EDITORs CHOICE (Historical) November
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)
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unpublished.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were made because Bliss's original score disappeared and these unpublished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!