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Mischa SPOLIANSKY (1898-1985)
Film Music
Suite: North West Frontier (1959) [9:59]
Sanders of the River - three songs (1935) [8:52]
Suite: The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936) [9:03]
Voice in the Night from Wanted for Murder (1946) [4:51]
Suite: The Ghost Goes West (1935) [8:31]
Dedication from Idol of Paris (1948) [7:15]
Suite: King Solomon’s Mines (1937) [14:45]
Galop: The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) [2:39]
Toccatina for solo organ - from Saint Joan (1957) [5:55]
Mark Coles (bass); Roderick Elms (piano); John Wright (organ)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
rec. Watford Colosseum, 23-24 September 2008. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Mischa Spoliansky here gets the Chandos-Gamba-BBC treatment; this time with the Concert Orchestra rather than the Phil.

Russian-born Spoliansky who spent years writing revues, musicals and cabaret songs in Berlin before fleeing to England to escape the Nazi pogroms, is represented here by his music for British films dating from 1935 to 1959. We should not forget that he also has a German film music aspect as well.

The latest score here is North West Frontier - a classic Raj actioner with Kenneth More as the Carruthers-style hero, Bacall as the love interest and Herbert Lom as the treacherous 'half-breed'. The long first movement is imposing and intrepid. The Scott-Wyatt waltz is unabashedly sentimental and lush. Spoliansky out-Steiner's Steiner in the march finale with a triumphant bugle-decorated Eton Boating Song. The 1935 Sanders of the River had Paul Robeson in the cast list. These three songs from the film are a delight - typical sentimental early Robeson fare though it seems that he later disowned his contribution to the film as demeaning to black people. I rather regret, as a matter of principle, the omission of the chorus and of the Killing Song. I am not sure why this happened but I hope that this was not a matter of politically correct scruples. The sentiments of the omitted words might well be deplorable but a grown-up allowance in a project of this sort must be made for the mores of the times. Mark Coles is the sturdy and ursine bass solo taking on the Robeson mantle in style. The suite from The Man Who Could Work Miracles shows a real sleight of orchestral hand within an idiom flitteringly caught between Tchaikovsky, the Bantock of Pierrot of the Minute, early Frank Bridge and Ronald Binge. The Grand Palace March has a touch of Howard Shore's Harry Potter and Ireland's Epic March. Voice in the Night is from a murder thriller - a tormented pocket-piano-concerto with a similar mood-set to Herrmann's Concerto Macabre though not quite as blackly brilliant. The four movement suite from René Clair's 1935 film The Ghost Goes West makes light-hearted play of various shades of Scottishry. It's all handled rather well by Spoliansky - a professional to the fingertips. Bagpipes and reels are there but nothing too queasily tartan. It's a fine suite and very nicely done especially the dignified and ever so slightly eerie Ghost's Walk and there’s also a Lehár-style waltz love theme. Robert Donat played the Ghost to Elsa Lanchester's millionaire daughter, Peggy. It's a very engaging little suite which should be looked out by community orchestras everywhere. Fluffy grandeur is the order of the day in Dedication - a sort of Beethovenian folly for piano and orchestra from the 1948 film Idol of Paris with Michael Rennie. King Solomon's Mines was another Robeson film. But before we get to his Wagon Song and Mountain Songs there's a Titles and Map prelude which is stirring and exotic. Wagon Song is well done by Coles and if, by today's standards, it's a mite hokey it swings along enjoyably enough. There’s also a rather originally scored and mysterious Desert movement complete with the soft chime of bells - very atmospheric. The Baxian filigree at start of Mountain Song contrasts with the later bluesy Gershwin-Porgy influence. The Finale is lush and relaxed with some nicely jazzy slashes cutting through the centre. The Galop from The Happiest Days of Our Lives is a sort of prequel to the scores for the St Trinians films - a rip-snorting, zany silly halfway house between Arnold and Auric. Unusually for these discs, the final track, the melodramatic yet dignified Toccatina from Saint Joan (1957), is for solo organ played by John Wright on the Harrison organ at Cheltenham College.

Time after time Spoliansky produces some beautiful coups and I don’t doubt that Philip Lane has had a decisive role to play in making this music a performing reality. The extensive notes are also by Lane as are the arrangements so we know we are in inspired hands.

The suites are now available as sets of scores and performing materials from Booseys.

All the sung words are printed in the booklet which also has a nice selection of stills from the films and is well up to Chandos standards for this series.

Spoliansky now has his own website which gives further details of his life and music.

I was expecting this to be a rather low-key affair but the often entertainingly imaginative Spoliansky turns out to be much more than an also-ran.

Rob Barnett

Chandos Film Music series



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