Now here’s an oddity: excerpts from ten of Alwyn’s
some two hundred or so film scores arranged for wind orchestra.
These suites and other extracts were specially commissioned
by the William Alwyn Foundation “in order to further the
music of William Alwyn to performers and audiences currently
not able to enjoy these, his lighter contributions.” Martin
Ellerby, who made the arrangements, states in his booklet note
that “the key principle, after making the most appropriate
cues, was to remain true to the composer and not add or subtract
any personal touches.”
Many of Alwyn’s earliest movie scores were written for
Second World War films and the scores for Desert victory,
The true glory and The way ahead lend themselves
to versions scored for military band - or wind orchestra, in
this instance. Some of the other works here are more problematic.
There are passages in this music which really cry out for lush
string tone. Despite most persuasive playing from the wind they
are unable to convince here. One notices this immediately in
the overture for The crimson pirate, a Hollywood-type
score if ever there was one. Two of the later scores here -
Swiss Family Robinson and In search of the castaways
- were commissioned by the Walt Disney company, who obviously
recognised the real thing when they heard it.
The music here falls readily into the category of “lighter
contributions”. The overture to The crimson pirate
is really a collection of short items, including a parody of
What shall we do with the drunken sailor which contrasts
with the more romantic episodes. There are plenty of similar
parodies in the music for The history of Mr Polly starting
with Mendelssohn for The wedding and proceeding to For
he’s a jolly good fellow. The darker side of H.G.
Wells’s story is rather short-changed but there is a nicely
romantic scene for Christabel - although again one misses
The suite from State secret opens with a Grand ball
which again really needs strings to convey the right sort of
atmosphere. The use of a wind band implies a rather less grand
occasion, a country fair perhaps. Similarly the waltz from The
million dollar note needs violins to bring out the right
sort of schmaltz.On the other hand the more brash
music for Swiss Family Robinson comes over well in the
wind band medium, and the track Ostriches and waterslides
is deliciously vulgar.
The true glory is a military march which fits the medium
of the wind orchestra like a glove, and the Scottish highland
sporting story Geordie makes further use of parodies.
The music for In search of the castaways has a Rumba
with an infectious Latin American flavour which comes over well
here. The music for Desert victory produced by the British
Army Film Unit is naturally suited to wind orchestral forces.
These recordings would all be most welcome as representations
of Alwyn’s scores, despite reservations about the suitability
of some of the music for re-scoring, were it not for the fact
that the suite from The history of Mr Polly has already
been recorded by Richard Hickox. The items here from The
million pound note,Swiss Family Robinson,The true
glory,Geordie,The crimson pirate,In search
of the castaways,State secret and Desert victory
were recorded by Rumon Gamba, in three CDs of Alwyn’s
film music again from Chandos. The only novelty here is therefore
the march from The way ahead, an enjoyable showpiece
for military band but hardly a major work. Indeed it is over
almost as soon as it has begun. The Chandos recordings
are in the original orchestral versions. It seems a shame, with
so very many of Alwyn’s film scores still unrecorded,
that less than two minutes of the music here is new to disc.
That said, newcomers to his music will enjoy this CD - which
does indeed give us a lighter side of Alwyn. Those familiar
with his opera Miss Julie or his five symphonies may
have been unprepared for such immediately attractive music.
All the items are extremely well played and buoyantly conducted
by the two directors concerned.
Paul Corfield Godfrey