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Walter Leigh 'Jolly Roger' or The Admiral's Daughter

REAM2116
£14.99

Details

In 1942 The Musical Times reported a ‘grave loss’ referring to Walter Leigh’s tragically early death, killed in action whilst serving in a tank regiment near Tobruk, just before his thirty-seventh birthday. Though during his lifetime he was more than once compared to Sir Arthur Sullivan, from a contemporary standpoint an equally pertinent analogy could be drawn with a composer from a later generation, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Both men approached film music and ‘light music’ with the same seriousness of purpose and invested it with the same impeccable craftsmanship they brought to their concert pieces. With a cast headed by George Robey, known to audiences as ‘the Prime Minister of Mirth’, the comic opera in three acts, Jolly Roger or ‘The Admiral’s Daughter’ opened at the Opera House, Manchester on 13 February 1933. Running for over six months, it transferred to the Savoy Theatre, London on 1 March 1933 and moved from there to the Lyceum Theatre on 5 June 1933, accruing a total of 199 performances. Jolly Roger enjoyed a critical success from the outset. The Morning Post referred to the ‘delicious grace’ of Leigh’s music, whilst another contemporary review demonstrates that Leigh was highly prized in his own lifetime for his gifts as a melodist: ‘Here, at last, is an English composer who can write light music with style and finish. Yes, a second Sullivan is not too high praise’. It is likely that the plaudit Leigh himself would have prized most highly came from Constant Lambert, who commented, ‘I know of no music that is more enjoyable both intrinsically and satirically than the music of The Pride of the Regiment and the recently produced Jolly Roger. One has the rare and enjoyable sensation of both having one’s cake and eating it’. The BBC radio broadcast presented here was first aired on Radio 3 on 21 December 1972. Heard again, more than forty years later, its seagulls, splashes of water and pirate accents make it something of a period piece in its own right. Nonetheless, it is the deftness and allure of Leigh’s music that makes the strongest impression.

Walter Leigh 'Jolly Roger' or The Admiral's Daughter

Reviews

Had this work been written and performed in the 1920s it would have been likely to have been classed as a ‘Radio Opera’. Composed in 1933, it falls wide of the mark, yet this is the best description for this operatic burlesque. The result is a vivacious ‘romp’ on a nautical theme, in which Leigh weds modern overtones to a traditional, romantic score. The lyrics are by Devonian V.C. Clinton-Baddeley (1900-1970) based on a book by Scobie Mackenzie. Wimbledon-born Leigh probably met Clinton-Baddeley when at Cambridge where he immersed himself in productions there. The musical played to West End audiences at The Savoy in 1933. A couple of years later, in adapted form, it played in Sydney at The Criterion Theatre in 1935. Its popularity was such that it was made into a TV movie in 1948.

Of the singers, Marietta Midgley is a voice with excellent top though low notes are underpowered and sometimes become drowned by the orchestra. Her breezy phrasing provides good warmth.  Excellent notes are well researched by Paul Conway and, understandably for this genre, appear in English only. The transcription from tape is good. It is taken directly from a broadcast by Richard Itter who semi-professionally taped many BBC concert performances between 1952 and 1996, some of which were transferred to acetate disc. The mono frequency response is good with no interference. In addition to Leigh’s operatic pieces, he wrote other good works that should be better known. Adventurous in style, I consider Leigh a composer worth further exploring. MusicWeb-Internatinal

'Jolly Roger, a nautical romp that boasts much charming and memorably melodic invention set to a wittily tongue-in-cheek libretto by Victor Clinton-Baddeley. Broadcast on December 21, 1972, the present production has a most agreeable whiff of greasepaint about it and can boast a strong cast as well as sprightly contributions from the Ambrosian Singers and BBC Concert Orchestra under Ashley Lawrence.' Gramophone, August 2015

The Lyrita/Itter/BBC archive is already proving to be an immensely valuable presence in the catalogue. As previously, Paul Conway provides excellent, interesting and informative notes. The recording was made in mono sound but is very good. John France, Musicweb-international