As a teenager I was much more impressed by The Battle of
the River Plate than with The Red Shoes. In those
days television regularly showed old black-and-white films on
the three channels then available. Certainly the high-paced
action of John Gregson, Anthony Quayle and Patrick Macnee was
infinitely preferable to Moira Shearer and Leonide Massine in
a movie about ‘ballet.’ As a youngster I wanted
to join the Navy: I never wanted to be a ballet dancer. However,
I must confess that I do not recall the music as being an integral
part of either these films.
Life moves on: I never did join the Navy: however I have come
to enjoy ballet. With the advent of video and DVD it is possible
to watch these two films any time I choose. Ever since discovering
that Alan Rawsthorne wrote the music for The Cruel Sea
I have read the film credits looking to see who the composer
of the score was. As an aside, the number of times British films
involve Muir Mathieson is unbelievable. It was only quite recently
I noticed that Brian Easdale had written the score for The
It is no part of a review of film music to discuss the plots
and sub-plots of the film, if for no other reason than many
listeners may not have seen the movie. Plot spoilers are not
helpful. However four things need to be said about the score
to The Red Shoes.
Firstly, this is superb music that should be in the repertoire
of all orchestras alongside British ballet scores by Lord Berners,
Constant Lambert and William Walton. Secondly the score as realised
by John Wilson is actually quite short: some of the individual
elements are between one and two minutes long. Yet there is
a lot of musical activity packed into these nine sections. Thirdly
it is possible to play ‘hunt the influence’ here
to one’s heart’s content. Apart from the three above-mentioned
composers one can detect the sound-world of Arthur Bliss, Maurice
Ravel and Arnold Bax. However this is no criticism. These were
all composers of ballet masterworks and would surely have been
the stylistic model of any composer writing a film score about
a troupe of ballet dancers.
Finally, I have to make the only negative comment about this
entire CD. I wish Easdale had not used the ondes martenot. It
is an instrument that (for me) gives any music a kind of ‘Star
Trek’ feel that is unwarranted. I know that mine will
probably be a minority view on this issue. Yet, it does not
detract too much from what is a sumptuous and well ordered piece
of music. The mood is typically romantic with a sinister undertow.
The orchestration (ondes martenot notwithstanding) is totally
One of my discoveries of 2011 has been the short suite based
on music derived from the film Secrets of Kew Gardens.
This was one of Brian Easdale’s earliest contributions
to the world of film music. This documentary charts the course
of the seasons in the context of the work at the Royal Botanical
Gardens. Philip Lane has taken the original score which was
for chamber ensemble and has slightly expanded the orchestration.
The Suite is in four movements - an Introduction and Allegro,
Spring Flowers, Summer Sequence and a Finale.
The music is extremely attractive albeit short - it all seems
to be over far too soon. Easdale has managed to create an impressionistic
mood that is wholly English - without falling into Delian clichés.
This is especially evident in the shimmering Summer Sequence.
Neither has he succumbed to the temptation of folk-song. This
short suite is a superb standalone miniature that portrays one
of the most magical places in London with equally imaginative
and magical music.
Black Narcissus is not a film I would choose to watch,
although I concede that it was something of a hit when it appeared
on screens in 1947. I guess stories about ‘religious’
orders in faraway locations struggling with their sexuality
is just not my bag. However the music is a totally different
matter. The present suite has been realised for chorus and orchestra
and presents music taken from a number of key scenes from the
film. Easdale has created an exquisite score that reflects the
vastness and remoteness of the Himalayas where the action is
largely set. However two of the movements are actually flashbacks
to a time before one of the leading protagonists took holy orders.
The choral music in the Irish Song certainly pushes towards
an almost John Tavener-esque sound-world. It is heart-breakingly
beautiful. The interlude depicting Sister Ruth and Mr. Dean
is reflective. I did love the wild Hunting Song which
once again looks back to days spent in Ireland. This is impressive
choral writing of an almost Orffian kind! The final ‘death
scene’ is scary, but ultimately effective music.
Stylistically this music is an Aladdin’s cave of allusion.
The Editor notices Bax, Delius and Ravel. One could add a fair
few more. However, Easdale never writes pastiche or parodies.
Certainly it could have been a dangerous temptation to have
written some tacky music in the style of Albert Ketèlbey’s
In a Monastery Garden or In a Chinese Garden.
For the time it was composed, this was an advanced score: it
well deserves it place on this CD.
Although I accept that the music for The Battle of the River
Plate is not quite as impressive as Walton’s music
for The Battle of Britain, I find something quite dark
and menacing in both the Prelude and the March that is perhaps
less romantically overblown but has a touch of seriousness that
is entirely appropriate to the story the Graf Spee and its scuttling.
The Suite from Adventure On! is an absolute treat. This
is an impressionistic trip around the world that is both satisfying
and totally evocative of the places visited - without ever becoming
‘kitsch’. Phillip Lane in the liner-notes likens
this work to Jacques Ibert’s fine orchestral work Escales.
Its origins lay in a musical score for a documentary about Massey
Ferguson tractors. This trade-film naturally showed their machines
in operation in all corners of the world. Easdale recycled some
of this music and created a suite which was subtitled ‘A
musical progress for Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra’.
Places taken in on the tour include Africa, Aden, India and
a final progress from Malaya to Fiji. This is a long (20 minutes)
work that at times become almost symphonic in its scale and
scope: the orchestration is vivid and sensitive. All in all,
this is a wonderful discovery.
Perhaps it is better to lay the rather trivial plot of the film
Gone to Earth aside when listening to the suite derived
from the score. This is not always easy music to listen to.
For example The Hunt of the Death Pack is not a bucolic
idyll of huntsmen dressed in pink on a jolly. It is a man or
woman being chased to a literal death. Certainly the choral
writing in this piece at times nods towards a minimalistic mood
which is certainly surprising for a score written in 1950! There
is a little bit of sweetness and light in this music, yet most
of it is deep, profound and troubled. Listening to this suite
makes me wish that Easdale had contributed a symphony to the
repertoire. There is something inherently beautiful (in spite
of its troublesome nature) about much of this music that seems
to defy analysis and probably transcends the film for which
it was originally composed.
Like every other CD in the Chandos
Film Music series, the quality of production is excellent.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales plays these scores with
huge enthusiasm under conductor Rumon Gamba. The programme notes
are helpful, in spite of some hard-to-read white text superimposed
on grey photographs. However, the selection of historical photographs
of the composer and also a number of stills from the films make
this an attractive all-round production. Finally, all British
music enthusiasts owe a tremendous debt to Philip Lane for his
sterling work in producing performing editions of these film
scores. Without his sheer hard work most of this music would
go unheard, except on rare re-runs of these films on TV or in
DVD players. However, John Wilson must also be congratulated
on preparing the score for The Red Shoes. All in all,
this is a tremendous achievement.
And finally, what of Manchester-born Brian Easdale (1909-1995)?
It would be easy to assume that he was merely a film-music composer.
Yet his catalogue covers a wide range of interesting and tantalising
pieces. There are the three operas, Rapunzel, The
Corn King and The Sleeping Children. Certainly his
orchestral music could make an attractive Dutton Epoch release
and would include Five Pieces for Orchestra, Six Poems and Tone
Poem. And then there is the Concerto Lyrico for piano
and orchestra. There are also chamber works, songs, organ and
piano pieces. Finally, one major desideratum must be the Missa
This present excellent CD must surely act as a catalyst for
a deeper exploration of Easdale’s music.
see also review by Rob
Barnett and the article by Philip