I must make a confession.
I do not like werewolves or films which involve psychological
drama. Torture and violence - either physical or mental are
not part of my definition of entertainment. But I do like comedies
and light romantic tales and adventures. So perhaps I am not
best placed to comment on the majority of this CD with any great
authority. Yet I do love the music: it has all the hallmarks
of a great composer writing effective music which has the desired
effect of pointing up the action on the screen. My problem is
this. I do not want subconsciously to provide the relevant cinematographic
images in my mind’s eye for some of this enchanting music. I
want to enjoy the music as music. Therein lies the rub.
Look at the plot
of Curse of the Werewolf: a young man, Leon, is struck
down with lycanthropy: causes humans to change into wolves at
each full moon. His mother had been made pregnant by a crazed
and evil beggar. After a reasonably normal childhood Leon falls
victim to vice. Even the love of Christiana does not help him
reform - and eventually he comes to a sticky end with a silver
bullet fashioned from a crucifix. All very scary stuff – at
least to people of my generation – although I wonder what today’s
young filmgoers would make of it. Perhaps the ‘scariness’ is
a bit camp by today’s standards.
has a harrowing plot – a Roman Catholic priest is arrested
on ‘trumped up’ treason charges and is subject to torture and
brainwashing, before rolling up at a ‘show’ trial. Not much
fun there, I fear, although I understand the film received great
accolades when it was released in 1955. And with Alec Guinness
(priest) and Jack Hawkins (interrogator) in the leading roles,
success was bound to follow.
Neither film is
on my list of ‘ones to watch before I die’. But the music is
great! The present CD gives a complete account of all the music
that Benjamin Frankel wrote for the ‘Curse’ and for The
Prisoner. The latter score is in fact a first recording
of this music since the film’s release. Interestingly, the composer
makes use of ‘serial’ technique in the ‘Curse’ - this
being the first British film to use this particular compositional
technique. Strangely, Frankel never used this tool again in
his work for the cinema.
Now for my secret
listening strategy. I listened to the ‘Curse’ and then
switched the ‘hi-fi’ off. I had a rest, a cup of tea and a walk
round the ‘policies’ and then listened to ‘The Prisoner’.
I deliberately put all thoughts of evil and torture and werewolves
and dark windy castles out of my mind: Gothic horror and ‘Stalinist’
excesses were forgotten for this exercise. I told myself I was
listening to Benjamin Frankel’s “Symphonic Variations”
followed by his “Variations on a Theme” for Orchestra.
And this did the trick. It actually worked well – there is an
internal consistency in each of these two scores allows the
works to be listened to without reference to the plot or programme.
They are actually extremely effective ‘concert pieces’ if heard
in this manner. But - I agree - it is a scam! And call me unsophisticated
if you will…
Of course the other
two film scores represented are easier on the mind. The short
extract from the mysterious So Long at the Fair is pure
romance. Most listeners will know the evocative ‘Carriage
& Pair’ which has featured in a score of British Light
Music record and CD releases. Frankel’s music makes much use
of this memorable tune and the result is a lovely miniature
suite. The Love Theme to The Net - a spy thriller
- is another one of the composer’s attractive tunes. Of course
there was much more music from this score – but Carl Davis and
the redoubtable Liverpool Phil give us what I presume to be
In sum this is a
great CD. Enjoy the ‘given’ movie images in your mind if this
is your ‘bag’ – or listen to it as ‘absolute music’ if you do
not want to associate this wonderful music with hairy hands,
sharp incisors and thumbscrews.
is one of Britain’s many underrated and undervalued composers.
And he was born a hundred years ago this year. Scan the BBC
Promenade Concert Programme and you will not find any mention
of him or his music. It would not have taken too much boldness
on the concert programmers’ part to dump a piece by Mozart,
Shostakovich or Colin Matthews and slip in Frankel’s Violin
Concerto or First Symphony. But of course Frankel
is not the only composer to suffer from Auntie’s indifference
to 19th and 20th century British Music.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett
to further information about Frankel