Benjamin Frankel, born in London in 1906, was a hugely
prolific composer of film scores, and also produced a considerable number
of concert works. He was fairly dismissive of the importance of film
music himself, making the point that the music was of no value without
the film. Listeners to this CD will make up their own minds as to this
in respect of the music recorded here, but most would agree, I think,
that it is a tragedy that the scores of so much of Frankel’s film work
– and of other composers too – was discarded or lost once the original
recording had taken place.
After the CPO recording of Frankel’s music for the
film The Battle of the Bulge, this CD presents a selection taken
from the rest of his film output. The front cover of the disc shows
a reproduction of the poster of The Importance of Being Earnest
complete with list of stars and Technicolor credits, but in fact only
just over seven minutes of the disc are given over to music from this
particular film, and the real title of the disc – see above – is marked
on the booklet in small black lettering which doesn’t attract the eye
at all. The music has been prepared for performance, and sometimes much
more than that, by E. D. Kennaway who also wrote the excellent notes.
The music from the Wilde film is in fact a kind of
medley based on scores found more or less by accident in the BBC Music
Library. It’s good fun to listen to, and its frequently original and
striking orchestral effects are a feature it shares with all the music
on this disc. Whether it is interesting enough to make us want to listen
to it very often is another matter.
The extract from the music for Curse of the Werewolf
is a tiny, two minute Pastoral. It is described in the notes
as "the only moment of light relief during a story of grim horror"
and this may well be the case. All the same it is curiously haunting
music, unquiet, its high violin lines doubled by flute (or possibly
piccolo) very reminiscent of Shostakovich.
Kennaway describes the six extracts from the 1949 film
Trottie True as "brimming with memorable, hummable tunes".
You only have to listen to it to know what he means, but at the same
time it really does depend on what you mean by memorable. To my mind
this is most undemanding music with little or nothing in it to make
me want to hear it again.
Another very short piece, from the film The Years
Between, has far more character. It was a piano solo on the original
soundtrack, played by Eileen Joyce, and published in that form. It is
given here in a sensitive arrangement for strings by Kennaway.
Footsteps in the Fog is a British film from
1955 dealing with domestic murder, intrigue and plotting. The music
is certainly striking in places, but desperately in need of the film
for it to come to life. This is one of the scores which no longer existed,
and Kennaway, in an extraordinary labour of love, repeatedly watched
the film in order to transcribe the score for this recording.
The score of the music from The Night of the Iguana,
on the other hand, has been preserved and is recorded here more or less
in its entirety and with little editorial intervention. I think this
is the most distinguished music on the disc, and certainly the most
original, though the two short pieces are of considerable interest too.
The themes are both immediately striking yet also repay repeated listening,
and the instrumentation is marvellous, evoking in an extremely subtle
way the Mexican setting. Unfortunately there is very little variety
of mood in the ten short pieces of which it is made up, and listening
to it as if it were a concert suite is unsatisfying for this reason.
Alas, this is also true of the whole disc, and is the
main reason why I find it hard to recommend to anyone other than those
who have an interest in film music and perhaps a particular interest
in Frankel. I’ve already made reference to the booklet notes which both
in content and layout are exactly what an issue of this kind needs,
and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under Werner Andreas Albert –
who has recorded a lot of Frankel’s concert music for CPO – plays beautifully.
The recorded sound is excellent.
See also review by Hubert