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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 Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, June 2004
CHANDOS CHAN10323 [77:34]



Francis Chagrin is a less celebrated composer of British film music and so this album was overdue for issue in 2004.
 
The opening suite is for a minor British comedy, Helter Skelter that starred many of the comedians working in film and, more importantly, radio in the immediate austerity post-war period. The music follows the pattern of the scatty screenplay with frothy slapstick, custard-pie-type music – complete with horse laughs in the brass. Broad comedy at the expense of classical music was the basis of the Halas & Batchelor animated cartoons based on the drawings of Gerard Hoffnung.  For The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, Chagrin cleverly composed a hilarious take-off of well-loved classics by: Auber, Bizet, Delibes, Grieg, Liszt, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Johann Strauss II and Tchaikovsky. Great fun.
 
From the score for the film version of J.B. Priestley’s  An Inspector Calls the album includes ‘A Portrait of Eva’, a waltz theme and variations to underscore her many moods ranging from the wistful through hedonistic happiness to despair. The Portrait here, unusually, begins on a downbeat.  A short suite of music from the Colditz Story - not to be confused with Robert Farnon’s stirring march that he composed for the TV series - is contrastingly and unrelentingly brutal in its evocation of Nazi repression and the POW’s heroic defiance in their determination to escape. More uncompromising music was created for The Intruder which was about the problems of homecoming ex-servicemen after World War II. Chagrin’s Four Orchestral Episodes, drawn from the film and presumably meant for separate performance, is predominantly bleak. Much of the music of the opening ‘Preamble’ and ‘Conflagration’ is black and crushing, perhaps suggesting the servicemen’s continuing nightmares of wartime horrors. 
 
Greyfriars Bobby was the story of the Scottish Skye terrier dog who kept a vigil over his master’s grave for years after his death and was granted freedom of the City of Edinburgh. The music for ‘Main Titles and Opening Scene’ beautifully evokes the tang of heather, the scenic grandeur of the Scottish countryside that was Bobby’s original home while ‘Bobby escapes to Edinburgh’ vividly suggests the dog’s determination to follow his master to Edinburgh. The music scampers through its delightful six-minute span. It is sharply observed and imaginatively orchestrated, its fast tempo only pausing for some slower tenderness in sympathy with the little creature’s fierce loyalty and dogged determination to surmount all obstacles.  Easy Money was one of those portmanteau films popular in the 1940s and 1950s. This one was made up of separate stories about football pool winners. ‘Il basso continuo’ was one of the episodes. It concerned an orchestral bass player who, fed up with playing monotonous bass lines, falls out with the conductor and then uses his pools winnings to bail out te now failing orchestra and insists the bass instruments are given their share of the limelight. Chagrin has fun, writing in different styles from baroque to the modern: shades of Shostakovich!
 
From the 1959 TV series, The Four Just Men we hear the ‘Theme’ and ‘Main Titles Music’. The four crime fighters each operated in a separate major city: London, New York, Paris and Rome. After a sinister opening statement, Chagrin’s music is a proud, bass-heavy cavalcade of allusions to all four cities.
 
The Last Holiday told the story of a man (Alec Guinness) who on being told he has only a short period to live, decides to live it up. This is the most extended suite in the album. Much of the film is set in an English south-coast hotel and some of the score’s music is in situ emanating from the hotel’s palm court trio: ‘Romance’ or bigger ensemble ‘Samba’.  A haunting, painfully ironic ‘Nocturne’ sensitively underscores the scene in which Guinness and Kay Walsh try to evade romantic entanglements – he is dying; she is married. Violin solos dominate the ‘Main Titles’ and the sad ‘Epilogue’; there is rather a cruel twist to the ending of the film. 
 
The Bridge was a documentary shot entirely on location for the Central Office of Information (COI). It was about the regeneration of a destroyed Yugoslav town and its starving inhabitants soon after World War II. Although the film was only forty minutes long Chagrin was sufficiently inspired to compose enough music to assemble into two suites. ‘Village Feast’ is a musical celebration that flutters joyfully with xylophone abandonment and Mediterranean sunshine. ‘Omalinda’ (Childhood) is another charming little sketch, a gentle, poignant lullaby giving way to more busy playful material. Wisps of mistiness thread through the music as ‘Dusk’ falls, a nice impressionist portrait with a hint perhaps of the inn turning its celebrants out at closing time. ‘The New Bridge’ is busy, muscular music for the hard work and determination to rebuild the railway bridge over the River Drina. The music rises to a peroration of nationalistic pride.
 
Nicely crafted music, often quite witty, if not especially memorable.
 
Ian Lace

see also review by Hubert Culot and an interview with Rumon Gamba

Chandos Movies page  



 


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