A GIBBS Suites
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs is one of those names you used to come across in piano stools: a very English petit-maître remembered today, if at all, for his endearing settings of Walter de la Mare. On the strength of this well-filled disc of premiere recordings, his light orchestral music belongs to the same imaginative world. Slight, sentimental and a little faded, if you wanted to be unkind. Charming, well crafted and warmly melodious, if you’re more generously inclined.
Decide for yourself, because it’s hard to imagine anyone making a more handsome case than Ronald Corp and the BBC Concert Orchestra do here. The works included span Armstrong Gibbs’s entire career. If his early incidental music to de la Mare’s children’s play Crossings and his ‘dance phantasy’ The Enchanted Wood evoke the same post-Edwardian fairyland as Elgar’s The Starlight Express or Quilter’s Where the Rainbow Ends, the chromatic half-lights of his once-popular concert waltz Dusk suggest a musical imagination no longer quite at ease with the world around it – and there’s more than a hint of melancholy about the late Four Orchestral Dances of 1959. The work that springs out most vividly is the spirited, mock-Baroque Suite in A for violin and orchestra, delivered here with considerable gusto by the BBC CO’s current acting leader Charles Mutter.
My only reservation about these smiling performances concerns Corp’s tendency to relaxation: to let this music merely glow where it might have sparkled. And that Lewis Foreman’s excellent booklet-notes leave us relatively in the dark about the intriguingly titled The Cat and the Wedding Cake – and its source, the unproduced ‘television operetta’ Mr Cornelius. Scope for a follow-up disc there, perhaps?