Joseph Holbrooke's father was a music-hall musician, and one can often identify the influence of Victorian light music in some of the composer's smaller scores.
"Aucassin and Nicolette" a ballet based on a medieval French love story is basically light in style; only in the "Scene" and the "Pas de deux" do we get a hint of the weightier, more individual, style that Holbrooke adopted in his symphonic poems and the Welsh operas. Nevertheless, this is music of great charm and, according to the booklet note, was one of the most popular works in the repertoire of Alicia Markova's company.
I had previously known the Saxophone Concerto only in an arrangement with piano accompaniment, so was delighted to hear the work in its original form with its deft and imaginative orchestration. The work was written in 1935, a year after Glazunov's concerto. I wonder if Holbrooke had heard the work of the Russian composer; the sweetly lyrical first movement certainly isn't all that far removed from Glazunov's style. The last movement is sometimes described as "jazzy", and, indeed, Holbrooke had an interest in jazz; he admired the "Rhapsody in Blue" and wrote a fox-trot for Jack Hylton's band called "Penguin's Walk" and the last movement of his elusive "Dance Symphony" for piano and orchestra is reputed to be based on jazz elements. However, Holbrooke never really had an instinctive feel for the style and his efforts in this direction are not particularly successful. The concerto's finale is based around a tune that Holbrooke also included in his "Jamaican Songs and Dances" but it comes over as rather loosely constructed, pleasant enough but something of a let-down after the effective preceding movements.
At the first professional symphony concert I attended in the 1950s a very young Richard Rodney Bennett was having his "Music for an Occasion" given its première under William Steinberg. Like Holbrooke, Bennett has written in a variety of styles, and also, like the older composer, after the initial promise of his early work has come to be somewhat neglected in his later years, his "modern" scores seeming rather old-fashioned in the light of recent developments. Probably part of Bennett's problem is that his highly professional, perfectly understandable scores have never caused the sort of controversy that those of more questionable talents have provoked, thereby keeping their names in the public eye.
Bennett is a noted jazz pianist and has written scores for a number of films, one of the best-known being for "Murder on the Orient Express." The "Seven Country Dances" for soprano saxophone and orchestra is in the great tradition of British Light Music, impeccably written, tuneful and beautifully scored. The work rounds off this most enjoyable, well-played and recorded disc perfectly.