The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

Quadruple CD Review:


CD No. 1: Tommy Reilly
Works for Harmonica and Orchestra

Tommy Reilly, harmonica
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Sir Neville Marriner, conductor

Program:

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Romance

Vilem Tausky: Concertino
   Allegro moderato
   Nocturne
   Scherzo

James Moody: Little Suite
   Bagatelle
   Scherzino
   Cantilena
   Badinerie

Gordon Jacob: Five Pieces
   Caprice
   Cradle Song
   Country Dance
   Threnody
   Russian Dance

total time: 46:39
CD released in 1988
LP released in 1977
review date: December 2000

Label: Chandos Records.


CD No. 2:
Tommy Reilly
Serenade

Tommy Reilly, harmonica
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields Chamber Ensemble

Program:

James Moody: Bulgarian Wedding Dance
Faure: Pavane
Faure: Romance
Grieg: Norwegian Dance
George Martin: Adagietto
David Reilly: Aviator
Tommy Reilly: Serenade
Handel: Sonata
    Allegro
    Siciliana
    Allegro

Faure: Au Bord de L'eau
Debussy: Bruyeres
Mendelssohn: On Wings of Love
Irish Traditional: My Lagen Love
Lennon & McCartney: Eleanor Rigby and Michelle

total time: 49:18
Released in 1986

Chandos Records.


CD No. 3: Tommy Reilly
Concertos for Harmonica and Orchestra

Tommy Reilly, harmonica
Munchner Rundfunkorchester
Rundfunkorchester des Sudwestfunks
Basel Radio Symphony Orchestra

Program:

Michael Spivakovsky: Concerto for Harmonica & Orchestra
    Fuocoso - Dance Drole
    Romance, Andante, dolce
    Scherzo, Allegro ma non troppo

Malcolm Arnold: Concerto for Harmonica & Orchestra
    Grazioso
    Mesto
    Con brio

Heitor Villa-Lobos: Concerto for Harmonica & Orchestra
    Allegro moderato
    Andante
    Allegro

James Moody: Toledo, Spanish Fantasy for Harmonica & Orchestra
Robert Farnon: Prelude and Dance for Harmonica & Orchestra

total time: 60:24
CD released in 1993
review date: December 2000

Label: Chandos Records.

CD No. 4: Tommy Reilly
Works for Harmonica, Harp, and String Quartet

Tommy Reilly, harmonica
Skaila Kanga, harp
Kindar Quartet

Program:

Gordon Jacob: Divertimento for Harmonica and String Quartet
    March
    Romance
    Siciliano
    Scherzetto
    Sarabande
    Slavonic Dance
    Elegy
    Jig

James Moody: Suite dans le style francais
    Allegro moderato
    Andante moderato - Allegro ma con espressione
    Lento - Andante moderato
    Allegro vivace

James Moody: Quintet for Harmonica and String Quartet
    Allegretto con espressione
    Allegro moderato
    Lento
    Moderato, con variazioni

total time: 57:44
CD released in 1990
review date: December 2000

Label: Chandos Records.


Review by Henry Doktorski:

Tommy Reilly (1919-2000) was without a doubt one of the world's greatest classical mouth organists; a virtuoso by any standard. He helped elevate the instrument among classical music circles by commissioning composers to write exciting and idiomatic pieces for him. His accomplishments and artistry have guaranteed him a respected legacy in the annals of music history.

Curiously enough, Reilly did not begin his musical training on the mouth organ; his instrument was violin, which he began studying at the age of eight. He became good enough to study at the Leipzig Conservatory, but was summarily arrested by the Gestapo and was held for five years as a prisoner-of-war in Nazi Germany.

At the risk of digressing, let me relate a story about fate. Many centuries ago, a Chinese peasant's only horse escaped and ran away into the wild. The peasant's son exclaimed to the father, "Bad luck," to which the father philosophically replied, "Good luck, bad luck; who knows?"

The next day the horse returned into the corral on its own bringing with it a half-dozen mares which it had adopted in the wild. The son exclaimed, "Good luck," to which the father replied, "Good luck, bad luck; who knows?"

