May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/monthly listings/May/


BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba.

This representative selection of film music by Alan Rawsthorne ranges from war epics such as The Cruel Sea and Burma Victory to melodramas such as Uncle Silas and Saraband for Dead Lovers. However, arguably the most memorable tracks on the CD do not come from such powerful statements: the haunting waltz from Uncle Silas is a delight with its Prokofiev-like shifts of key and the graceful and charming Three Dances from "The Dancing Fleece" presage (and indeed outshine) the composer's 1955 ballet Madame Chrysanthème.

The Cruel Sea (Main titles and Nocturne) receives a brisk and forthright performance but compared to the version by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Kenneth Alwyn on Silva Screen Records Ltd (FILM CD 177) the Chandos reading is a little stiff and plain. The Alwyn version takes more time over the score, especially the Nocturne and lavishes the music with a little more emotional commitment. By digging deeper into the music, the Silva Screen release makes the listener appreciate Rawsthorne's melodic and dramatic gifts even further.

The main title of Lease of Life is a moving miniature encapsulating and rising above the film's somewhat maudlin tale of a poor, ailing priest (played by the ailing Robert Donat) trying to get money to allow his fledgling pianist daughter to go to music college (hence the brief burst of piano music in the sequence). The bustling, energetic "VE Day" from The Captive Heart and the "Carnival" music from Sarabande for Dead Lovers are clearly from the same pen as the "Street Corner" Overture. I find these upbeat episodes more entertaining and more revealing of Rawsthorne as a composer and personality than the slightly impersonal "stiff upper lip" war film music (though the Cruel Sea track contains a vivid and stark seascape). Nonetheless, all the pieces assembled here provide a very valuable addition to the Rawsthorne discography, complementing his more "serious" orchestral works such as the three symphonies and the concertos and it must be said that in some cases it is the film music which boasts the more memorable invention!

One minor quibble - the otherwise informative and well-illustrated accompanying booklet fails to mention the dates of the films included on this CD. They are discussed in chronological order in the programme notes but here are the dates of the films in the order in which they appear on the disc: The Captive Heart (1946); West of Zanzibar (1953); The Cruel Sea (1952); Where no Vultures Fly (1951); Uncle Silas (1947); Lease of Life (1954); The Dancing Fleece (1950); Burma Victory (1945) and Sarabande for Dead Lovers (1948).

The playing of the BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba is exemplary and the Chandos recording is as clear and full-bodied as we have come to expect from this source. I hope this release will turn out to be the first part of a series of CDs devoted to the film music of Alan Rawsthorne. There are many more fine scores yet to be released on disc, including: Broken Dykes (1945); The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci (1953); Floods of Fear (1958); The Legend of the Good Beasts (1956); The Man Who Never Was (1956); Messenger of the Mountains (1964); Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) - a surprising omission from the Chandos CD; Port of London (1959); School for Secrets (1946); Street Fighting (1942) and Waters of Time (1951). On the strength of the quality of the material on display in this Chandos disc, Rumon Gamba and his BBC forces should lose no time in mining further treasure from the Rawsthorne film scores. Recommended to film music fans and admirers of Alan Rawsthorne alike.


Paul Conway

and Gary Dalkin adds

Alan Rawsthorne was born in 1905, a contemporary of William Alwyn, whose music is already well represented on Chandos, Lambert and Tippett. Between 1937-64 he wrote music for 27 films, and while his concert music is fairly well known, and some of the films are considered classics, his film music has until recently been overlooked. Undoubtedly the most famous film represented on this anthology is The Cruel Sea, and while the pieces chosen make for a rounded programme, on a personal note I am a little disappointed to find that wonderfully off-beat romantic fantasy Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) has been omitted. Hopefully it will appear on Volume II.

Given the enthusiastic review by Paul Conway, I find myself very much in agreement and with little to add without risking duplication. The lengthy opening suite from The Captive Heart is thoroughly engaging, boldly hewn and classically English writing with echoes of Bax, Holst and Vaughan-Williams yet with very much a character of its own. The adventurous Where No Vultures Fly is equally robust, music of greater dramatic stature than the film it originally accompanied, while the Three Dances from 'The Dancing Fleece' confirms that the composer wrote music first and film music second. As Rawsthorne said, "The first essential of a good film composer is a talent for composing. Film music must be genuine music." Here is genuine music, a fine follow-up to Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic's superb programme of The Film Music of George Auric. Highly recommended for fans of quality orchestral film music and devotees of 20th Century English music.


Gary S. Dalkin


Paul Conway

Gary S. Dalkin

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers :

Concert and Show tickets 

Musicians accessories
Click here to visit


Return to Index