December 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings / December /

The Red Shoes Music from the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Archers 1941-51)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: 49th Parallel; Brian EASDALE: The Red Shoes; Black Narcissus; Gone to Earth; The Small Back Room; Allan GRAY: A Matter of Life and Death; The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; A Canterbury Tale
  CD-41 CD41-002   [74:00]

red shoes

Here is an interesting collection with some very irritating aspects. Although billed as a collection of music, there are too many distracting elements to make this the rewarding anthology it should be. A note on the back cover reads: "A 74 minutes selection of digitally remastered soundtrack recordings from the Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Archers) 1941-51. Booklet contains detailed historical notes and full recording information." And it does, though entire six pages of notes are in block capitals, and difficult to read as a result. One thing that isn't indicated on the cover is that the album contains copious amounts of narration, dialogue extracts and sound effects. While the booklet comments that the album was difficult to compile and it is obvious on listening that the recordings have in some cases been taken complete from the final, mixed soundtrack of the film print, the only such acknowledgement on the cover is the indication that "An Airman's Letter to his Mother" contains "narrative by Sir John Gielgud".

Here then is a breakdown of the album, track by track.

  • 1. Archers Ident (the famous "thunk" of the logo arrow hitting target) 0.04
  • 49th Parallel (1941) - Vaughan Williams
  • 2. Prelude 3.10 (contains narration)
  • 3. Epilogue 4.16
  • A Matter of Life and Death (1946) Allan Gray
  • 4. Prelude / This is the Universe (contains narration, dialogue and sound effects) 5.03
  • 5. The Waiting Room / Washed Ashore 1.33
  • 6. Prelude / Stairway to Heaven (piano progression) 4.08
  • An Airman's Letter to his Mother
  • 7. Narrated by Sir John Gielgud 3.08
  • The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - Allan Gray
  • 8. Prelude 1.50
  • 9. War Starts at Midnight 1.47 (entirely dialogue)
  • 10. Commando Patrol 2.42 (big band jazz cue)
  • A Canterbury Tale Allan Gray / JS Bach
  • 11. Prelude 2.14 (Gray's arrangement of Bach, contains narration)
  • 12. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor 8.48 (1935 Bach recording used in the film)
  • The Red Shoes - Brian Easdale
  • 13. Prelude 3.52
  • 14. Ballet Music 12.47
  • Black Narcissus - Brian Easdale
  • 15. Prologue 1.47 (contains dialogue)
  • 16. Composed Sequence 5.25 (contains dialogue and sound effects )
  • Gone to Earth (Brian Easdale)
  • 17. Prelude 1.21 (contains sound effects and dialogue)
  • 18. The Tryst 2.38
  • 19. The Hunt 1.07 (contains sound effects)
  • The Small Back Room (Brian Easdale)
  • 20. Composed Sequence 1.40 (contains sound effects)
  • 21. Epilogue 0.52
  • Tales of Hoffmann (Offenbach)
  • 22. Orchestra Tuning 2.58
  • As one can see, the amount of unadulterated score is relatively scant.

The promotional material reads in part, "As well as digitally restored original soundtrack music by the undervalued Gray and Easdale, this carefully researched CD also features a number of rare associated recordings, including John Gielgud's reading of An Airman's Letter to his Mother (1941), the lively quickstep Commando Patrol from Col. Blimp and A Canterbury Tale, and a superlative rendering of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, recorded by Albert Schweitzer in London in 1935, also featured in A Canterbury Tale."

In other words, a smorgasbord. There is important music here from absolutely classic films, but the frequently intrusive sound effects and speech greatly distract, as does to ears attuned to modern recordings, the over all poor sound quality. This of course can not be avoided, but even while we are treated to Brian Easdale's superb prelude and complete ballet music from The Red Shoes, I find myself greatly preferring the Philharmonia recording of the ballet on Silva Screen FILMCD713. In the absence of the original master tapes for the scores represented on the album, new re-recordings would do the music far greater justice. Frankly one is better served, and entertained, by watching the fine original films in their entirety.

So, a frustrating release, but because of the importance of the original films, one which nevertheless is of considerable, if largely archival, significance.

Gary S. Dalkin


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