November 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE (Historical) November 2000


British Film Music Volume II
Sir Arthur BLISS - Things To Come; Sir Arnold BAX - Malta G.C.; Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS - Coastal Command; 49th Parallel, The Story of a Flemish Farm; Richard ADDINSELL - Dangerous Moonlight (The Warsaw Concerto); Guy WARRACK - Theirs is the Glory; Clifford PARKER - Western Approaches; Hubert BATH - Love Story (GB - 1944) (Cornish Rhapsody)
 PEARL GEMMCD0101 [79:13]
N.B. This CD comprises original 78 rpm material from the 1930s and 1940s

This is a significant release not the least because it includes material from Sir Arthur Bliss's score for Things To Come which, for many years, was thought to be lost.

H.G. Wells, who had been given almost complete control of the filming of Things to Come by Alexander Korda, personally commissioned Bliss to write the score. Wells was arrogant, and ignorant of the film-making process. He signalled Bliss to start composing and recording a substantial amount of music before the film was edited, effectively ensuring that nothing fitted and much to Bliss's annoyance (he consequently dissuaded other British composers, including Eric Coates from writing for films) a substantial amount of material was discarded. Thankfully the best was retained. (Too often we can dismiss film producers as being crass when it comes to their attitude to music but more often than not they can recognise material that will appeal to the hearts and spirits of their audiences). Subsequent to the film, Decca issued the world's first 'soundtrack album' comprising four 78 rpm sides of original music previously recorded by Bliss and the LSO in March 1935, plus an additional two sides dubbed from the film conducted by Muir Matheson. But it was not known until recently that Bliss had in fact recorded four further sides from the score that had remained unpublished. These included a version of the famous March; the original Prologue and two sides devoted to the Epilogue. It was fortuitous that these recordings were made because Bliss's original score disappeared and these unpublished sides contain some unique Bliss music that was either abridged or discarded when the film was edited.

The 25-minute Things to Come suite on this recording is performed by the LSO conducted by Bliss. This reading commences with a 'Prologue' that begins somewhat surprisingly morose pre-echoing the 'World in Ruins' and 'Pestilence' episodes before the music becomes nobly portentous. 'Ballet for Children' is lighter and fleet of foot; the famous 'March' stirs the blood, 'World in Ruins', 'Pestilence' and 'Attack' are all familiar and darkly dramatic. But the really interesting cue (just over seven minutes long) is the 'Epilogue'. That wonderful tune is heard extended and the additional music is significant. It is near prime-Bliss - celebratory and rather Elgarian part elegiac, part triumphant.

Sir Arnold Bax is represented by an 18-minute suite from Malta G.C. (1943), a documentary with a commentary by Sir Laurence Olivier that paid homage to the heroism of the Islanders during World War II. Now Bax was a somewhat reluctant Master of the King's Music. He was more of a dreamer than a man of the world and one senses a discomfort when it came to ceremonial music. The opening fanfares lack the swagger of Elgar or Walton and are a little tentative. Bax is more convincing in displays of restrained heroism as manifested in 'Old Valetta'. This cue has a more introspective Elgarian quality. The 'Air raid' sequence, on the other hand, has plenty of drama and excitement with the invading planes' diving and swooping caught as vividly as Walton in Battle of Britain and The First of the Few mode. The Gay (in the old fashioned sense of the word) March is contrastingly light-hearted and has an engaging swagger and insouciance. 'Intermezzo' has a comforting intimacy while 'Work and play' contrasts earnest 'war-effort' music with colourful tarantellas and pastoral music more reminiscent of Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne than of the Mediterranean. The most memorable cue comes last - the triumphant 'March' that resembles Men of Harlech. Interestingly, soon after the release of the film, the composer, somewhat reluctantly, attended a ceremony in the Ministry of Information at which he presented his score to the Governor of Malta, Field Marshall Lord Gort. A picture of this ceremony is included with the 1986 Cloud Nine recording of Malta G.C. (with Bax's music for David Lean's Oliver Twist).

Ralph Vaughan Williams is represented by three scores. I will confess that previously I had been unimpressed with his music for Coastal Command but the excerpts on this album have opened my ears. The 'Prelude' has a rush and a confident heroic sweep that is irresistible while 'The Sunderland Goes in Close' impresses too. It begins in pastoral mood with material that is reminiscent of the 3rd and 5th Symphonies before a proud heroic character is imposed, and conflict and danger implied as the Sunderland espies the enemy. The Epilogue from 49th Parallel has that beautiful melody which is one of RVW's most memorable themes. Played in elegiac mood, its slow tempo vindicates Bernard Herrmann's unjustly criticised and most moving performance on his brilliant Great British Film Music album (Decca London 448 954-2). 'Dawn Scene' from The Story of a Flemish Farm is a pastoral vignette again reminiscent of RVW's Pastoral Symphony although its more discordant music influenced the development of his Sixth Symphony.

Richard Addinsell's Dangerous Moonlight score will always be remembered for the celebrated Warsaw Concerto. This spirited and moving yet not over-sentimentalised performance is by Louis Kentner. After many years of doubt about the artist employed on the soundtrack, he confirmed that it was himself in an interview for his 80th birthday in 1987. That other immensely popular wartime film piano concerto - Hubert Bath's Cornish Rhapsody from Love Story (the 1944 version with love-struck Margaret Lockwood and Stewart Grainger) - is also included in another full-blooded romantic performance that features the too much maligned mistress of Arnold Bax - Harriet Cohen.

Guy Warrack's stiff-upper-lip, sub-Elgarian 'Men of Arnhem' from Theirs is the Glory is also included.

Finally I must pay tribute to Clifford Parker's 'Seascape' from Western Approaches; beautiful in its windswept, grey bleakness; a brilliant evocation, a little gem and an outstanding track in an outstandingly important release. Just one grouse - I do wish Pearl would improve their graphic design. The text on the front cover of the booklet is almost unreadable!

Ian Lace


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