Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Benjamin FRANKEL (1906-1973)
Symphony No. 7 (1970)
Symphony No. 8 (1971)
Overture to a Ceremony (1971)
A Shakespeare Overture (1956)
Queensland SO/Werner Andreas Albert
rec ABC Studio 420, Australia, April 1999
CPO 999 243-2 [70.27]
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CPO are no shirkers. Their projects evolve slowly but they do happen and they happen with the closest approach to certainty we get in the classical recording marketplace. Their Korngold, Krenek, Milhaud, Pfitzner and Siegfried Wagner cycles are the clearest evidence of their serious intent. Almost surreptitiously, and without fanfare, they have built a catalogue that is as unique as the very style-sheet that proclaims itself from each CPO cover. The process shows no sign of relenting and we can, for instance, look forward to the continuing unrolling of the Atterberg and Macfarren cycles.

This is the final disc to complete the intégrale of Frankel's eight symphonies. Knowing CPO it will not be that long (perhaps late 2002) before a Frankel symphony box is issued - a prospect unthinkable ten years ago. This is not the last we will hear of single Frankel discs either. There is due to be at least one film music anthology à la Chandos (Bliss, Alwyn, Arnold, Auric, Rawsthorne) as well as talk of the recording of his opera Marching Song - probably taken from the BBC's 1980s relay.

The disc is fully populated with music - playing for over seventy minutes. It has the strength of including two overtures and two symphonies. Of the two symphonies the Seventh stands with the steely Fourth as Frankel's most sturdily impressive works.

Frankel's music, if you have not encountered it before, is atonally lyrical - Berg rather than Schoenberg. His violin concerto (also on CPO) is among the finest works of the century and can easily stand compare with the Berg and the Schuman. The film music, of which there are many scores (most of which will have to be reconstructed by the hopefully indefatigable Dmitri Kennaway), are fibrous British film music of the 1950s and 1960s in which Frankel marginally softens his pallet for cinema audiences. Interesting that Elizabeth Lutyens made money from using her avant-garde style for horror films. Frankel's concert and chamber works (CPO have the complete string quartets) are ominous, lyrical, threatening, gloomy, charged with the uncertain catastrophic spirit of the times. These various works achieved as much neglect as William Alwyn's (another British film music composer whose true metier lay in the symphony); the difference being that Alwyn used his film music money to fund recordings. The picture might have been different if Frankel had invested his royalty income in a sequence of Lyrita LPs.

The Overture to a Ceremony, might from its title, be expected to latch onto the 'pomp and circumstance' of works like the concert overtures of Chagrin, Leigh, Reizenstein and Howard Ferguson. In fact Frankel does little to soften the serial blow. The music is portentous, projects the usual long Bergian lyricism, and in its fractured dramatics, recalls Nielsen 4 and 5. From 15 years earlier comes the Shakespeare Overture which is marginally more relaxed still - resounding with some filial relationship with Walton's Olivier films. With this I noticed, at 5.29, a long march pointing back towards Frank Bridge's masterwork Enter Spring. All ends care-freed at 9.30.

The Symphonies are the final pair in the cycle. Frankel was to have written a Ninth for the BBC Proms but this never came to anything. The Eighth, might almost be a 'concerto for orchestra'. There is some well calculated and very beautiful music for the tuba pp against strings in the first movement (track 7 8.15). Havergal Brian's stuttering termagant marches are also suggested and, in the final movement, (6.20) William Alwyn's funereal spirit, most evident in the Hydrotaphia symphony, is there for all to hear. Still this is not easily assimilable music. Be warned - you will need to persist. This warning is far less relevant in the case of the Seventh. Frankel seems, for this work, to weave a poem for silvery violins, for romantic horn solos (Dennis Brain would have made great play with the solo in the first movement), with seemingly endless lyrical lines, of a Bergian caste, with the singing of malcontented souls and with the fife and drum satire of Arnold's Eighth Symphony.

A very positive disc, extremely thoroughly documented, as is the standard for this series and indeed this, together with the disc containing number 4, is the disc with which to start your Frankel symphony collection. If you have never heard any Frankel before then start with the violin concerto. Further details from me if required.

Rob Barnett

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