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BATTLE OF BRITAIN: RON GOODWIN and WILLIAM WALTON.   original MGM soundtracks. Goodwin conducted by Goodwin, Walton conducted by Malcolm Arnold   RYKODISC RCD 10747
discontinued in UK May be available from

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This disc is of considerable interest since it contains the full score provided by Sir William Walton for The Battle of Britain together with the soundtrack actually used in the film which was composed by Ron Goodwin. As film buffs and Walton fans will know the only piece of Walton's score MGM used in its entirety in the 1969 production was the famous Battle in the Air sequence, though, on a recent broadcast, snatches of Walton's Battle of Britain March appeared briefly at the very end of the film.

What of the music itself? The disc allows us to appreciate the two composers' different approaches to the task of providing a score and it must be said that Goodwin is by no means outclassed. True, the Battle of Britain March by Walton is stirring and quintessentially British though it adheres very closely to the chord sequences which make up the Orb and Sceptre March, the March for A History of the English Speaking Peoples and the Granada Prelude of 1968. Nonetheless, it is a splendid theme and a tried and tested formula! Ron Goodwin's Battle of Britain Theme is less regal and noble but conveys a greater sense of urgency and action - the same idea of a vigorous-sounding motif over an insistent and interesting rhythm which made Goodwin's main theme for 633 Squadron such a success. When it comes to the music depicting the Luftwaffe, Goodwin wins hands down with a splendidly idiomatic Teutonic march Aces High replete with oompah brass and glockenspiel. Walton's use of the Siegfried horn call from Wagner's Ring is clever but overused and strangely enough not terribly Germanic, the effect being unaccountably Italianate (the influence of Ischia perhaps): the number Gay Berlin might as well have been called "Racy Rome"!

The informative sleeve notes suggest the brevity of Walton's score must have been a determining factor in its rejection by MGM. There may be some truth in this for the majority of the 55-minute running time of the CD is taken up by the Goodwin score (which provides 19 out if the 28 tracks). As with most soundtrack albums there is a lot of varied repetition of the same material but in this instance the themes are worth hearing again: the transformation by Goodwin of the Trio section of the Aces High March into a nostalgic string threnody in the numbers Work and Play and Threat is a fine example of evocative instrumentation. Walton's score occasionally struck me as an autumnal revisit to the world of Façade, the witty use of existing material (in this case Wagner's horn call) and the bright scoring strangely recalling the composer's early success. From time to time there is a forcible reminder that Malcolm Arnold is the conductor here (the sleeve notes hint that Arnold may have actually contributed to the score): listen to the very opening of the March Introduction and the close of the Battle in the Air track with its unmistakably Arnoldian chromatically rising passages. Perhaps Walton was nervous about contributing his first film score since Richard III in 1956 and sought advice from the prolific Arnold which rubbed off in the orchestration.

In sum, this CD contains fine examples of important film repertoire. The performances are also authentic (always a bonus in my view). Walton fans need not hesitate, though to be brutally honest I feel the Battle in the Air and March stand head and shoulders above the other pieces in the score. Just as Malcolm Arnold's film music sums up the very essence of Britain in the 1950s, so Ron Goodwin's atmospheric score captures the world of British cinema in the 1960s in a very special way. The sound is remarkably vivid considering the disc is made up from three reels which, until 1990, were stored in recording engineer Eric Tomlinson's damp garage! The artwork is excellent too with many stills taken from the film in the accompanying booklet and a Spitfire's red circle reproduced on the CD itself! Not just for nostalgia buffs, this release should bring pleasure to admirers of the work of Goodwin and Walton and quality British film music in general.


Paul Conway



Paul Conway

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