November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Symphony No. 6 / Film Music
Scott of the Antarctic, Coastal Command, 49th Parallel, The Story of a Flemish Farm, The Loves of Joanna Godden
 Symphony performed by the LSO, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult; Film Music conducted by Muir Mathieson and Ernest Irving, performed by various orchestras
 Pearl GEM 0107 [65:15]; Symphony No.6: 32:46, plus 32:29 minutes of film music.

The film music on this CD comes from five productions, from Vaughan-Williams' first film score in 1941, 49th Parallel (sometimes shown as The Invaders), to 1948's Scott of the Antarctic. The recordings were all originally issued as 78's and although it is not absolutely clear, all appear to have been specially re-recorded for commercial release, rather than being the original soundtracks.

The stirring main title music from 49th Parallel is probably Vaughan-Williams' most frequently re-recorded film theme, so it is exciting to find the more expansive, reflective arrangement of the same melody which accompanied the 'Epilogue'. Coastal Command (1942), is represented by two cues, the 'Prelude' and 'The Sunderland Goes in Close'. This is memorable music from the wartime RAF documentary, and is suitably patriotic and noble in tone, though a much more extensive suite can be enjoyed on the 1993 album Vaughan-Williams Film Music (Marco Polo 8.223665). The same applies to the music for the 1943 war drama, The Story of a Flemish Farm. On the current disc we have just the 'Dawn Scene', a delicate, pastoral love scene, while the Marco Polo disc offers a seven-movement suite. This score is particularly interesting not just for the quality of the music, which is very high, but for providing some of the elements that VW would expand into the Symphony No. 6.

Due to the unavailability elsewhere (although oddly, the very same tracks have been simultaneously issued on Pearl's British Film Music Vol. 1, which I also review this month on FMOTW) the composer's music for Scott of the Antarctic is of especial interest. This is the composer's most famous score, for his most important film, and of even greater significance for inspiring his Symphony No. 7, Sinfonia Antarctica. Here is the very rare opportunity to hear the music in original film form, in a seven part, eight-minute suite recorded in 1949 by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Ernest Irving. For those familiar with the Sinfonia Antarctica it is quite disconcerting to hear these versions, but it is a fascinating thing nonetheless, with so many of the key moments are already present in miniature.

The album ends with an eight-minute suite from the almost forgotten 1947 film, The Loves of Joanna Godden. This was a drama of life on Romney Marsh at the beginning of the century and the music is both pastoral and dramatic, and also given the necessity of compiling highlights into a short suite, somewhat disconnected. It is still a treat for VW fans to hear this hitherto very rare music, though it would be nice if someone would arrange a longer suite from this score.

This is an essential disc for followers of Vaughan-Williams' music, and of great interest to fans of classic film scores. The only draw-back, as far as casual listeners and those used to the luxury of modern sound, is the quality of the recordings. While generally free from serious faults, and benefiting from very good transfers, there is no getting away from the fact that compared to today's productions the recordings are very dated. While good for the time, and able to stand comparison with some recordings made a decade or more later, these mono recordings are thin and lacking in dynamic range. If you insist upon state-of-the-art sound stay well away, but otherwise this is a very commendable issue indeed.

The Vaughan-Williams Symphony No.6 appears in its premiere recording; a great performance by Sir Adrian Boult with the London Symphony Orchestra of one of the landmark symphonies of the mid-20th century. Anyone with serious interest in the composer will therefore immediately want to acquire the disc.

Gary S. Dalkin

***** (music)
** (sound)

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