William Walton and Laurence Olivier first met in 1936 when Olivier co-starred
in Paul Czinner's production of As You Like It with Elizabeth Bergner,
Czinner's wife. In 1943 Olivier decided to put his Henry V on film
and approached Walton to write the music. This was the first of three films
on which Walton and Olivier collaborated together; the others were
Hamlet, written in 1947 and released in 1948, and Richard III in
1955. The association was a happy one and Olivier said of Walton's music.
'I have always said that if it was not for the music, Henry V would not have
been the success it was.'
Hamlet contained about fifty minutes of music from which Muir Mathieson,
musical director of the film and a long-standing friend of the composer,
edited two concert works: an orchestral poem called "Hamlet and
Ophelia", and the "Funeral March", containing music from the opening
and closing titles. Malcolm Sargent also collected and arranged isolated
fanfares into a piece entitled Fanfare for a Great Occasion. In her
book William Walton, Behind the Façade Susana, Lady
Walton, lists the score of Hamlet (with a few exceptions) as one of Walton's
missing scores. Nevertheless, the late Christopher Palmer, who served Walton
so well as an arranger, has given us a forty-minute work entitled Hamlet
(A Shakespeare Scenario in Nine Movements for Large Orchestra). These
movements are 'Prelude;' 'Fanfare and Soliloquy,' in which Michael Sheen
ably recreates the 'O! that this too too solid flesh would melt.' soliloquy;
'The Ghost;' 'Hamlet and Ophelia;' 'The Question,' which incorporates 'To
be or not to be;' again spoken by Michael Sheen; 'The Mousetrap;' 'The
Players-Entry of the Court;' 'The Play;' 'Ophelia's Death;' 'Retribution
and Threnody;' and 'Finale (Funeral March)'. Some have called this music
'even finer than its predecessor, especially in the delicate use of motifs
such as the poignant theme associated with Ophelia' (Gilliam Widdicombe,
1984, sleeve notes to the EMI LP entitled William Walton, Music for
Shakespeare Films). I cannot agree, considering Henry V to be
one of the finest of all film scores, but am profoundly grateful to have
this music to add to the Walton discography.
All of the music in Hamlet displays the tragic nature of Shakespeare's play.
'The Ghost' is highly effective and eerie, as Hamlet becomes more agitated
and bent on revenge, and the final moments of the Queen's retelling of Ophelia's
death are decidedly poignant. The suite concludes with a threnody to those
who have died and the 'Finale'-a dead march which incorporates elements of
the opening Prelude.
The surprise on this CD was the suite from As You Like It, the second
of four films Walton scored for Paul Czinner. The five movements of Christopher
Palmer's suite (subtitled A Poem for Orchestra after Shakespeare),
arranged in 1989 and played without break, are 'Prelude,' 'Moonlight,' 'Under
the Greenwood Tree,' 'The Fountain,' and 'The Wedding Procession.' Appropriately
satirical and pastoral, suiting the mood of the play, this is charming music
written shortly after the completion of Walton's monumental 1st symphony.
The French horn is effectively used in 'Moonlight,' which features exquisite
use of key changes to suggest shifting light textures against a nocturnal
background. Under the Greenwood Tree, omitted from the film, is restored
here as the third movement sung by an unnamed soprano. 'The Fountain' depicts
a delicate fountain, growing livelier, leading to the final 'Wedding Procession,'
the sort of music at which Walton excels, as he was later to show in the
'Crown Imperial' and 'Orb and Sceptre' marches and such
works as 'The Johannesburg Festival Overture.' This is splendid and
unexpected Walton-a real find.
Andrew Penny and the RTÉ (Radio Telefís Éireann) Concert
Orchestra give a good accounting on this fine CD. My only quibble would be
the soprano in 'Under the Greenwood Tree,' whose voice was perhaps not quite
up to the quality of the orchestral accompaniment and why I awarded
four-and-a-half stars instead of five.