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Gerard SCHURMANN (b.1924)
The Film Music
Dr Syn, alias The Scarecrow - Suite for Orchestra (1963) [20:49]
Konga - Suite for Orchestra (1961) [4:23]
Claretta - Suite for Orchestra (1984) [9:25]
The Ceremony - Suite for Orchestra (1963) [16:32]
Tailing the Suspect from The Long Arm (1956) [1:48]
Horrors of the Black Museum - Suite for Orchestra (1959) [5:18]
The Gambler - Suite for Orchestra (1997) [15:48]
Attack on the Iron Coast - Main Title (1967) [3:21]
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. 2018, MediaCity UK, Salford
CHANDOS CHAN10979 [77:23]

Gerard Schurmann was born in Indonesia of Dutch parents and moved to England when he was four years of age. He wrote film scores alongside his concert music - a far from uncommon practice. His apprenticeship in the world of cinema was served as assistant to Alan Rawsthorne, notably in the music for Captive Heart (review review). He also collaborated and worked on a sub-contract basis with Arthur Benjamin (Conquest of Everest), orchestrating for Mario Nascimbene in his The Vikings and for others in Lawrence of Arabia and Exodus. This disc, “as near as dammit” filled to capacity, concerns itself with his original work on films, largely from the fifties and sixties - a period of golden screen vintage.

Rumon Gamba, now very much a welcome fixture in this Chandos series, immerses the listener in the longest sequence here: eight movements from Dr Syn, alias The Scarecrow. With some typically Rawsthorne-like yearning figuration we start with Brandy Smugglers on the Beach, and Chase. That imprint of the older composer is apparent also in Tailing the Suspect (tr. 21). Schurmann finds inspiration that is movingly romantic, gentle and sinister in Squire Banks and his Family from the Dr Syn music. The rampantly exciting Flight from the King's Men is an Allegro con fuoco and strangling tendrils of tension are the order of the day in Smugglers Ambushed. The last track is Farewell which is a shiningly romantic Moderato - Adagio - Allargando molto shot through with nobility.

The two movements that make up Konga are serious yet serene and the first of them seems to have taken some inspiration from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. The Suite from the score for Claretta (from the 1980s) is quiet, reflective and gentle with elements of brooding and, on occasion, waltz-inclined. The sixteen-minute, six- section suite from The Ceremony is at first decisively turbulent with a touch of Falla’s Tricorne. This mood, and something more disturbing, reappears in the final segment: Prison Revolt. Much of the music in between gradually moves into subtler and more exotic territory and this is underscored by the contribution, on two tracks, from Anthony Robb’s deftly played recorders and Indian flute.

Horrors of the Black Museum from 1959 is in two chapters: Main Titles and London Traffic combines the hustle of the streets with horror. Here the composer momentarily suggested is Stravinsky (Petrushka). Schurmann, working faithfully to script, then delivers the clear suggestion of gruesome doings but this aspect is mixed with tense atmosphere. The most recent film represented is The Gambler (1997). This appears here in five panels with a gamelan patter in Carriage Ride and Sunrise and otherwise a gentle face and a degree of sentiment. It’s not as sentimental as Arnold’s music for David Copperfield but is certainly touching. Attack on the Iron Coast (1967) is Schurmann’s most notable war film - a pre-D-Day commando ‘romp’ starring Lloyd Bridges. What we get to hear from this is the Attack part of the short concert work he wrote in 1972 called Attack and Celebration.

Schurmann’s filmography also includes The Two-Headed Spy (1958), The Third Key (1957), The Camp on Blood Island (1958), The Man in the Sky (1961), Cone of Silence (1960), The Bedford Incident (1965), Smuggler’s Rhapsody (1963), and Lost Continent (1968) so there should be more than enough of a harvest for a second Chandos volume. Among previous film music CDs, once available, there are his Attack and Celebration which was recorded complete by Kenneth Alwyn and the Philharmonia on FILMCD072 and a complete CD (Cloud Nine CNS5005) of OST extracts from Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), Cone of Silence (1960), The Long Arm (1956), The Bedford Incident (1965) and Konga (1961).

His concert and chamber works have, I am very pleased to say, appeared in numbers on Toccata but do not forget his cello concerto The Gardens of Exile (Silver Screen) CD. Also lurking in the Chandos back catalogue are two other Schurmann CDs: Concerto for Orchestra and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (CHAN 9915, 2001) conducted by the composer and Variants and Six Studies of Francis Bacon (CHAN 9167, 1979).

I have my fingers crossed that there will be later volumes in this series and, apart from proposing another Schurmann disc, would suggest Frank Cordell (1918-1980) as a very strong and vividly imaginative contender. He wrote the scores for Khartoum, Mosquito Squadron, Cromwell, Flight from Ashiya and Ring of Bright Water.

Schurmann’s wife, the singer Carolyn Nott, provides the very extensive and interesting programme notes. These are nothing less than illuminated by handsome stills from these films and from the composer’s portfolio; definitely not the “usual suspects”. The recording is nothing short of superb and not just in the loud and spectacular but also in the quiet, gentle and emotive music. Credit as usual to producer Mike George and engineer Stephen Rinker.

Rob Barnett

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