Thursday, September 06, 2012

Ivor Novello at the Proms

What would Harry Wood have said at the news that Ivor Novello's Lilacs were to be gathered during a whole Promenade concert in the Royal Albert Hall (and televised too).? Well, remembering that a great deal of light music was often heard in the early days, he would probably have benevolently wagged his beard as well as his baton. And there was Sir Mark Elder and his Hallé Band (rather surprizingly) on the platform to jolly things along.  

Perhaps for the under sixties this review ought to write a few words about dear Ivor. As a very young man he made name and fortune by composing the hit song of World War One, usually known as "Keep the Home fires Burning". He starred in Hitchcock's silent film The Lodger. He produced and starred in shows in the thirties and later, filling the large spaces of Drury Lane Theatre with glossy, make-believe musicals with threadbare plots. The drama was pure bunkum, clichés two-a-penny, the music like milk chocolate, tasty but soon cloying. 
Audiences loved it all and the tea-trays rattled merrily. There was always a glamourous soprano in the lead to sing the songs. Ivor was the leading male; he didn't sing but he was heart throb no. 1 with beautiful knees and the dream of a profile. He couldn't go wrong, except once in WW2 when he was sent to goal briefly for fiddling petrol coupons.
At the Proms Sophie Beavan sang well and clearly the soprano songs, looking personable rather than glamourous) while the tenor partner was golden-voiced Toby Spence (suffering from cancer but fighting it bravely and here singing like a bird – we all wish him quickly well again). 
The music scarcely gave Mark Elder much to do but he did it efficiently. The orchestrations were pit band style a bit coarse and top-heavy; too many doublings to sound good in a concert hall with scores that are repetitious and formulaic. If Berlioz had been present I think he would have been calling out, as he sometimes did, "twenty francs for an idea", upping the ante if none were forthcoming.  
If there is to be a sequel next year, the planners should bear in mind NOEL COWARD, a better composer, better tunes and some humour into the bargain. Would excess of Novello make Coward-lovers of us all?

No comments: