Brian EASDALE (1909-1995)
The Red Shoes - Ballet (1948) [15:39]
Kew Gardens - Suite for Chamber Orchestra (1936) [6:49]
Black Narcissus - Suite for Chorus and Orchestra (1947) [13:55]
The Battle of the River Plate - Prelude and March for Orchestra (1956) [5:44]
Adventure On!- Suite for Orchestra - A musical progress for Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra (1957) [19:00]
Gone to Earth - Suite for Chorus and Orchestra (1950) [14:49]
BBC National Chorus of Wales/Adrian Partington
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba
Cynthia Millar (ondes martenot) (Red Shoes)
rec. BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales, 8-10 March 2010
CHANDOS CHAN 10636 [76:42]

I have long hoped for a Brian Easdale volume in Chandos’s opulent film music series. Alongside Allan Gray (1902-1973), Manchester-born Easdale was the favoured composer of director duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Archers).

People know something of his music for the ballet fantasy film The Red Shoes. It sounds superb here in a fifteen minute sequence of eight tracks. The score is a sumptuous mélange of Ravel, Bax and Copland. It’s a cool sequence deserving to take its place alongside the Lambert and Bliss ballet scores. It’s notable amongst other things for the presence of an ondes martenot in nightmare Presto section and even more delightfully in the Ravel-like triumphant sunrise of the Allegro assai. The instrument is most eloquently played by Cynthia Millar who is no stranger having played her instrument on the Varèse Sarabande CD (704 260) of Rozsa’s Spellbound Concerto. The sequence ends rather lamely but most of the music is of high quality. The four movement Suite from Kew Gardens is a luxuriously warm and lambently Baxian affair with Spring Fire, a certain Faun and Daphnis not far away amid the utopian wind solos and cascades. The Finale is a good track to sample. Black Narcissus is a great film whose overall impact is immeasurably enhanced by Easdale’s music. This again is in Ravel and Bax mode but with more triumph and melodrama than in anything else featured here. The writing for choir is Delian, most beautifully taken by the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The sung wordless syllables are printed in the booklet. The music also takes on a mystical oriental tinge without tipping over into Ketèlbey hokum. The restful dreamscape of Sister Ruth and Mr Dean is followed by the galloping Hunting Song which sounds half Gaelic with echoes here of the more animated segments of Grainger’s Jungle Book and of Bantock’s Gaelic Symphony. We return to the urgency of Daphnis for The Death of Sister Ruth with that vertiginous cliff-edge and bell-tower evoked with musical colours so garish that they recall the intensity of the Presto from The Red Shoes. The Prelude and March from The Battle of the River Plate is suitably stirring and storm-tossed but the melodic material is not out of the top drawer. It’s not a patch on another neglected British march by that overlooked Brit, Frank Cordell (1918-1980) whose unpromisingly titled Hellboats (1970) is a cracking example of the march genre. Mind you it is well past time that we heard the concert marches (Pennine Way, County Palatine, Watling Street and Beaufighters) of another British composer, Maurice Johnstone. With the exception of the Adventure On! sequence everything here appears in painstakingly prepared performing editions by John Wilson. Adventure On! is a snappy concert sequence as prepared by the composer for Barbirolli who in 1955 had conducted the premiere of Easdale’s Concerto Lyrico for piano and orchestra at the Cheltenham Festival. It’s a vivid travelogue that incorporates atmospheric genre pictures of Africa, Aden (a wide and handsome seascape recalled in the finale), the India (wispy-hypnotic) and Malaya to Fiji (using a wave pattern that for me recalls the music for Lambert’s Merchant Seamen). Philip Lane in his note finds some parallels with Ibert’s Escales and it’s an apt reference. Mary Webb’s Shropshire pastoral novels were at one time very popular and can still be found in precariously surviving secondhand bookshops. Her rustic literary style was parodied in Cold Comfort Farm but her novels have been treated with greater respect - though with not quite as much fun - on film and TV: Janet McTeer’s Prue in the BBC’s adaptation of Precious Bane in 1985 was memorable. The extensive seven episode suite from the film score for Gone to Earth includes a whimsically urbane Shropshire County Fair but this is untypical of a powerfully gloom-laden, angst-wracked and cloud-hung pastoral gallery. The tension is high in the finale which inventively spins together voices for choir, hoarsely troubled solo violin and full orchestra. Easdale included songs in the film score and plucked these out for his Mary Webb Garland for voice and piano.

Philip Lane wrote the liner-notes which are essential reading. These are lent special interest by the six images of Easdale. Also, as usual, Chandos do not stint on stills from the movies – there are four here.

Easdale’s rewarding film music is given Chandos’s full regal panoply. Fans of the genre and of music of the British musical renaissance in general should lose no time in getting this wonderfully done, well annotated and decidedly generous collection.

Rob Barnett

Easdale’s rewarding film music is given Chandos’s full regal panoply.