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The Film Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams: Volume 3
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

The Story of a Flemish Farm (Suite from the film The Flemish Farm) (1942) [25:08]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (Edited Stephen HOGGER)

The Loves of Joanna Godden (1946) [15:13]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS and Ernest IRVING (1878-1953) (Edited HOGGER)

Bitter Springs (1950) [25:57]
Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir/Darius Battiwalla
BBC Philharmonic Orchesta/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 22-23 June 2005. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10368 [66:37]

 

This third volume of Chandos’s excellent series of discs celebrating the film music of Vaughan Williams is also the final instalment in the series. Once again it will be of considerable interest to the VW enthusiast bringing something new to the Vaughan Williams discography.

In this case the greatest curiosity value is in the score for the 1950 Ealing film, Bitter Springs, a collaborative effort between VW and Ernest Irving, the latter arranging and scoring the music from just thirty eight bars of material penned by Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams enjoyed a close working relationship with Irving who at five years his junior was a near contemporary. Irving’s long standing position at Ealing Studios had made him a highly successful film composer in his own right. To the basic material supplied by Vaughan Williams Irving added a substantial quantity of his own music that stands up impressively well alongside that of the slightly elder statesman.

Starring Tommy Trinder and "Chips Rafferty" the film tells the story of a trek through the Australian outback. The main titles are provided by Vaughan Williams in the form of a swaggering march, dubbed "Irving’s March" by the composer in the original score. Forever self-deprecating in his references to his own music VW referred to it as his "silly little tune" and thanked Irving for the "marvels" he performed with it. In point of fact and in common with all of the numbers that Irving expanded and developed from VW’s thirty eight bars, the music is utterly characteristic of its composer. As with the music for Scott of the Antarctic, it amply demonstrates Vaughan Williams’ ability to create suitable atmosphere in response to visual imagery; an ability that made him a natural for the medium of film.

Of the fifteen brief numbers from the incidental music here recorded, eight are by Vaughan Williams, the remainder being penned by Irving and amongst which the delightful Kangaroos and the marimba-led Boomerang - perhaps more African sounding than Antipodean but effective nonetheless - are a particular pleasure.

Chandos’s assertion that this is the "premiere recording" of the music to the film The Loves of Joanna Godden is true enough in terms of this newly-edited version by Stephen Hogger. Strictly speaking though it is not the first time that Vaughan Williams’ score has made it onto disc. Pearl’s British Film Music Volume Three (GEM 0141) features a fascinating remastering of the original recording of ten out of the twenty five cues Vaughan Williams wrote for the film. It was a recording specifically authorised by the composer and made in May 1947 by the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus under Ernest Irving just one month before the film received its first showing on 16 June 1947.

From Pearl we get a little over eight and a half minutes of music tracked in two four minute sections, with the track listing on the rear cover of the disc usefully indicating the relevant reference points in the film to which the music relates. Stephen Hogger on the other hand expands this to fifteen minutes of music. The booklet indicates the tempos of the various passages rather than the scenes the music represents and just one overall track listing.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the music is its close relationship with certain passages from the Sixth Symphony - listen to the brooding, darkly ominous mood from around 9:47 - which was occupying the composer‘s attention at the time. Hints of the Sixth are also evident in Story of a Flemish Farm. Equally striking though is the sheer quality of the music, beautifully realised and atmospherically portraying the mists of Romney Marsh, the setting for Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel. Passages of glowing romantic tenderness alternate with music depicting daily life on Godden’s farm and that of her three suitors but it is the depiction of the Romney March landscape that leaves the most lasting musical impression.

The Story of a Flemish Farm will be familiar to many from the excellent Marco Polo disc that was the only recording entirely dedicated to Vaughan Williams’ music for the screen until Chandos took up the cause. Two other scores included in that recording, Coastal Command and Three Portraits from the England of Elizabeth have also made it into the Chandos series.

The Flemish Farm was a propaganda film telling the tale of the heroic wartime exploits of members of the Belgian Air Force. Vaughan Williams clearly thought highly enough of the music to arrange it in the form of a substantial seven movement suite that he himself conducted at a Promenade concert in July 1945. The fact that he chose to do so is perhaps no surprise for once again the quality of the music shows no sign of the composer "writing down" for the cinema. The bold strength of the melodic writing is highly idiomatic and reflects VW at the height of his creative powers shortly before the works that were to form the symphonic "Indian Summer" of his later years.

Marco Polo’s admirable recording by the RTE Concert Orchestra under Andrew Penney sets a strong benchmark although Rumon Gamba and his Manchester forces win the day by a hair’s breadth. Gamba just manages to create the greater sense of atmosphere - the wonderfully hushed strings at the beginning of The Dead Man’s Kit is a good example. Gamba’s brisker tempo in the concluding "The Wanderings of the Flag" allows the music to benefit from an increased sense of urgency that undoubtedly adds something to the heroic strains of the closing paragraphs.

Stephen Hogger’s contribution to this fine series of discs cannot be underestimated. His painstaking reconstructions of several of the scores allow us to enjoy a good deal of music for the first time. Add to this the uniformly top-drawer contribution of Gamba and the BBC Phil and we have a series of discs that form an important record of an often overlooked aspect of VW’s catalogue.

Christopher Thomas

Volume 1 RECORDING OF THE MONTH November 2002
Volume 2

 



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