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George MARTIN (1926-2016)
The Film Scores and Original Orchestral Music
The Pepperland Suite (1968) [9:41]
Live and Let Die Suite (1973) [8:37]
Three American Sketches for violin and chamber orchestra [14:45]
Judy’s Theme [2:15]
Under Milk Wood Overture (1988) [6:16]
Belle Étoile (1969) [2:16]
Waltz in D minor for flute and chamber orchestra [2:44]
Prelude for Strings [3:25]
The Mission Chorales (1985) [13:41]
Berlin Music Ensemble and Choir/Craig Leon
rec. 2017, Meistersaal, Emil Berliner Studios, Berlin

After war service George Martin, later to become dubbed the ‘Fifth Beatle’, studied for three years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with the encouragement of Sidney Harrison. On leaving, he began his career with EMI’s Parlophone rapidly succeeding his mentor, Oscar Preuss, who had retired. Using his Guildhall experience Martin turned his hand to orchestral arrangements for the label and one of them can be heard in this enterprising and consistently enjoyable album of his film scores and original compositions. It’s the Prelude for Strings – Martin’s arrangement of Bach’s Prelude in E flat minor, BWV853 from the Well-Tempered Clavier - an attractive and restrained work for string orchestra suited to growing unease with Klenovsky (step forward Henry Wood) or Stokowski-sized giganticism.

By the time of The Pepperland Suite, he had signed The Beatles. The five brief tracks are original music for the film Yellow Submarine, the opening of which is lusciously fresh, but elsewhere one feels the influence of diverse sources; Herrmann, Stravinsky, Prokofiev. There’s witty use of silence in the aptly named Sea of Holes, as well as deft utilisation of percussion. But there’s also an unbuttoned dance in Sea of Monsters.

From the Bond score Live and Let Die we have four tracks. Whisper Who Dares catches the musical zeitgeist with wa-wa guitar, a rock beat and big band bravado a-plenty. There are spills and thrills galore in this score and an appropriately Haitian influence and percussion battery too. The Three American Sketches was originally written for harmonica and string quartet, and then rearranged for guitar (John Williams) and quartet. This new arrangement for violin and chamber orchestra, finely played by concertmaster Cornelius Katzer, is by conductor Craig Leon and works well. There’s a bit of Western Swing and Bluegrass for the soloist in the opening movement, old school languorous romanticism for Boston, the central panel, and rhythmically zesty songfulness for New York, New York.

His 1988 incidental music to Under Milk Wood contains an introduction, love duet and Waldo’s Song; brief but effective. There are smaller pieces such as Judy’s Song, a beautiful piece - Martin’s Salut d’amour - and named for his wife. There’s a first recording of the charming and characterful Belle Étoile as well a premiere recording of the original sketches Martin wrote for the film The Mission. He was unable to finish the score due to scheduling complications and it was famously taken over by Ennio Morricone. In 2005 he crafted a concert piece called The Mission Chorales. It consists of a Prelude, two interspersed Interludes and seven chorales. This is a most attractive piece and reaches heights in the beautiful first interlude, the very English sounding third chorale, in the role for solo soprano in the sixth chorale, and in the St Matthew Passion evocations of the final chorale.

If you’ve yet to encounter Martin’s music, I can guarantee that it’s in safe hands with the Berlin Music Ensemble, its Choir and the various named soloists. Leon conducts with style and the recording and notes are first-class. The programme may be rather bitty but that’s often the name of the game with film music.

Jonathan Woolf

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