Composers of film music can be forgiven for using clichés.
Audiences are very rarely consciously aware of the music, and even if
they are, are almost certainly not analysing it stylistically. But the
clichés themselves vary from one era to another, and can tell
you a lot about the age to which they belong. All the music on this
fascinating CD comes from a twelve-year period encompassing World War
2. It’s almost comical to note how many of the pieces start with near-identical
openings – a sustained low note followed by an upward rush of strings,
often with harp glissando, leading to sonorous chords in full orchestra.
Then there is the curious obsession with the piano
concerto; Addinsell and his Warsaw Concerto led the way, with
Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody and Williams’ The Dream of Olwen not
far behind. Arguably, David Lean shot this particular fox in 1946 by
going straight to the top and using Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto
(of which all of the above are arguably spin-offs) for his classic Brief
The most significant composer represented here, Sir
Arthur Bliss, is exempted from these considerations, and his music for
Things to Come immediately sets him apart from the more modest
talents found on the other tracks. This is a fine score, and of course
often appears as a concert suite. Among other things, we have here the
famous rousing March, and the dignified Epilogue, complete with chorus
in this recording.
The Warsaw Concerto is a well-known lollipop,
but it is some time since I heard it, and I had forgotten two things;
firstly how intensely evocative of its wartime period it is, and secondly
what a genuinely fine tune it is based on. It may be a ‘Rachmaninov
rip-off’, but it’s one the great Russian, I suspect, may not have been
unhappy about. The performance is enhanced by the presence of none other
than the superb Louis Kentner playing the solo part.
The other tracks are perhaps less musically engaging,
but there is much to enjoy, including another great sweeping tune in
Miklós Rózsa’s music for Hitchcock’s Spellbound.
Rózsa won an Oscar for his haunting music for this film,
which starred Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. The booklet notes tell
us that Hungarian-born Rózsa was trained at Trinity College
of Music in London, which I didn’t know, and left for the US in 1940,
where he eventually became part of the MGM set-up for fourteen years.
There are those who feel (I am among them) that, had Rózsa decided
to stay with ‘serious’ composition, he might have become one of the
more important composers of the second half of the 20th century.
He didn’t, though, and was probably quite a lot richer for it!
A fascinating and highly enjoyable disc. Fine performances,
recorded to the best standards of their time, and prepared lovingly
for this edition by Naxos’s Peter Dempsey.