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William WALTON (1902-83)
Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario (1943/4, arr. Christopher Palmer, 1988) [60:59]
Giles FARANABY (c.1563-1640)
Rosa Solis
* [2:26]
ANON. Watkin’s Ale* [1:57]
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Chants d’Auvergne: Obal, dinlou Limouzi
Christopher Plummer (speaker); Choristers of Westminster Cathedral; Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus; Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
* Ian Watson (harpsichord); Celia Nicklin (oboe)
rec. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead, London, 14-15 May 1990. DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN10437X [67:11]
Experience Classicsonline

Of all the Olivier Shakespeare films, Henry V has to be my favourite – and the music which Walton wrote for it has to take precedence over his Richard III and Hamlet. There are moments where Olivier distorts Shakespeare in all three plays – as much Colly Cibber as Shakespeare in Richard III, for example – but they are less irksome in Henry V. One which has misled generations of exam candidates, the Bishop and Archbishop fooling around with the papers which ‘prove’ Henry’s claim to the French throne, does not impinge on the music.
Muir Mathieson prepared a five-movement Henry V Suite, recorded by Walton himself and Olivier in 1963, but Christopher Palmer’s Scenario gives a much fuller selection: just about all the music that could be used from the film, eked out in places with other Walton music. The excellent performances on this Chandos recording, reissued in 2007 at budget price, bring the Scenario so fully to life that the images from the film flood back into the imagination – after all, isn’t that what Shakespeare’s own Prologue bids us do: “let vs ... / On your imaginarie Forces worke / ... And make imaginarie Puissance.”
Christopher Plummer delivers that exhortation from the Prologue in a manner worthy of Olivier himself at his declamatory best. Olivier, of course, did not speak the Prologue himself, but Plummer is equally at home in the master’s style in the words of Henry himself at Harfleur, Agincourt and the French Court.
Samuel West and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin recorded the Scenario for Radio 3 in 2001, a recording subsequently made available on the cover CD of BBC Music Magazine (MM215). Though Slatkin’s overall timing of 68:09 is close to Marriner’s 60:59, he gets there by very different means:
The Boar’s Head
“Touch her soft lips”
The Night Watch
“Upon the King”
The French Court

What is remarkable is not so much the fact that neither is consistently faster or slower than the other, but that they agree almost to the second in the four central sections and at the French Court – sections which are, to my mind, more successful in the film than Agincourt, for all one’s admiration for the making of that scene in an age long before CGI, and where the music so perfectly accords with the mood.
The Slatkin version is well worth obtaining if you happen to see a second-hand copy - it is, of course, no longer generally available - but the Chandos has a clear edge. Though Marriner’s Prologue clocks in at 21 seconds longer than Slatkin’s, it doesn’t take so long to come to life: Slatkin just sounds a little sluggish until his performance gets underway. Both handle the pseudo-bethan dance section well, but again Marriner just has the edge and he is more clearly recorded – the BBC recording is a shade backward. And when Samuel West speaks the Prologue, though he is closer to the way in which these lines are spoken in the film, he doesn’t quite match Plummer’s sheer impact. The choral contributions to both recordings are excellent but it is Plummer and Marriner who more clearly summon up the wonderful opening of the film, where the model of the Globe theatre segues into the scene on the stage at Olivier’s reconstruction of the playhouse – an imaginary reconstruction which, of course, predates the actual restoration of the Globe by several decades.
In the Boar’s Head section, Slatkin gets just the right mood – first, the drunken roll of the music and then the lament for Falstaff: I think he is just slightly more successful here than Marriner, assisted by West’s more feeling rendition of the words spoken by and about Falstaff and by his giving the music a little more time to breathe.
Thereafter the odds are all in favour of the Chandos recording, especially as Timothy West’s Harfleur speech is no match for Plummer’s – generally too quiet, and, when he does raise his voice, he tends too much towards shouting. Plummer gets this and the Agincourt speech just right. Both orchestras offer fine accounts of the Agincourt music, but it is Plummer who wins the day here again for Chandos.
There is also a version on Naxos (RTE Concert Orchestra/Andrew Penny 8.553343) which I haven’t heard but which has been well received in some quarters. From its listing on the Naxos website it appears to omit the important “Upon the King” section of the Harfleur music. With no coupling it is, therefore, rather short value at 54 minutes.
When I first saw Henry V, I didn’t know either the Farnaby piece or Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne; nowadays their appearance brings a moment of pleasant recognition and it is good to have them performed, together with the anonymous Watkin’s Ale, as appendices to the Chandos recording. I have to admit that I’m something of a sucker for 20th-century re-workings of earlier renaissance and baroque music – Respighi’s Gli Uccelli and Ancient Airs and Dances, for example – and Walton’s Shakespeare music certainly comes into that category, whether taken from music like the Farnaby, or composed in a pastiche of that style. How wonderfully Walton weaves that Canteloube into his score, the magic well captured on both recordings.
And what a rousing finale Walton’s updated Agincourt Carol makes. The film and the music were, of course, part of the wartime effort to boost morale and this musical finale certainly played its part.
I have already indicated that the Chandos sound is very good – slightly brighter and more forward than the BBC CD. I downloaded this and the other two Chandos recordings of Walton’s Shakespeare music, some tracks in mp3 format and some as lossless wma. As always with Chandos downloads, I found the mp3 more than acceptable and the wma fully up to CD standard. The only question, as always, is whether one wishes to take the time to download in view of the small savings to be made on Chandos’s budget-price recordings – often available for little more, and sometimes for slightly less than the download price, on CD.
On this occasion, downloading from eMusic would be a more economical proposition – thirteen tracks of your monthly allowance – but you get the original full-price cover shot, not the more attractive cover of the reissue. You can also get the Alto reissue of Walton’s own mono recording of Henry V (1946) coupled with the incomparable Pears/Sitwell Façade on eMusic but, as this amounts to 29 tracks, it’s cheaper to buy the super-budget CD. eMusic also offer the Delos recording of the Mathieson Suite conducted by James dePreist, and the Naxos recording of the Palmer Scenario.
classicsonline also offer mp3s of the dePreist and Naxos recordings; their price for the Chandos recording, £7.99, is actually more expensive than many online dealers are offering the CD – and, as with eMusic, you don’t get the notes, merely a high-res shot of the original full-price cover.
All three of the reissued Chandos recordings sound much better in whatever format, than the scratchy sound on the original films – even modern DVD re-masterings, which have much improved the picture, can’t do much for the thin sound.
I’ve mentioned those other Shakespeare scores, Richard III on CHAN10435X, coupled not entirely appropriately with music for Shaw’s Major Barbara, and Hamlet on CHAN10436X, coupled with the music for a performance of As You Like It. Both are equally recommendable, except for Sir John Gielgud’s disappointingly sub fusc rendition of Richard’s opening speech. Gielgud’s creamy tones just aren’t suited to Ricardian villainy, but we don’t even hear much of the cream here; probably it was a mistake to reverse Olivier’s decision to omit or reduce to inaudibility the music written to accompany this speech – it just drowns the actor out. Otherwise all is well on both these recordings – Gielgud is in much better form on the Hamlet CD – and they, too, may be recommended with confidence. All three rightly find a place on Ian Lace’s recommended list of film music recordings, under their original full-price catalogue numbers: at their new price they are even more worthwhile.
Brian Wilson


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