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The Film Music of Arthur Benjamin and Leighton Lucas
Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960)
Suite from The Conquest of Everest (1953) [9:34]
The Storm Clouds Cantata from The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) [7:44]
Waltz and Hyde Park Galop from An Ideal Husband (1947) [7:11]
Leighton LUCAS (1903-1982)
Portrait of the Amethyst from Yangtse Incident (1957) [6:49]
Dedication from Portrait of Clare (1950) [3:38]
Prelude and Dam Blast from The Dam Busters (1954) [5:15]
Stage Fright Rhapsody from Stage Fright (1950) [4:54]
Suite from Ice Cold in Alex (1958) [9:19]
This Is York (1953) [9:26]
March-Prelude from Target for Tonight (1941) [3:04]
Abigail Sara (mezzo); Rob Court (organ)
Côr Caerdydd/Adrian Partington; Gwawr Owen
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba
rec. BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales, 3-5 October 2011. DDD
Full Track-List at end of review
CHANDOS CHAN 10713 [67:58]

Experience Classicsonline



Virtually every music-lover has heard Arthur Benjamin’s Jamaican Rumba in one of its many guises. Fewer, alas, will have engaged with his orchestral and chamber works. However recent releases from Dutton Epoch and Lyrita have brought to the attention of the public a number of important works which have redefined the composer as being much more than a ‘one hit wonder’. However, a significant part of Benjamin’s music has been in the public domain for many years, although relatively few will have equated them together. Benjamin was an important and prolific film music composer. Beginning in 1934 with the score for the production of The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon he composed the music for some twenty films. These included Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man who knew too much (1934 and 1956), Alexander Korda’s An Ideal Husband (1947), Above us the Waves (1956) and A Tale of Two Cities (1959/60). Amongst the many scores Benjamin composed for ‘shorts’ and documentaries were Steps of the Ballet, This Modern Age and The Conquest of Everest. Some of these have become classics and others have disappeared into the archives and may be given occasional airings. Unfortunately, few of his film music scores have survived.
 
A detailed biography of the composer by Pamela Blevins can be found on MusicWeb International. The site also carries a further account of his life and music. Arthur Benjamin was born in Sydney, Australia in 1903 and died in London in 1960.
 
The first tranche of music presented on this CD is derived from the supremely optimistic score for The Conquest of Everest: this has been realised as a suite by Marcus A. Caratelli. The original documentary was made to celebrate the reaching of the summit in Coronation Year (1953) by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The film considered the various attempts made over the years to conquer the mountain. The present Suite has touches of Vaughan Williams, William Walton and, as Rob Barnett has pointed out, Korngold. It is really all ‘Boys Own’ stuff.
 
The next Benjamin score is from the 1934 film The Man who knew too much starring Edna Best, Leslie Banks and Peter Lorre. The story is about a man and his wife who received information about an assassination attempt on a VIP. They soon discover that their daughter has been kidnapped to keep them quiet. The present extract is the Storm Cantata which occurs at the climax of the film. Rob Barnett has noted the influence of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast which was first heard three years previously. In the 1956 remake of the film, the composer Bernard Hermann retained this music in his own score.
 
The two short extracts from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (1947) conclude the exploration of Arthur Benjamin’s film music. The ‘Waltz’ is a lovely example of the genre that is more English than Viennese. The ‘Galop’ is pure fun- a fine romp. It is used as a kind of leitmotif whenever Hyde Park appears in the film. These two pieces were salvaged by the composer from the film score and were re-presented for the concert hall. Bernard Herrmann recorded them for Decca in the 1970s (review).
 
What is true for Arthur Benjamin’s reputation is even more pertinent to the almost totally forgotten Leighton Lucas. I first came to his music through the fine brass band piece Symphonic Suite for Brass Band, which is a masterpiece. Other sporadic CD releases presented his Clarinet Concerto and ballet suite Ballet de la reine. Amongst his symphonic repertoire which remains to be discovered are the Sonatina concertante for saxophone and orchestra (1939), the Suite française (1940) and a Cello Concertino dating from 1956. However a brief look at the Internet Movie Database shows that he wrote the music for twenty one films. Many of them are ‘household names’ such as Stage Fright, Ice Cold in Alex, Target for Tonight and the Yangtse Incident. He also composed the music to a number of documentary films including the evocative This is York.
 
For the curious, Leighton Lucas was born in 1903 and came to prominence as a member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe (1918-21) and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre a couple of years later. His main occupation was conducting. After war service in the Royal Air Force he continued his career of composing and conducting alongside educational work with the BBC. He died in London in 1982. A certain generation will recall, unwittingly perhaps, his title music for the radio series Just William.
 
The first score from Leighton Lucas on this disc is the The Yangtse Incident starring Richard Todd and William Hartnell. This is a true story about an incident in 1949 when a British warship, HMS Amethyst, came under fire from the Communist Chinese on the Yangtse River. The Suite is in three parts – the gorgeous quiet ‘theme’ is followed by a hornpipe. The selection concludes with the Amethyst March which incorporates ‘Hearts of Oak’ and other naval references. A great film with excellent music. In 2010 Dutton issued a CD including a 1950s recording of music from this film.
 
