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Constant LAMBERT (1905-1951)
Suite from Merchant Seamen (1940) [14:35]
Suite from Anna Karenina (arr. Philip Lane) (1948) [30:19]
Lord BERNERS (1883-1950)
From Champagne Charlie (orch. Philip Lane) (1944) (Come on Algernon [3:08]; Polka [2:34])
Suite from Nicholas Nickleby (1947) [10:23]
Suite from The Halfway House (arr. Philip Lane) (1944) [18:09]
Mary Carewe (soprano)
Joyful Company of Singers (female voices)
BBC Concert Orchestra/Rumon Gamba
rec. Watford Colosseum, 25-26 September 2007
CHANDOS CHAN10459 [79:35]
Experience Classicsonline

The pairing of the film scores of Constant Lambert and Lord Berners is logical. Not only was their work for the medium very limited to the works included on this disc, but both men were friends and shared similar outlooks. Their music was cosmopolitan rather than traditionally English and both were attracted to the stage, particularly the ballet.
Lambert’s Suite from Merchant Seamen is very impressive. It makes a strong impact. Richly harmonized and orchestrated, it is highly dramatic and emotional. It opens with a bracing and tangy ‘Fanfare’. ‘Convoy in Fog’ is eerily atmospheric and menacing - the danger of attack from hostile U-Boats implicit. ‘Attack’ signals controlled panic and heroic, if tragically futile retaliation as the seamen come under attack and the ship is torpedoed. ‘Safe Convoy’ conversely evokes, one imagines, a calm sea with the waters rolling relatively gently under breezes, the sea glistening in the sunshine. The concluding ‘March’ is gallant and defiant, but poignantly seamed.
Bernard Herrmann had included an 11-minute suite of music from Constant Lambert’s score for Anna Karenina in his 1975 album “Great British Film Scores” (Decca 448 954 2) This new recording has a 10-movement, 30-minute suite with much more music arranged by Philip Lane. The album’s notes do not carry any detail about the Tolstoy novel which relates the doomed, illicit love affair between Anna Karenina, stuck in a passionless marriage to an official much older than herself, and a dashing young officer. The music has a haunting and tender dreaminess, divorced from reality until the lovers are discovered and then it takes on a more brutal and crushing character. The Main Titles set the Russian location imposingly. The Séance scene is wispy and spectral. ‘Anna’s garden’ is prettily pastoral, serene with bird song entwined; one might imagine long summer dresses floating between hedgerows and delicate fragrances of roses. Conversely, ‘Anna’s illness’ reeks of the sick room, fragrances now sickly, heavy, the music a drone. ‘Venice’ is a highlight of the suite, a beautiful barcarolle climaxing passionately at 3:30. The Finale covers the final tragedy as Anna falls beneath the train. The music is creepy and dejected, tenderness turned to despair amid rolling timps and growling bass lines.
Lord Berners’ music for Champagne Charlie, that starred Tommy Trinder sparkles with wit and the gaiety of the old music hall. Mary Carewe sings with gusto “Come on Algernon” with such racy lines as “Oh come on Algernon, that’s not enough for me give me some more, the same as before because I can’t count under three …” The other Champagne Charlie track, the sunny ‘Polka’, does for that dance what Ravel did for the waltz in his La Valse.
Berners’ suite from his score for Nicholas Nickleby, from Dickens’ novel is cosily and glowingly nostalgic. The music a potpourri of character studies; it twitters, dances, waltzes and bounces along with slower romantic episodes that are charmingly coy. In part it is something of a pastiche of drawing-room ballads. There is a particularly heartfelt melody for Kate and Frank’s ‘Love Scene’. The sunshine is banished only occasionally when the score turns nasty and sinister or pompous for the lesser appealing characters.
Halfway House was an occult, mystical drama about a group of characters, with assorted problems who come together at a country inn in a remote part of Wales. Only when their problems reach some sort of resolution, is it revealed that the inn’s landlord (Mervyn Johns) and his daughter (Glynis Johns) are not of this world. Berners responded with a highly atmospheric and dramatic score. After imposing and brooding Main Titles with trumpet fanfares, comes the bubbly, bustling miniature overture, somewhat in the style of Sullivan, that is from ‘The Concert’ conducted by one of the characters, who is not a well man. The third section, ‘Bicycle ride’, an amusing evocation as the music rushes zanily along. It is almost as if Berners was scoring a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon. In the ‘Drowning’ scene, after a preamble of pastoral peace, the music excitingly ‘mickey-mouses’ the ‘drowning’ of the Sally Ann Howes character as she attempts a mock suicide to entice her father to save her in order to save her parents’ marriage. The Viennese-style ‘Séance Waltz’ is very much à La Valse; the world of the ballet is not far away either. ‘Resolutions and Finale’ blends pastoral material complete with birdsong and meditative and darkly dramatic, even tragic material. All ends in a mood of hopefulness with the Joyful Company of Singers joining the BBC Philharmonic in a heavenly chorus - but without Hollywood corn.
Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic deliver for these few Constant Lambert and Lord Berners scores one of the best albums in the Chandos Film Music series.
Ian Lace

see also review by Rob Barnett

Chandos Movie Music page


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