Although the British
composer Clifton Parker also wrote concert
music including the opera Pyatigorsk,
broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in 1973,
his claim to fame rests on his film
music and specifically on Seascape
from Western Approaches.
It was this work that earned itself
a place on EMI Classics now long forgotten
CD collection of British golden age
film music 78s on CDGO 2059.
The score for Treasure
Island reeks of the spume, salt
and ozone. The seven movement suite
traverses various scenes. There is a
Handelian oceanic majesty in the opening
titles woven with references to "Yo-Ho-Ho
and a Bottle of Rum!" - a reminiscence
that returns momentarily in Looking
for the Treasure. Then there is
the more impressionistic Baxian ‘wash’
of To Bristol. On the Island
is a sort of sinister scherzo with
minatory dark clouds scudding across
the sky. In Storming the Stockade
the shade of Shostakovich and of
the Nordic Bax crosses the horizon.
The uneasy restfulness of both Shostakovich
and Bax also pervades the Jim Hawkins,
Ship to Shore movement. Leaving
the Island is the final and longest
movement - a miniature tone poem - a
sort of overture in retrospect. This
is music for a grand yarn and although
it lacks the emotional reach of Korngold’s
pirate scores it is richly orchestrated
and full of atmosphere.
for Western Approaches
is a magical piece - about the same
length as a Liadov tone poem. Once again
it surges and heaves with the long slow
swell of the Atlantic, dignified yet
intensely romantic. In such a small
span Parker catches the majestic essence
of the scene and the era.
The Tallis Fantasia
must have been in Parker’s mind
for The Sword and the Rose where
that voice is blended with the awesome
majesty of Purcell’s courtly music.
The other movements look towards the
‘Danserye’ style of Susato and Praetorius
locking into the neo-Tudor styles of
Moeran (Serenade) and Warlock
(Capriol). The Sea of Sand
march is jaunty with a gap-toothed
smocks-and-straw grin and an acidic
twist from Alan Rawsthorne.
For the Blue
Lagoon Rhapsody Parker returns
to his prime metier: the breakers and
the salty romance of the sea. Debussy
(La Mer), Ravel (La Valse),
Bax’s Tintagel and even Kabalevsky
are presences. The wash and undertow
of breakers on the coral reef, of white
sands, love and loneliness - they’re
all there in this Rhapsody. The score
may not have quite the grand impact
that Basil Poledouris delivered for
his music for the 1980 remake but it
is very good in its own right. I remember
the film very well from its showings
during 1960s Sunday film matinees on
For the occult classics
Night of the Demon the
music is suitably turbulent and almost
angular. This contrasts with the warm
breezes, España reminiscences
and Latino calm that suffuses the Caribbean
Rhapsody. Solo guitar, bongos,
maracas and timbales add flavour to
this example of laid-back light music.
Think in terms of Malcolm Arnold’s Commonwealth
Christmas Overture and Alwyn’s Calypso
from Rake’s Progress.
Gamba is good throughout
but I thought he managed the nobilmente
of the Sink the Bismark! March
- a concert item in its own right
- very well. Parker also made a concert
march out of his music for another 1950s
rouser ‘The Yangtse Incident’
but at 79:39 there was no space for
The Blue Pullman
is a continuous piece spanning
15 minutes - pleasing yet undemanding
train music. It is drawn from Parker’s
score for the 1960 train documentary
about the Manchester-London service.
It has its moments especially in the
closing pages but overall is rather
over-extended and bland without the
film. If you were wondering, this is
not another Coronation Scot but
slots in comfortably with Richard Rodney
Bennett’s tauter and more memorable
score for Murder on the Orient Express.
I keep hoping that
Chandos will next turn to Brian Easdale’s
scores. They really are worth the effort.
But back to Parker. He had a real gift
for sea music both tender and stormy.
Don’t miss it.