The Floral Dance

Raymond J Walker
MusicWeb International (UK)

This disc was originally released in 1999 in Australia as Melba MR301083 and had been on sale in Britain in 2000 until stocks were depleted. At the time, a number of record collectors incorrectly assumed that the disc was a transcription of original Peter Dawson records with its boxed sound and narrow frequency spectrum. That image was not helped by having a black and white picture of Dawson himself listening into the trumpet of a 78 rpm acoustic gramophone. However, any suggestion of a transcription is not the case. The recording is modern with a top class orchestra providing extra audible depth to the band parts with high quality and fully digital reproduction. The soloist, Gregory Yurisich is a rich bass-baritone who achieves that resonant sense of presence that so characterised the Dawson sound.

As for the songs, we can often find them second-hand and may be curious about what they were really like. Of the thousands of once-popular ‘parlour ballads’ that still linger in forgotten piano stools only a few modern recordings exist. These are generally provided, un-orchestrated, with piano accompaniment. Dawson set down a number of songs with orchestra on 78rpm records but their sometimes poor quality of reproduction brought a need for modern orchestral recordings. Apart from the occasional BBC broadcast those versions with orchestra have rarely been heard but what an extra dimension of richness is created when they are.

Orchestration of early British songs was usually carried out by arrangers, rather than composers, working in-house for the likes of Boosey and Chappell. These publishers realised the intrinsic promotional value of such efforts and the potential to boost sheet music sales through concert hall performances. I notice that the source of the excellent orchestrations used here has been omitted from the otherwise interesting notes.

Peter Dawson was a well-known bass-baritone who rose to fame in the 1920s and 1930s with many concert hall and BBC performances of the popular songs he sang on radio and on the early television of those days. This did much to accelerate sheet music sales and as a gauge of his popularity it is reported that thirteen million of his records were pressed.

The selection on this CD is typical of Dawson’s output and cover a wide range of composers and their ballads: 'The Floral Dance', 'The Vagabond', 'Old Father Thames' and 'The Kerry Dance' probably need no introduction. The orchestral arrangement for 'On the Road to Mandalay' with its florid bridging section between verses is charming and needs special mention. Sullivan’s notable, 'The Lost Chord' is stunningly powerful with its image of the British Empire and use in Mike Leigh's Gilbert & Sullivan film, Topsy Turvey.

There are other songs unfamiliar by name yet known in tune. They are sung with good clarity and delivered at a comfortably brisk pace. Lloyd-Jones engages a good pace for singer and orchestra and brings sensitivity to the performance. Glorious Devon evokes that deep nostalgia of Old England and carries one along with imperialistic overtones. The trumpet embellishments of 'Old Father Thames' with its solid rhythm is joyfully uplifting that would make this and other songs ideal for the Last Night of the Proms. It is an ideal CD to bring memories of yesteryear flooding back, and it is good to hear works of our forgotten British composers whose music regularly turns up in second-hand bookshops.

Full lyrics are provided in the lavish booklet ... There are detailed notes on Dawson, detailing his 1909-10 Australian tour but it would have been nice to have included some of the British background to the HMV recordings. I would be fascinated to know who the orchestrators were because some of the compositions were only available as piano pieces.

Gregory Yurisich is an international singer with operatic experience in Verdi, Puccini, and Rossini before moving to encompass some of the Wagnerian roles in Siegfried and Lohengrin. He sings with resonant tone and good clarity of lyrics. To me, his resemblance to Dawson lies in his timbre, wide register and powerful delivery. Yurisich has a wide repertoire of grand opera, particularly Verdi, and appears with the Royal Opera and English National Opera at Covent Garden and Edinburgh. His international tours include Hong Kong, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, Melbourne, Sydney and Washington.

David Lloyd-Jones began as a member of the music staff of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1959. He founded Opera North in Britain, and has worked with Welsh National Opera and appears at most major music festivals.
Two tracks from the earlier disc have been deleted from this programme: ‘Love could I only tell Thee’ (Capel) and ‘Even Bravest Hearts’ - Faust (Gounod). The bonus is that the issue comes with an attractively printed card-case and superior booklet with good notes by Jeff Brownrigg.