John Gardner (b.1917) is one of numerous British composers who disregarded the modernist trends of the mid 20th century and continued to compose, in a tuneful, somewhat neo-classical, somewhat populist style, serious music in classical forms but inspired by light music. Stylistically, the music sometimes sounds like a modest version of William Walton, clean and elegant and well crafted (much of the music on this disc was in fact written for school or amateur ensembles). If you fancy this sort of thing you'll find much to enjoy here; for me it is all a little too inconsequential and unmemorable - the music strives to be catchy and straightforward but apart from moments of brilliance ends up being inconsequential.
The little Half Holiday is pure light music, enthusiastic and clever but ultimately bland. The flute concerto, however, is more rewarding. It is generally light-hearted and lyrical, but there are some genial twists and good ideas along the way. The symphony, however, is far more serious; not plumbing any great depths, perhaps, but it is not just a diverting aside either. The first movement is march-like and romantic in character, the Adagio songful but somewhat tempered and distanced (but I don't mean that disparagingly), and the final rondo buoyant and relatively light. The tiny Prelude for Strings, however, barely offers us a fine idea before it is over.
The Sinfonia Piccola is classical in shape and poise, formally clever and rather fun, especially the passacaglia second movement (yes, fun), and the final item, Irish Suite, is easy fun and tunefulness but little more. It is surely worth hearing, though. I have no complaints about the performances, which are spry and spirited and idiomatic, even though the Royal Ballet Sinfonia lacks a little polish. The sound is fine as well. In short, there is nothing here to really prevent a recommendation if this kind of music appeals; on the other hand, I am somewhat inclined to shrug my shoulders. This is decent and enjoyable music, but not very much more.