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Francis CHAGRIN (1905-1972)
Film Music
Overture from Helter Skelter (1949) [6:34]
From An Inspector Calls (1954) [3:25]
From The Colditz Story (1954) [3:31]
Suite from Greyfriars Bobby (1961) [11:42]
From The Four Just Men (1959) [3:05]
The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra (1965) [5:19]
Four Orchestral Episodes from The Intruder (1953) [11:11]
From Easy Money (1947) [6:40]
Suite from Last Holiday (1950) [14:19]
Yugoslav Sketches from The Bridge (1946) [10:42]
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
Recorded: Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, June 2004
CHANDOS CHAN 10323 [77:34]

 

 

Born Alexander Paucker to a Rumanian Jewish family, Francis Chagrin first studied engineering in Zurich to comply with his father’s will that he later joins the family business. A first unlucky marriage brought him to France where he managed to enrol at the Ecole Normale, where his teachers were Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. When in Paris, he changed his name to that of Francis Chagrin. He then wrote some music for minor films before moving to Britain in 1936. After some further studies with Seiber, he began to make his way onto the musical map by writing incidental music for film, TV series and commercials. This earned him some attention. During World War II he founded the Committee (now Society) for the Promotion of New Music. However, next to a large amount of incidental music, he also composed works for the concert hall, including two symphonies, most of which is still unheard and unrecorded. An old LP of British music for strings included his fine Five Aquarelles composed in 1950 [Peters PLE 054, published 1977, nla]. Chagrin is yet another composer who suffered the same prejudice as that encountered by the likes of William Alwyn, Malcolm Arnold, Benjamin Frankel and Rozsa, whose ‘serious’ music was long overlooked, simply because they all had made a name for themselves by writing music for films. The time is now ripe for a proper assessment of his concert works.

I first became aware of his music when Lyrita released a recording of the delightful Overture “Helter Skelter” (SRCS 95, published 1979, nla). This light-hearted overture opens the present generous survey in high spirits. The music really lives up to its title, its highly contrasted tunes ‘colliding’ with each other in a most joyful and refreshing way. By the way, am I alone in hearing echoes of Enescu’s Rumanian Rhapsodies in this piece? It does not matter anyway, for this is a really fine concert opener that should have become popular. It was published in 1951 and had to wait more than twenty years for its first commercial recording.

The music assembled here provides a fine survey of Chagrin’s multifaceted talents, be it in illustrating a sentimental romance (Last Holiday), a wartime saga (The Colditz Story), some emotionally more complex stuff (An Inspector Calls or The Intruder) or a documentary on the aftermath of World War II in Yugoslavia (The Bridge). He was a beautifully equipped musician who could always find the right tone of the film he was to illustrate. The Suite from “Last Holiday”, by far the longest item here, is a good example of Chagrin’s versatility. It includes serious and lyrical music (e.g. the Nocturne) but also some purely incidental music such as the Romance (salon music played by a piano trio) and the extrovert Samba. As Philip Lane mentions in his excellent notes, Chagrin lavished as much care on his incidental music as on his concert works. Some of them contain fine music well worth rescuing. Chagrin was certainly aware of this, for some of the scores heard here were arranged for the concert hall by the composer himself, e.g. the overture Helter Skelter, Four Orchestral Episodes from “The Intruder” and Yugoslav Sketches from “The Bridge” (Philip Lane mentions a Yugoslav Suite No.2, also drawn from The Bridge). The remaining pieces in this selection were carefully prepared by Philip Lane, one of the driving forces behind Chandos’s Movies series/ He is a fine composer in his own right who selflessly devotes much time, skill and competence in preparing scores for recording.

This release also includes the outrageously funny The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra in which Auber, Bizet, Delibes, Grieg, Liszt, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Johann Strauss II and Tchaikovsky rub shoulders in an improbable, but funny montage.

There is much fine music here. Besides the overture, my own favourites are the Suite from “Greyfriars Bobby”, From “Easy Money” and the Yugoslav Sketches. The whole is superbly played. The production is simply excellent, with a lavish booklet adorned with stills from the films and detailed notes by Philip Lane.

A most welcome and timely release, since 2005 is the centenary year of Chagrin’s birth. I hope now that Gamba might have a look at Chagrin’s symphonies.

Hubert Culot

 

 

 



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