Chandos’s distinguished British Film Music series at
last reaches Ralph Vaughan Williams with a first volume that highlights
the complete score for the 1948 Ealing Films production of Scott
of the Antarctic, starring Sir John Mills in the title role.
Vaughan Williams wrote a score of 996 bars of which
only 462 were utilised in the film (some of these more than once, of
course). This recording is therefore doubly welcome for it affords the
opportunity, at last, to appreciate the scale of RVW’s achievement.
And we can appreciate all the more why he had such a sufficiency of
material to inspire him to create his Sinfonia Antartica (his
Symphony No. 7, first performed in 1953) rather than merely a concert
suite. In fact this marvellous and spirited performance, delivered in
spectacular sound, has ten cues out of a total of eighteen that are
premiere recordings. We hear, for instance, two emotionally-laden tracks
‘Doom’ and ‘Sculpture Scene’ in which, in the former, Scott meets Wilson’s
wife Oriana and misleads her and Wilson into thinking he is planning
a mainly scientific expedition and the latter (not used) for a scene
between Scott and his sculptress wife.
Vaughan Williams’ evocation of the cruel, icy waste
lands, is vividly evocative, capturing the glittering ice flows and
the dangerous awesome grandeur of the glacier using a deep organ pedal
underlining. The soprano soloist (Merryn Gamba) and a small chorus of
women’s voices wordlessly convey the biting chill of this hostile environment.
The ‘Aurora’ presents the majesty of a crystal-clear, star-bejewelled
polar night sky, while some humorous relief comes in an amusing portrait
of pompous-looking but wobbly penguins. One of the most effective cues
is ‘Blizzard’ using voices and a wind machine to create a most convincing
portrait of a fearsome, blinding white terror. The Death of Evans
and Oates is an affecting elegy. Unlike the Symphony, the film score
ends on a heroic upbeat, for, after all, Scott was regarded as a national
Coastal Command here receives a more energetic
and convincing reading than the 1990 Silva Screen recording (FILMCD
072) made by Kenneth Alwyn and the Philharmonia Orchestra (this interesting
album also includes music by Arthur Bliss for the film Conquest of
the Air and Brian Easdale’s The Red Shoes ballet music, the
latter is particularly recommended). The music for Coastal Command
is derivative of RVW’s concert music, particularly of his Fifth and
Sixth symphonies yet it sympathetically evokes the aspirations and dangers
of the crews of the Sunderland and Hudson flying boats that patrolled
the waters off Iceland and across the North Sea in search of hostile
German shipping during World War II, the subject of this Crown Film
Unit documentary. Such cue titles as ‘U-boat Alert’, ‘Taking Off at
Night’, ‘Dawn Patrol (Quiet Determination)’ and ‘Battle of the Beauforts’
suggest the varying moods of the music.
The People’s Land was another documentary film
(first shown in 1943), this time about the work of the National Trust.
RVW’s score is chiefly based on folk songs – among them ‘John Barleycorn’;
‘The Springtime of the Year’; and ‘Love will find out the way’; together
with linking motifs that illustrate places and pastimes such as the
White Cliffs of Dover and the Lake District, and cycling, walking and
This is an excellent introduction to the evocative
film music of Vaughan Williams, especially important for presenting
the full score of Scott of the Antarctic. Thrilling, evocative
performances captured in the best Chandos sound.