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‘The musical world shrank for me at his death,’ Elisabeth Lutyens wrote in 1951. She was just one of many who struggled to come to terms with the loss of Constant Lambert at the age of 45. Quite apart from his impact on British music – as composer, conductor, author, journalist and tireless champion of many unfashionable composers (including Roseingrave, Chabrier, Liszt, Sibelius, Satie, Magnard, Rawsthorne and van Dieren) – his personality was uniquely compelling. For once the cliché ‘larger than life’ is perfectly justified.

Stephen Lloyd’s intensely researched book, which weighs half a ton, is extremely welcome. Andrew Motion wrote a book about three Lamberts (George, Constant and Kit) but Constant always deserved a book to himself. His work with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet company was widely admired, many who experienced his performances describing him as the finest of all ballet conductors. Lloyd covers every aspect of the man’s life – his childhood illnesses and precociousness, his two marriages, his affair with Margot Fonteyn, his book Music Ho! (which should be read by everyone), his alert sense of humour, his sheer vitality and all-round intellectual capacity, and above all his artistic integrity. The numerous tributes from artistic colleagues and friends leave a vivid impression of his inspirational qualities. ‘Celebs’ come and go today, but one can genuinely understand why many people hero-worshipped Lambert. His dislikes – of Tovey’s music and his essays, for instance – could be as intense as his enthusiasms but his sharp pen and flair with words provide much entertainment. Lambert sparked relationships in diverse ways, lit up other peoples’ lives. A great raconteur, he also tended to attract strange happenings and dramas, so there is scarcely a dull page throughout the book.

The 13 appendices comprise lists of Lambert’s compositions, his commercial recordings, journalism, BBC talks, ballet repertoire, conducting appearances at the Proms, a nine-page bibliography, etc. There are more than 70 illustrations and photographs and a few music examples.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica

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