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Love From A Stranger
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)

Love from a Stranger (1937, ed. Colin Matthews)
Roberto GERHARD (1896 – 1970)

This Sporting Life (1963, ed. David Matthews)
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906 – 1983)

The Skull (1965, ed. Bayan Northcott)
Richard Rodney BENNETT (b. 1936)

The Return of the Soldier (1982)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Jac van Steen
Recorded: Studio 1, BBC, Maida Vale, London, March 1999 (Britten) and October 2002 (last track of Bennett, recorded November 2003, conductor Martyn Brabbins)
NMC D 073 [63:22]


Britten’s score for Love from a Stranger was lost but has been expertly re-constructed by Colin Matthews working from Britten’s sketches as well as from the original soundtrack. As might be expected, this is a fairly traditional film score, although there are many fine things in it, but really very little that might be described as vintage Britten. It is of course superbly done and the scoring for standard orchestral forces is quite assured. It may have been effective on the screen, although – as usual (alas!) – the edited score was heavily cut (some sections were bluntly omitted). It is good to be able to hear it in such a fine edition.

One would hardly think of Roberto Gerhard as a film composer; and, in fact, he composed only two such scores: Secret People (1952) and This Sporting Life (1963 directed by Lindsay Anderson), heard here in David Matthews’ edition. This substantial score’s ill-fated history is not uncommon in film music’s history. Anderson hardly knew any of Gerhard’s music before asking him to compose the score for his film. He was eventually somewhat disappointed by what turned out to be a rather modern score, probably better suited to a science fiction movie than to a working class drama set in Yorkshire. The main title [track 7] is a good example of what may have caused dismay to Anderson. This is Gerhard at his best, hard-edged, ominously menacing, sparse and dissonant. In fact, if you know any of his late major works (The Plague, the Third and Fourth Symphonies, and the superb Concerto for Orchestra), you will have a fair idea of what his score for This Sporting Life sounds like. I do not know how the music fits – or not – with the screenplay; but one thing I am completely sure of is that this score is Gerhard at his best. It is thus not surprising that he re-worked some of the material in his orchestral work Epithalamion of 1966.

Lutyens, as Gerhard in his mature works, heavily relied on serial techniques in her concert works, composed in a fairly advanced idiom which – more than once – estranged her from audiences and critics as well. Such serial music was nevertheless put to good use in many Hammer ‘B movies’, in much the same way as in some film scores by Frankel, Williamson and Searle. Just think of how impressive and effective the main title of The Abominable Snowman by Searle may still sound, as pure music. Lutyens’ score for The Skull has all the ingredients that are generally associated with horror films of the 1960s: eerie string chords, shrieking woodwinds, ominous brass, pounding and/or rattling percussion, the whole coloured by ‘Gothic’ organ chords, to great effect.

Gerhard’s and Lutyens’ uncompromising scores perfectly illustrate one of the paradoxes of modern music. When heard in the context of a film, such an advanced idiom is easily taken in by audiences that otherwise would have been frankly hostile in the concert hall. The main title of Jerry Goldsmith’s fine score for The Planet of the Apes is another telling piece of evidence of this paradoxical state of affairs.

Richard Rodney Bennett’s film scores are generally much better known for their lyricism, nostalgia and accessibility, although his substantial score for The Return of the Soldier is a more serious affair. It is a very fine score, stylistically half-way between the serial Bennett and the more consonant Bennett - if I can put it like that. Many of the cues recorded here are rather more astringent than in some more popular film scores by this gifted and versatile composer. Other cues are in Bennett’s more popular vein. The whole score, however, is a most welcome addition to his discography; and is a perfect complement to the earlier Chandos release (CHAN 9867). Incidentally, the last track is conducted by Martyn Brabbins.

I have never seen any of these films, so I cannot comment on how the music relates – or not – to the screenplays and the finished films. However these scores stand remarkably well on their purely musical merits and repay repeated hearings, which – I think – says much for their intrinsic musical qualities.

This is a most desirable release, not only for film buffs, but also for those who want to explore some byways of British contemporary music represented here by Gerhard and Lutyens.

Hubert Culot


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