The next day, while attempting to train one of the new horses, the son was violently thrown off and broke his leg badly. He exclaimed, "Bad luck." Naturally the father quietly responded, "Good luck, bad luck; who knows?"

The next day the Chinese emperor declared war on Mongolia and drafted all the young men into the army. The son exclaimed, "Good luck; my injury will insure that I do not die in war!" and the father replied as we expect, "Good luck, bad luck; who knows?"

Certainly we consider Reilly's misfortune to spend so many years in a prison camp to be ill fortune. However, true to his determined character, he was able to utilize that difficult time to develop and perfect his musical skills on the harmonica, an instrument which he was permitted to play while imprisoned. I suspect that without this austerity, Reilly may have become a violin virtuoso instead. After the war, he began in earnest making a career from playing the harmonica.

On these four discs is a veritable treasure of classical harmonica pieces; most are original works composed for the instrument, but a few are transcriptions. (Reilly has also recorded albums of popular and folk music.) Reilly's corroboration with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields -- disc number one in our reviewing order -- was especially rewarding to me. This disc features works by Vaughan Williams, Vilem Tausky, James Moody and Gordon Jacob. Regarding the incredibly difficult cadenza in the first movement of the Tausky concerto, Reilly said, "Every note was penned by Vilem, with the exception of one short passage which I had to alter in order to stay alive!"

The second CD, Serenade, is titled after Reilly's own 2 minute composition for solo harmonica which he wrote as a test piece for the World Harmonica Championship. Although the piece is not a flashy tour-de-force, it nonetheless demands much from the performer both in technique (double stops pervade the entire serenade) and interpretation. This disc includes some movements from Handel's sonatas for flute and keyboard -- arranged for harmonica and string ensemble by James Moody - which are playable on the harmonica, as some trills are impossible to execute on harmonica.

This CD could have been titled "From Baroque to the Beatles." Included are two Lennon and McCartney songs arranged by George Martin and one piece composed by George Martin. Reilly and Martin were associates for many years; some of the first recordings George Martin produced at EMI were made with Tommy Reilly, several years before Martin became famous as the record producer for the Fab Four. Martin's Adagietto is a gentle work which moves along at an unhurried pace. The paired medley, Eleanor Rigby and Michelle, are perfect for harmonica and strings; the former was originally recorded with strings by the Beatles and the latter, I imagine, has been performed by hundreds of string orchestra from the Hollywood Strings to Mantovanni.

The third disc features the historic Michael Spivakovsky harmonica concerto - the first important full-scale concerto for the instrument, and also works by Villa-Lobos, Malcolm Arnold, James Moody and Robert Farnon. Reilly said, "The big change in my playing came when Michael Spivakovsky wrote a concerto for me in 1951. The months I spent with him taught me a lot. Until then I never realized how much could be produced from the harmonica. Although Spivakovsky did not play harmonica, he instinctively knew what could be done on the instrument and he made me do it! He was a hard taskmaster, but I shall always be grateful to him for bullying me!"

The fourth and final disc features chamber works by Gordon Jacob and James Moody. The latter had a long association with Reilly; Moody was Reilly's piano accompanist for more than thirty years. (They recorded a popular CD together: Thanks for the Memory.) Moody decided to learn to play the harmonica himself so he could better compose and arrange for the instrument. The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. published a review of another CD of James Moody's compositions (see James Hughes Plays James Moody.)

In conclusion, let me share a story told by Sigmund Groven from the CD booklet notes of this fourth CD.

When Tommy Reilly first appeared as soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway (one of the world's oldest symphony orchestras) in 1963, the famous American actor Earle Hyman was at the same time appearing as Othello at Den Nationale Scene in Grieg's hometown, and an elderly lady, in a state of shock, was heard to exclaim: "This must be the end of the world: a mouth-organ playing with our famous philharmonic and a Negro in our National Theatre!"

I heartily recommend these CDs for all classical harmonica lovers. Buy them before they go out of print. You won't be disappointed.

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