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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]
The Loves of Joanna Godden (ed. Stephen Hogger) (1946) [15:13]
Bitter Springs (with Ernest Irving (1878-1953) and ed. Hogger) (1950) [25:57]
Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir/Darius Battiwalla
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 22-23 June 2005. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10368 [66:37]

For the 1942 World War II propaganda film, The Flemish Farm, Vaughan Williams wrote some inspired patriotic music. It soars heroically in ‘The Flag Flutters in the Wind’ which is the opening track of this suite. ‘Night by the Sea’ recalls the composer’s ‘Sea’ Symphony and throughout this rich and varied score there are references to other major works including: pastoral music with mystical and romantic overtones reminiscent of RVW’s ‘Pastoral’ and Fifth Symphonies; plus crushingly dramatic, sinister and suspenseful material some of which pre-echoes the Sixth Symphony. 

Vaughan Williams was completing the Sixth Symphony in 1946 as he was scoring The Loves of Joanna Godden and, in places, one can discern traces of the Symphony. The film was based on Sheila Kaye-Smith’s novel set in the coastal Romney Marches of south east England at the end of the 19th century. Vaughan Williams responded, very much as he had for his earlier fenland evocations, with music redolent of the landscape, its wildlife, especially the cry of the birds. The screaming winds and lashing rain reflect the emotional turmoil of the protagonists and the tragedies they faced eking an existence in this sometimes forbidding locale; one character loses his sheep to foot-and-mouth disease and another drowns. Stephen Hogger’s reconstruction, a 15-minute suite of music from the film is, in essence, a seamless symphonic poem. The score includes a keening women’s chorus. 

The Bitter Springs score was a collaboration between Vaughan Williams and Ernest Irving. It was arranged and orchestrated by Irving from 38 bars of thematic material supplied by Vaughan Williams who thanked him “for the marvels you have done with my silly little tune,” and adding, cheekily, “If you want any more you must sing it yourself”. The ‘Main Titles and Opening Music’ introduces a jaunty theme redolent of the characters’ trek across the Australian outback, the music vividly evoking the swaying gait of the horses and riders; there is, too, a suggestion of RVW’s mystical ‘Bunyan’ music. From this material, Irving builds a vibrant score, colourfully orchestrated with imaginative writing for winds and much use of exotic percussion suggestive of the film’s Australian setting. He also added material of his own including the witty evocation of ‘Kangaroos’ and ‘Boomerang’ with its wind-machine effect. 

A splendid album and an important addition to the Vaughan Williams discography;  taken with Volumes I and II of the Chandos Vaughan Williams film music series, this CD eclipses all competition in terms of both performance and sound engineering.

Ian Lace

see also Review by Christopher Thomas



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