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Charles WILLIAMS (1893-1978)
The Music of Charles Williams

High Adventure (Friday Night is Music Night) (c1950)
Model Railway (1951)
Young Ballerina (The Potter’s Wheel) (1951)
The Bells of St Clements (1940s)
The Dream of Olwen (1947) *
Cutty Sark (1951)
Nursery Clock (1933)
The Night has Eyes (1942)
Devil’s Gallop (1948)
Starlings (1950)
The Voice of London (1946)
The Music Lesson (1955) *
Girls in Grey (TV Newsreel) (1950)
The Humming Top (1938)
Destruction by Fire (c 1940s)
The Old Clockmaker (Jennings at School) (1949)
Little Tyrolean (1935)
Throughout the Years (1951)
Blue Devils (1929)
Jealous Lover (The Apartment) (1949) *
Rhythm on Rails (1950)
Sally Tries The Ballet (1951)
Cross Country (1954)
London Fair (1955)
Roderick Elms (piano) *
BBC Concert Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
All arrangements by Charles Williams except those by John Bell, Sidney Torch, Philip Lane, Bobbie Field, George Zalva, Robin White, Gavin Sutherland and Adolf Lotter – all arrangements and reconstructions noted in the booklet
Recorded February 2003, The Colosseum, Watford
ASV WHITE LINE CD WHL 2151 [75.01]


I knew of Charles Williams before I knew who he was. Not simply through the theme tune of Dick Barton, Secret Agent – and before you ask, no, I’m too young and it was via records not the radio show – but also through Williams’ first career as a violinist. But before we unpeel my interest in Williams let’s unpeel Williams. Or, rather, Isaac Cozerbreit, born in the Jewish East End of London in 1893 and a talented fiddle player who studied at the Royal Academy of Music. War service was followed by studies with Norman O’Neill and then life as a light music exponent (with J.H. Squire’s Octet and later Williams’ own Octet) closely followed by elevation to leadership of the New Symphony Orchestra – in which capacity he recorded under Elgar, Beecham and Landon Ronald. It was in 1923 that he made his only recordings as a solo violinist (four sides, organ accompanied) for Zonophone, which is where I first came across him.

Gradually Williams moved into the composition of film music - he worked on Blackmail, Britain’s first soundie - and also for sound newsreels, of which there’s an example on this disc. Williams oversaw Chappells library of newsreel – atmospheric – music and after the War once more concentrated on film music. As he entered his sixties however many of the composition jobs had moved on to others and Williams wound down his career. Ever modest he refused an honorary doctorate of music from Oxford and retired quietly to Sussex where he died in 1978.

The booklet gives details of those pieces that have been variously arranged or reconstructed (disastrous fires and neglect doing for many of these scores, as with so much film music). It’s interesting to note therefore that when I scribbled the words "Elgarian flourish" against the first song, High Adventure (better known perhaps as Friday Night is Music Night) this interpolation was actually added by Sidney Torch. The Potter’s Wheel is here, naturally, under its more formal guise of Young Ballerina, as is a welcome slice of pre-Beeching railwayana – Model Railway and Rhythm on Rails. Williams was an expert craftsman with an unostentatious charm that lends colour and glamour to some of these invigorating pieces, as in the nicely stitched quotations in The Bells of St Clements, a mini-fantasia with organ and bells at the climax.

The Dream of Olwen, with Roderick Elms as soloist, and one of his big hits, joined other such bonsai piano concertos so popular amongst Rachmaninovian Englishmen of the 1940s – Addinsell’s being the pre-eminent example, but Williams’ 1947 effort by no means outgunned. Spruce Nauticalia comes in the ship-shape form of Cutty Sark – here, as elsewhere, infectiously played by the BBC Concert Orchestra and Barry Wordsworth. Nursery Clock must summon up the salon days of those long gone Celeste octets, Williams’ own and that of erstwhile boss Squire (whose band was itself a nursery for some distinguished musicians). The Night Has Eyes, from a wartime James Mason film, is romantically troubled and also well shaped whilst there’s some delightful string cantilena against the woodwind calls in Starlings. An early piano lesson is evoked in The Music Lesson (1955 – Elms again) and the 1940s Destruction by Fire is derived from those Pathé newsreels. The earliest thing here is the 1929 Blue Devils, a march of military velocity. In addition to trains and the navy Williams did a fine, mean gallop (Dick Barton was one but so too is Cross Country.) And the final track, London Fair (1955) has a sensitive nobilmente section, full of his trademark affection.

This well produced and annotated disc comes complete with – well, yes, it had to be – a cover photograph of Dick Barton in radio action. Duncan "Dick Barton" Carse stands encased in tweed and John "Snowy" Mann stares on, his jaw the size of a small iceberg. A programme engineer in very sensible shoes stands, armed and ready to reproduce the sounds of a duel. Those were the days.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Ian Lace


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