Frankel was a composer of
wide sympathies. These included enthusiastic advocacy for
the works of Sibelius and Finzi. His own music, as evidenced
by his string quartets, eight symphonies and opera Marching
Song - the latter awaiting premiere recording - used
a modicum of Bergian dissonance to eloquent effect.
Frankel had a ready professional
talent for film music and scored many features for the
burgeoning British cinema industry of the 1940s and 1950s.
Rather like Elizabeth Lutyens, Frankel found that, provided
he chose his films well, he could use his more avant-garde
natural language rather than having to switch to something
more populist. Horror and psychological drama were welcoming.
When necessary he could also do the more populist stuff
too but usually with a personal zest and citrus accent.
There have been a number of
collections showcasing his work in this genre from CPO
and Silva Classics. Here is a generous selection from Naxos
issued in the year of the Frankel centenary (2006). It
compares very well with the last general CPO anthology
which seemed thin fare beside the score for Battle of
the Bulge - itself a highly recommendable disc from
Curse of the Werewolf - typical Hammer horror schlock drew an
excellent score with the Prelude and Finale being
outstanding. Those two substantial tracks have a feeling
of Chasseur Maudit, mixed in with wild rumba and
a dash of Herrmann's North by North West. There’s
plenty of rampant brass especially the romping and rearing
French horns: sensational sound. We are delightfully spared
nothing in impact by Tim Handley's audio team. That rearing
theme echoes throughout the score as in Revenge and
Escape (tr. 4) and Leon Imprisoned (tr. 10). The
Beggar (tr. 2) has an easy-going jog-trot of a melody
akin to that in Carriage and Pair. On the other
hand Servant Girl and Beggar has a gently Bergian
chill. He writes vernal avian music for Pastoral conjuring
an innocence we may link with similar rustic moments in
the Frankenstein films. For the werewolf Transformations (trs.
8, 11) the chiming of bells recalls the torment and nightmare
of Malcolm Arnold's symphonies 5 and 7.
So Long at the Fair - a romantic film about a disappearance at
the 1889 Paris Exposition - is represented by a continuous
medley, gentle and charming in the style of Herrmann's Magnificent
Ambersons. The selection is unfailingly buoyed up by
the clip-clop Carriage and Pair with its silky lyric
line spun over the top of the horse hooves. Plaudits to
the yielding tone of the Liverpool violins.
The Net was an Anthony Asquith film about a team
of scientists working on an experimental aircraft. The
Love Theme is tentative and sparingly adds a solo piano
part with just that whiff of Chopin-Rachmaninov romance
high in the register.
The score for The Prisoner provides
a very substantial sequence. It tells the psychologically
oppressive tale of a Roman Catholic priest's imprisonment
and interrogation in a nameless communist state. Alec Guinness
plays the priest and Jack Hawkins the interrogator. Again,
in the Prelude, the Liverpool horns roar out in aureate
splendour. Not unexpectedly however this score is predominantly
introspective, ominous and downbeat.
While So Long at the Fair and The
Love Theme represent the more tender Frankel the Curse
of the Werewolf and The Prisoner show Frankel
in his most earnest dramatic style including some masterly
use of dissonance. Note that the eleven cues for The
Prisoner and the twelve for The Curse do not
exclude some poignantly yielding material by way of contrast
and for atmosphere building and storytelling.
In the little insert there's
a nice informal photo of the composer but no stills or
film posters. The liner-notes are by Frankel expert Dmitri
Kennaway who has also done all the score reconstructions.
Naturally, with the exception of Carriage and Pair from So
Long at the Fair all the other original performing
material has disappeared.
This is the best single CD
selection of Frankel’s film music - ranging from the sensational
Gothic spectacular to the cool and charming.
Reviews of selected other Frankel recordings
Symphonies (cpo) - RB, HC
Film Music (cpo) - Vol.
Violin & Viola Concertos (cpo) - NH
For further information about Benjamin
Frankel, see the website
dedicated to his life and music.
Many thanks for such a glowing account.
One small correction, before I get
more credit than is due to me: the original
scores for Curse of the Werewolf and
The Prisoner are two of the very few
that survived, so my
task was simply to produce printed editions
and parts. To be honest, I really don't
I could have reconstructed those two,
especially given the way some cues were
in and out.
I did reconstruct the Love Theme from
The Net, and the cues from So Long At
The Fair (except, of course, Carriage
and Pair, as you point out).