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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Film Music – Collectors’ Edition
CD 1
Scott of the Antarctic Suite* (1948)
Coastal Command Suite (1942)
The People’s Land (1943)
CD 2
49th Parallel (1940) >
The Dim Little Island (1949) +
The England of Elizabeth (1955) <
CD 3
The Story of a Flemish Farm T (1942)
The Loves of Joanna Godden^ (1946)
Bitter Springs (1950)
Merryn Gamba (soprano)*, Jonathan Scott (organ)*, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus*, Emily Gray (soprano)>, Martin Hindmarsh (tenor)+
Chethams Chamber Choir>+<, Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir^
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 12, 21 March 2002, (CD1); 30 September - 1 October 2003 (CD2); 22-23 June 2005. DDD
CHANDOS MOVIES CHAN10529-31 [3 CDs: 78.30 + 70:47 + 66:37]


Experience Classicsonline

It was an inspired move by Chandos to issue this wallet set of their three definitive RVW film music CDs. It’s a slim box - capacious enough to take three stiff card sleeves and three booklets looking as if they might have been gathered from stocks intended for the individual discs. There is in fact a difference: the three separate booklets carry the number of the box but otherwise they appear to be identical to those that came with the jewel case originals issued steadily between 2002 and 2005. While true enthusiasts may well have no need for this box having bought the full price discs when they first came out many others will be pleased to add rising four hours of new or newly polished RVW in inspiring and powerfully vivacious sound: nine scores in total - three on each of the three discs. 

Everything is most handsomely done. Recording quality is well up to the usual Chandos gold standard. The booklets are very desirably designed and include stills from the films. The annotation is thorough and Michael Kennedy is the author. There are also comments from a key player in this project, Stephen Hogger who has done so much precise and practical work in editing and preparing scores and performing materials. His attentive hand is in evidence for seven of the nine scores represented here and those seven all receive premiere recordings. Also at the crux of the whole Chandos British film music series are the intrepid BBC Philharmonic and Rumon Gamba. In fact only a handful of the Chandos film series have used other orchestras and conductors. 

There is great variety in this set and many unfamiliar moments. Take volume 1 and the music for Scott of the Antarctic. Ship's Departure (tr.5) is marked by a Sally Army 'tin tabernacle' recessional. This is followed by the shiver and chill of the ice floes with chortling cor anglais. Several moments recall Holst's Planets. Ten of the eighteen Scott tracks are world premiere recordings. The Coastal Command suite is colourfully despatched. The music is familiar both from Silva Screen and Marco Polo. No such familiarity in the case of the 13 minute single movement revival of RVW's music for The People's Land - a celebration of the work of the National Trust and through its love affair with landscape a natural for Vaughan Williams' pastoral vein. Rather a pity that this score is in a single compacted rhapsodic movement. It would have been good to be able to tie in the music with the scenes portrayed: Dover, Lake District, West Wycombe, Bodiam Castle, cliffs and pastures, lakes and sea visions. The film was made in 1942 with commentary by Freddie Grisewood. The music is full of folk references and one of the most glowing of these relates to the composer’s opera Sir John in Love

Onwards to Volume 2. The 49th Parallel music is varied and proves rewarding well beyond the wonderful Prelude. The film tells the tale of a Nazi U-boat crew stranded in Canada and trying to make it to the then neutral USA. There’s more than whiff of propaganda about it – nobility too. RVW essays music for native American Indians across three tracks. Gamba rather hurries along the Prelude and closing titles just a shade too rushed for my liking; I need something a shade more sentimental. While many tracks are signature RVW several are not. They would make good quiz material. Try the oompah ball dance for Winnipeg II

Dim Little Island is a lovely sequence of continuous music which is classically pastoral and tenderly evocative. This 1949 ‘short’ by the Central Office of Information was designed as a rejoinder to the suggestion that four years after the war England was slipping into mediocrity. The Variants on Dives and Lazarus is used in extenso and the folk song itself is sung by Martin Hindmarsh. 

The England of Elizabeth music will be known to older collectors through the sequence that Previn recorded in the late 1960s as an adjunct to his cycle of the symphonies. The music was written at the same time as the Eighth Symphony and also makes play with an extended percussion section as can be heard in Treasures. The Stratford movement is a gem with its opening harp ostinato and lyric English string theme recalling the great melody in the Sixth Symphony’s first movement. The extended suite used here is across five movements. It is splendidly New Elizabethan in its antique Tudor and pastoral-pensive moments. 

The rarest material is reserved for Volume 3. It is good to hear the music for The Story of a Flemish Farm in such good sound at last. Its pages include clear recollections or fore-shadowings of Pilgrim’s Progress. Dawn in the Old Barn certainly recalls in its cooling writing for flute The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. The Loves of Joanna Godden is once again in the single quarter hour sequence favoured by Mr Hogger. It bubbles and sings in the full flood of English pastoral mode. Bitter Springs is reflects a trek in the Australian outback. The seething and threatening energy of Vaughan Williams at his least avuncular is reflected in the screeching Round-Up. This score can loosely be grouped with that for anther Australian epic of the post-war era: Ireland's The Overlanders which has been truly splendidly done recently by John Wilson and the Hallé on Hallé CD HL 7523. 

Here is a stylish, passionately engaged, instant, compact and economical way of getting an appreciation of Vaughan Williams' ‘war work’ - as the composer termed it – as well as the scores he produced in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I fervently hope that Chandos will give us the complete incidental music he wrote for the BBC adaptation of Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge and then turn to the composer’s other music written for radio productions.

Rob Barnett

Links to reviews of separate volumes in Chandos RVW film series:

Vol. 1

Vol. 2

Vol. 3




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