Choosing a playlist is probably one of the hardest lists I have had to compile. Music, like all the arts is mood-driven, but it's been great fun! I have revisited music I used to love and a lot of it has come up fresh as a daisy, partly because I listen mostly to the spoken word in my oboe repair workshop at the bottom of our garden.
Having been a member of the Sinfonia for over 40 years now, my impressions of the repertoire we have played are very mixed indeed and if I'm totally honest, I'm not overly keen on the stuff we tend to do for weeks on end. Maybe the very nature of repetition encourages boredom, so to that effect I would like to dedicate a lot of this playlist to the music I adore and have never played, despite a lot of it being ballet repertoire!
1) Paris tu n'as pas changé - Jean Sablon
I've always adored the French chansonniers and Jean Sablon is my absolute favourite. He was the first of his generation of French singers to master the microphone, earning him the cruel nickname amongst the less enlightened as 'The singer without a voice'. This all changed of course, and with his good looks, impossible charm and rich vocal quality he became the toast of the town, with a massive following throughout his 61-year career that ended in 1984.
2) Les Animaux modèles - Poulenc
A few years ago, I got a Francis Poulenc project together and press-ganged a few exhausted members of the Sinfonia to do a short concert for the Friends of Birmingham Royal Ballet in a dance studio at Birmingham Hippodrome. We performed works like the Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano, and Suite française for 11 players, In my research I discovered Animaux modèles. The themes of the ballet are drawn from the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine. It was written in 1940-2 with choreography by Serge Lifar. It is a completely entrancing piece and along with my other choices from the French ballet repertoire, I wish to God we could revive them, in some sort of shape or form. The track I have chosen here is called 'The Lion In Love'. Incidentally we have released Suite française on Spotify under 'Lockdown Poulenc'
Note from BRB: we've added Suite française as a set of bonus tracks here:
3) Prelude No.1 in C major – J.S. Bach
Regretfully, despite the very best efforts of my wife Jane Rainey and several musician friends, I have always disliked the music of J.S. Bach and, on one occasion, even stopped playing during a performance of the very long and tedious G minor oboe sonata, sensing the stark reality I knew that I was boring the audience into a coma along with myself! So, because I am wrong and everyone else is right in their admiration for the great master, this is my joyful choice of interpretation, from a truly marvellous musician, Jacques Loussier, who in atonement goes home after a Concert and plays Bach ligit style!
4) In a Summer Garden - Delius
As I don't care for J.S. Bach, practically everyone I know detests the music of Frederick Delius. He has been with me all my life as a summer evocation. I write this with gloomy skies outside, but in my head I can hear and see summer glory, with azure skies, vibrant colours, sparkling rivers and beauty everywhere. This music was bravely set to ballet by Ronald Hynde and was performed at the Royal Opera House, back in 1972 with Vyvyan Lorraine.
5) Summer in the City - Quincy Jones
When I was a teenager, I was introduced to the arrangements of Quincy Jones and was bowled over by the way he could turn a very rough and ready tune into a total pearl of sophistication using an interesting instrumental line up and a new wave of young black singers like Valerie Simpson, Billy Withers, Billy Preston and the great Stevie Wonder. I was completely hooked by the great playing and singing and, in 1970, this was definitely the coolest thing I had ever heard and despite featuring instruments like the Hammond organ, to me, it just hasn't dated.
6) Bacchus et Ariane - Albert Roussel
This is another of my 'wanna play' ballets. To me, it is quite simply amazing and surely on a parallel with Ravel's great score for Daphnis et Chloé, premiered 19 years earlier. There are two orchestral suites that are usually linked together much like Daphnis. It was first performed in 1931, but inexplicably there is very little reference material. I remember with great delight, performing Roussel's earlier work, The Spider's Banquet to very clever and amusing choreography by David Bintley. I thought that we had struck gold, but just like Jeux it was not to be and it received just the one performance for the Royal Ballet School Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House. This is a short, glittering section for the woodwind soloists.
7) I can't let go - Earth, Wind and Fire
I'm totally with our Piccolo player, Sandi Skipper, with her choice of 'driving music' (Sunday Soundtrack, 17 May 2020). Pat Metheny's Minuano is a fabulous piece, but here I've chosen an Earth Wind and Fire track that that brings many memories flooding back of being a member of the Company when we were all young! Our touring schedule was very different from how it is now and, although sometimes uncomfortable when it rained heavily, we used to do two- and three-week seasons at various venues in England in Bob Fossett's 'Big Top', which was a huge circus tent set up as a touring theatre once or twice a year. My favourites were Cambridge, Exeter, Plymouth (before the Theatre Royal), Sheffield (where I fell in love with the Peak District) and Osborne House in the Isle of Wight. I actually remember when, during the storm scene at the end of Act II in La Fille mal gardée, it was raining almost as hard inside the tent as it was out! Anyway, the general mood was a lot more relaxed than it is these days and big groups of us used to go off on free days for picnics and parties at various venues, along with the obligatory ghetto blaster banging out all our favourites from the 70s. I suppose the clue is in the title. Happy days!