The 1950 film Portrait of Clare has been lost in the mists of time, and from what reviewers said, it is probably just as well. Lucas took a number of nineteenth-century songs and piano pieces and orchestrated them. The present example is Robert Schumann’s Widmung from the song-cycle Myrthen. It is a good transcription and one hopes that some of the other pieces may follow suit.
 
Everyone (I hope) knows that Eric Coates wrote the fine Dam Buster’s March. However, fewer folk will realise that Leighton Lucas actually produced the score for the film and incorporated Coates’ legendary tune into the proceedings. Lucas also composed his own ‘big tune’ and this is often heard in competition with the more famous melody as the film progresses.
 
Stage Fright was a film produced by Alfred Hitchcock in 1950. It is a crime story about a struggling actress and her efforts to prove the innocence of a friend who has been accused of murdering a high society entertainer. It has a big cast-list including Marlene Dietrich, Alastair Sim and Richard Todd. The music nearly, but not quite, becomes Leighton Lucas’s Warsaw Concerto. It is romantic, well written and finely scored. Just a pity he did not produce a Piano Concerto!
 
Ice Cold in Alex tells the tale of a group of military personnel who make a long and arduous journey across the desert during the Second World War. It stars Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms and John Mills. The title is derived from Mills’ character dreaming of an ice-cold beer on reaching the sea port of Alexandria. The present suite begins with the Prelude, continues with the very romantically scored love-scene between Mills and Syms: this is music that is more at home in the Hollywood than in the desert. The Suite concludes with a march in the very best tradition.
 
The music for the British Transport Film production of This is York is one of the best scores for this type of now-nostalgic documentary. The film tells the story of a day in the life of York railway station, although there are scenes in the town and further afield. It is seen through the eyes of the station-master. This is at times an almost impressionistic score that also has a very good locomotive sound created by the orchestra that is as impressive as Honegger’s Pacific 231. According to the liner-notes, this is the only full film score by Leighton Lucas to have surfaced so far.
 
The CD ends with the ‘March-Prelude’ from the 1941 film Target for Tonight. This film described the preparation for an air raid over Germany. Interestingly, each part in the documentary was played by the man or woman who actually did the job, although names were changed for security reasons. This short piece combines a number of themes from the film with the excellent march tune. It definitely nods to Walton more than to Eric Coates. I guess it is just a bit too short to really get into, but is enjoyable all the same.
 
As with all the Chandos Film music series discs this is a superb achievement. When one bears in mind that most of the music presented here has been arranged, transcribed or written down from hearing the soundtracks one realises just how much work has gone into making this CD the success it is. All the music is beautifully played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and their conductor on this occasion, Rumon Gamba. This selection of tunes is surely a good distillation of the full film scores. The sound quality is excellent. As always the sleeve-notes are excellent – however, please Chandos do not use white text over pictures of grey backgrounds. It is very difficult to read. However the large number of ‘stills’ from the films makes a fascinating commentary on the music.
 
One can only hope that this CD will encourage performers and record producers further to explore the music of Arthur Benjamin and Leighton Lucas.

John France

See also the review by Rob Barnett

Chandos Movies review page

Full Track-List
Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960)
premiere recording
Suite from 'The Conquest of Everest' (1953) 9:34
Reconstructed by Marcus A. Caratelli
Orchestrated by Marcus A. Caratelli and Christoph Schürmann
1 I Title Music - 1:50
2 II Walls that Surpass the Imagination - 0:46
3 III The Great Lift - 2:27
4 IV Top of the World and Final Bars 4:30
5 The Storm Clouds Cantata from 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' (1934) 7:44
Edited by Philip Lane
Abigail Sara mezzo-soprano
Rob Court organ
Côr Caerdydd
Adrian Partington guest chorus master
Gwawr Owen conductor
Waltz and Hyde Park Galop from 'An Ideal Husband' (1947) 7:11
6 I Waltz 5:30
7 II Hyde Park Galop 1:41
Leighton Lucas (1903-1982)
Portrait of the Amethyst from 'Yangtse Incident' (1957) 6:49
Reconstructed by Philip Lane
premiere recording
8 1 Theme - 1:12
Sarah-Jayne Porsmoguer cor anglais
premiere recording
9 2 Hornpipe 1:51
premiere recording in this version
10 3 The Amethyst March 3:45
premiere recording in this version
11 Dedication from 'Portrait of Clare' (1950) 3:38
Arrangement by Leighton Lucas of 'Widmung' from Myrthen, Op. 25 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
premiere recording in this version
12 Prelude and Dam Blast from 'The Dam Busters' (1954) 5:15
Reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane
13 Stage Fright Rhapsody from 'Stage Fright' (1950) 4:54
Reconstructed by Philip Lane
Catherine Roe-Williams piano
Suite from 'Ice Cold in Alex' (1958) 9:19
Reconstructed by Philip Lane
premiere recording
14 1 Prelude 2:08
premiere recording
15 2 Love Scene 4:21
premiere recording in this version
16 3 March 2:48
premiere recording
This Is York (1953) 9:26
Edited by Malcolm Riley
17 Opening Titles - 1:47
18 Setting the Path - Diagram Lights - 1:51
19 Thornton-le-Dale - 1:30
20 Smoking Engine - Pan across York - Committee Room - Portraits - Railway Museum 4:17
premiere recording in this version
21 March-Prelude from 'Target for Tonight' (1941) 3:04
Reconstructed by Philip Lane

 


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