s description of London Salute (written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the BBC): an “evocation of the capital, very much as an outsider would see it, all hustle and bustle, with ceremonial and tradition around every corner”. Its many musical tropes nod to Eric Coates and William Walton. Missing is only any notion of the city’s quieter spaces – the parks, the squares, the churchyards.

What is it about Paganini’s twenty-fourth Caprice for solo violin that it has inspired so many sets of variations? Think Rachmaninov, Brahms, Lutosławski, Philip Wilby and Andrew Lloyd Webber, to name but a few. Lane’s Diversions on a Theme of Paganini were composed for brass quintet and later rescored for small orchestra. His take is more a series of impressions than formal variations. Booklet-note writer Gavin Sutherland calls them “musings” that reflect the titles: a forceful Toccata, a wistful Chaconne, a Popular Song (certainly not ‘pop’), a cheeky Five-a-Side, a brisk Epilogue, and more.

Do not get confused by the Cotswold Dances recorded here. Classic FM regularly plays Constant Billy, the second movement of the Cotswold Folk Dances written in 1978 for the Stroud Festival, and based on genuine Morris Dances. The present set, five years earlier, is Lane’s earliest orchestral work that he acknowledges. I think the concept is akin to Malcolm Arnolds sequence of national dances or Alun Hoddinott’s two sets of Welsh Dances: they do not rely on “found” material.

The opening dance, Seven Springs, which evokes the source of Father Thames, is a pleasantly scored piece of water music. Badminton House clip-clops not surprisingly its cheerful way; it recalls the famous horse trials there. I loved the wistful Pittville Promenade, which the booklet suggests captures Lane’s boyhood explorations of Pittville Park in Cheltenham, and his attempts at catching newts in the lakes. Equally evocative is Cleeve Hill, which suggests the highest peak in the Cotswolds. Despite the benign landscape, the hill can be subject to considerable extremes of weather; Lane has mirrored that in a miniature tone poem. Other landmarks here include the ancient burial site, Belas Knap and, less historically, a plethora of radio and telephone masts. The final dance, Wassail Song, fairly bounces along. It weaves together several wassail songs from Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Yorkshire, bringing this pleasing set to a rumbustious conclusion.

The Divertissement for clarinet, strings and harp was originally scored for clarinet and piano. Sutherland notes that Lane has included “liberal quotations […] from earlier compositions”. The piece opens with a witty Prelude which twists and turns along. The Canzonetta is full of romance and recollection. I am not sure what a Valse americaine is: a waltz with jazzy overtones? It certainly progresses with a gentle swing. The Tarantelle-rondeau brings the Divertissement to a vibrant conclusion. References to the opening movement make this concerto-light into a cyclical work. Clarinetist Verity Butler plays delightfully.

Philip Lane’s most performed piece may be the Sleighbell Serenade (part of a collection named Three Christmas Pictures). It needs little comment save that it portrays a journey we would all like to make, through the highways and byways on a horse-drawn sleigh, when the snow is deep and crisp and even. Lane’s take on this Yuletide conceit surely takes its place alongside Delius’s Sleigh Ride, Prokofiev’s Troika and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. The second Picture is the Starlight Lullaby (c.1990). This perfect miniature may suggest the baby Jesus at the Nativity, or possibly today’s children trying to sleep before Santa Claus stops by to deliver the presents. Look out for a gentle nod to Henry Mancini’s evergreen Moon River. The third Picture, a Christmas Eve Waltz (1989), may recall Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The listener is looking through Fezziwig’s sitting-room window, and watches the festivities and the benevolent old businessman dancing with his staff. The music sounds like a pastiche of 1950s light music, and is good for that.

The Maritime Overture is billed as “portraying various aspects of the sea, from the gentle lapping of the waves at the start to the storms and battles later on”. Lane’s longest work here, it seems to me to crossover from light music to something a little more dissonant in mood.

The penultimate suite, Three Nautical Miniatures, builds on folksongs. The first is the well-known When the Boat comes in. Up next is a beautifully controlled exposition of Spanish Ladies. Here the singer reflected on a journey from Spain to the English Channel. The ladies have been bidden farewell. The finale is Portsmouth, which is really a hornpipe. It brings these three miniatures to a jaunty conclusion. Ralph Vaughan Williams used this melody in his Sea Songs, and it is the signature tune to the doubtless politically incorrect BBC TV series, Billy Bunter.

The final number, Prestbury Park, is a corker. It began life as a brass-band work, and was later rescored for orchestra. Ostensibly, it majors on a race day at Cheltenham. It could also easily pass muster as a redolent description of a summer’s day jaunt in the 1950s Hillman Minx, aboard a steam train or a countryside ramble – except for the very last bar, which has the musical onomatopoeia of a filly neighing. And then there are the whip cracks…

Everything about programme is superb: the dedicated performances, the resonant recording, and Gavin Sutherland’s helpful liner notes. The front cover, which is a stock photograph, is particularly appropriate for the Three Christmas Pieces.

You will surely agree with the American Record Review critic Philip Haldeman: “[This] music can stand alongside almost anything of its type: it has lovely melodies, incessant charm, and moments of incidental but sincere beauty”. Every work here shows craftsmanship, orchestral finesse and an obvious love of the genre. Each is satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable.

John France

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music
Arkiv Music