Artist Led, Creatively Driven

Not Now, Bernard and other stories

Alexander Armstrong, narrator
Orchestra of the Swan
Tom Hammond, conductor

Release Date: February 7th 2020


Not Now, Bernard and other stories

Bernard Hughes
Not Now, Bernard

1 – Part 1
2 – Part 2

Malcolm Arnold
Toy Symphony, Op.62

3 – I. Allegro
4 – II. Allegretto
5 – III. Vivace

Bernard Hughes
Isabel’s Noisy Tummy

6 – Part 1
7 – Part 2
8 – Part 3

John Ireland
9 – Annabel Lee

Bernard Hughes
The Knight Who Took All Day

10 – Part 1
11 – Part 2

Judith Weir

12 – Part I
13 – Part II
14 – Part III

Total time 68.11

Alexander Armstrong, narrator

Orchestra of the Swan

Tom Hammond, conductor


Bernard Hughes writes

Not Now, Bernard was always a favourite book of mine as a child – not least because I shared my unusual name with the protagonist. As a book it is brilliant for carrying different messages at the same time: for children it is a story about a boy beingeaten by a monster, for adults it is a cautionary tale about being too busy to engage with our children. When conductor Tom Hammond asked me to write a family-concert piece I had no doubt which book I wanted to set. The commission was from the British Police Symphony Orchestra, the national orchestra for those associated with the police force, and they gave the premiere at Symphony Hall in Birmingham in December 2010.

Not Now, Bernard is the first half of a double-bill with Isabel’s Noisy Tummythe two can be performed individually or as a pair, and are linked by a shared overture and David McKee’s sense of the ridiculous. Isabel has the added element of audience participation in a live performance, as everyone in the room provides the sounds of Isabel’s tummy. In this recording Alexander Armstrong heroically creates all the sounds himself.

Bernard and Isabel have gone on to have a large number of performances around Britain, both separately and together. In 2015 I made a reduction for chamber forces that was first performed by the Assembly Project at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, conducted by Alasdair Nicolson in front of a crowd of several hundred school children from nearby islands, and this is the version we have recorded.

A few years later Tom Hammond came back to me with another similar commission, this time for Hertford Symphony Orchestra. This time I chose to set The Knight Who Took All Day by James Mayhew which, like Not Now, Bernard, starts out like a cliched story about knights and dragons but turns into a fable about female empowerment and peace-making. In live performances James Mayhew brings the story to life by live-painting as he narrates, the knight, squire, princess and dragon conjured into being through the course of the piece.

Malcolm Arnold’s Toy Symphony is a good example of his penchant for combining the serious and the ridiculous. In this piece a quintet of professional players is pitted against a battery of comic percussion, including a train guard’s whistle, a quail whistle and three parping toy trumpets, played, at its premiere, by notable people of the day. It was premiered on 28 November 1957 in the Savoy Hotel, London, at a fundraising dinner for the Musicians Benevolent Fund. The composer conducted and the VIP performers included Australian pianist Eileen Joyce, composer Eric Coates, musical broadcaster Joseph Cooper and cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung. The music has an inimitable sense of fun, with Arnold happy to garland some wonderful tunes with the most outrageously noisy barrage.

The earliest of the pieces on this recording, John Ireland’s Annabel Lee was written in about 1910, but the dating is uncertain. It wasn’t published until 1998, long after Ireland’s death. Scored originally for piano and speaker and styled as a ‘melodrama’ it sets a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published on the day of his death in 1849. I made a new arrangement specially for this album, expanding the scoring from piano alone to a quintet of piano, flute, clarinet, violin and cello. This enabled me to widen the coloristic palette without losing the hypnotic desolation of the original.

Judith Weir’s Thread! is an early piece in her catalogue which, like the other pieces on the album, has hitherto escaped being recorded. Judith Weir has written of the piece:

It was written for Edward Harper and his New Music Group of Scotland in 1981. Its subject matter is the Bayeux Tapestry, in particular the laconicLatin text spread throughout the upper horizontal border, which is declaimed by a narrator. An octet of instruments creates a musical equivalent of the tapestry, providing continuous musical flow like a long sheet of linen, but also attempting to depict the constant incident of the story. Percussion (representing swords, axes, armour and so on) is an important feature of the score; in the original performances, some of this was played on junk metal and wooden objects found on building sites and beaches around Scotland.

© 2019 Bernard Hughes

Alexander Armstrong is an English comedian, actor, television presenter and bass-baritone singer. He has hosted the BBC series Have I Got News For You more than 20 times and has co-presented the hugely popular TV quiz show Pointless alongside Richard Osman since 2009. He is a regular on Classic FM, presenting both the Saturday and Sunday afternoon programmes, and returned to his musical roots releasing his debut solo vocal album, A Year of Songs, in November 2015. Upon a Different Shore was Alexander’s second studio album released in October 2016 and he released his seasonal album In a Winter Light the following December.

The dynamic, award-winning conductor Tom Hammond is known for his exciting and thoughtful programming, and is equally at home working with top-flight artists or conducting leading non-professional and youth orchestras. Recent collaborators include pianist Stephen Hough, clarinettist Emma Johnson, violinist Ray Chen and cellists Steven Isserlis and Matthew Sharp. Tom received mentorship from the late Sir Charles Mackerras and has given many premieres of new music by, among others, Matthew Taylor, James Francis Brown andBernard Hughes. Tom is Co-Artistic Director and founder of the Hertfordshire Festival of Music, which since its launch in 2016 has rapidly grown to become one of the leading celebrations of classical music in the UK.

Orchestra of the Swan was founded in 1995 and is based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, with an annual programme of over 45 concerts throughout England and Wales. The OOTS catalogue of over 20 recordings features works by Copland, Elgar, Finzi, Mahler and Shostakovich, and the orchestra has premiered more than 70 new works by composers including Joe Cutler, Tansy Davies, Roxanna Panufnik, Joseph Phibbs and Dobrinka Tabakova. OOTS has been enormously successful in making a positive and effective contribution to the communities at the heart of its ‘immersive residencies’, with an ambitious programme of work in care homes, schools and rural areas.

Judith Weir was born in 1954 to Scottish parents in Cambridge, England, and studied composition with John Tavener, Robin Holloway and Gunther Schuller. On leaving Cambridge University in 1976 she taught in England and Scotland, andin the mid-1990s became Associate Composer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival. She was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014. In 2015 she became Associate Composer to the BBC Singers. She is the composer of several operas and has written orchestral music for the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony and Minnesota Orchestras.

Bernard Hughes’s music has been performed at major British venues including Symphony Hall, Birmingham and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. He has won a number of awards both in the UK and internationally and is regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 3. After studying music at Oxford University and composition privately with Param Vir, Bernard was awarded a PhD in composition by London University in 2009. A CD of Bernard Hughes’s choral music, I am the Song, performed by the BBC Singers, was released in 2016, and he wrote music for the film Bill (2015). He lives in London, where he is Composer-in-Residence at St Paul’s Girls’ School.

Northampton-born Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) was a towering figure of the 20th century. His remarkable catalogue contains music written for every genre, including a major cycle of nine symphonies. He was also one of the first British composers ever to win an Oscar, for his film score Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

John Ireland (1879-1962) was an English composer who, as a teacher, included Benjamin Britten and Ernest Moeran among his pupils. His music is predominantly in small forms – piano miniatures and songs – and he is best known for his evocative and moving setting of John Masefield’s Sea-Fever for voice and piano.

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