8) Partita - Walton
I was naturally delighted when David Bintley set The Hindemith Variations to ballet (Tombeaux) and with its great success; I wondered whether we might get a chance to play one of my favourites, the Partita. Unfortunately, I'll have to enjoy this absolutely stunning re-mastered recording of the first movement, Toccata, with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell.
9) Les Boréades - Rameau
As a woodwind player, somehow I'm drawn towards music from France, with its wonderful elegance, sexy harmonies and Oboe parts written with a true understanding of the colours and capabilities of the instrument, coupled with an element of experimentation, which I think has driven the evolution of wind instruments forward, even as far back as the 17th century. I feel this is a moment of calm reflection and sublime beauty in what must seem like a rather blurred music collection.
10) Rhapsody no.2 - Birdsong at eventide - Coates
Coates! The master tunesmith and King of British light music. I desperately wanted to link a selected group of suitable numbers together to use as an idea for a full-length ballet and did actually get something together some years ago, based on a 'Cinderella' idea. Well anyway, Cinderella did come along, so that was that. With glorious tunes, powerful waltzes, and myriad danceable ideas, it's a constant source of amazement to me why choreographers have overlooked this fantastic and completely accessible composer.
11) 'How long has this been going on?' - Ella Fitzgerald
I love the music of George Gershwin and the songs in particular are very special. Unfortunately, we have played very little of his music, but I was lucky enough to enjoy performing the Piano Concerto in F, when we did a very long season at the Royal Opera House with New York City Ballet way back in, I think, 1983. They brought a huge repertoire with them and I was introduced to Stravinsky's Agon, the music of Philip Glass, and, an utter delight in the Ballade, of Gabriel Fauré. Paul Murphy's choice of the Girl Crazy medley at our last concerts together was also great fun. This song, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, always reminds me of a busy day with two shows and then home or digs, a bottle of wine (or two..) and good company.
12) Introduction and Allegro - Ravel
When I was about 13 a family friend gave me an LP of Music for Harp and Small Orchestra. It had a very powerful effect on me, as up until then I had been forcefed the usual stentorian German fare: Brahms, Beethoven, Richard Strauss etc. On one side was a breathtakingly dreamlike piece by Debussy called Danses sacrée et profane and on the other the Ravel. I was hooked by both works and in turn, inadvertently was steered towards the art form of dance by way of the music written for it by these two giants. Oddly enough, the only time this piece of Ravel has been used is a ballet by Andrée Howard called The Mermaid of March 1934, and then it was just fragments of the work. I can't find any other references.
13) My Favourite Things - Ted Heath
Having been bought out of the Hampshire Regiment as an 18-year-old student at the Royal Music Academy at Kneller Hall by the impresario and bandleader Jack Hylton, my dad, Jack Bentley, went on to work with many of the Dance Bands of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the last of which was Ted Heath and his music (not to be confused with the Rt Hon. Edward Heath, Leader of the Conservative Party).
The Heath band was right at the top of the bill in the UK and was the first band to be involved in the Musicians Union Anglo-American exchange back in April 1956. Here is a great arrangement of the evergreen number from Sound of Music and illustrates possibly the ultimate development in British dance band music.
14) Mendel's son's swing song - Jack Hylton
As I mentioned before, my dad joined the Hylton Band in 1931 which was at the point where there were some major changes to the usual line up of ten or so members to double that, as fame and success burgeoned along with appearances in films like Bandwagon with Arthur Askey. I love this cheeky number with its fantastic trumpet and trombone solos, great vocals from the 'Swingtette', whom Hylton brought over from the United States in 1936, and incredibly precise ensemble.
15) Jeux - Claude Debussy
I first heard this when it was played to me at an old family friend's house on the Suffolk coast, very late one night. It was the perfect setting really, as I've always been a fan of deeply evocative pictures in music.
The story involved a man, two girls, and a game of tennis. The scenario was described to the audience at the premiere as follows:
'The scene is a garden at dusk; a tennis ball has been lost; a boy and two girls are searching for it. The artificial light of the large electric lamps shedding fantastic rays about them suggests the idea of childish games: they play hide and seek, they try to catch one another, they quarrel, and they sulk without cause. The night is warm; the sky is bathed in pale light; they embrace. But the spell is broken by another tennis ball thrown in mischievously by an unknown hand. Surprised and alarmed, the boy and girls disappear into the nocturnal depths of the garden.'
I think it is a momentous piece of ballet music and it is such a great shame that it was totally eclipsed by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring premiered the same year, 1913.
16) Cristal – César Amaro Mariano
I met my wife Jane in the Sinfonia where she is a member of the Cello section. As much as I love her and the Cello, I tend to find the repertoire for the instrument a bit on the lugubrious side, which doesn't really gel with my general taste in classical music. Again, I am probably wrong, so I have chosen this wonderful piece, so perfectly performed by Yo-Yo Ma and his fellow musicians. I'm a huge fan of Brazilian music and would love to have something similar to add to the Oboe and ballet repertoire.