Chandos' distinguished British Film Music series at last reaches
Ralph Vaughan Williams with a first volume that highlights the complete score
for the 1948 Ealing Films production of
Scott of the Antarctic, starring Sir John
Mills in the title role.
Vaughan Williams wrote a score of 996
bars of which only 462 were utilised in the film (some of these more than
once of course). This recording is therefore doubly welcome for it affords
the opportunity, at last, to appreciate the scale of RVW's achievement. And
we can appreciate all the more why he had such a sufficiency of material to
inspire him to create his Sinfonia Antartica
(his Symphony No. 7 first performed in 1953) rather than merely a concert
suite. In fact this marvellous spirited performance, delivered in spectacular
sound, has ten cues out of a total of eighteen that are premiere recordings.
We hear, for instance, two emotionally laden tracks 'Doom' and 'Sculpture
Scene' in which, in the former, Scott meets Wilson's wife Oriana and misleads
her and Wilson into thinking he is planning a mainly scientific expedition
and the latter (not used) for a scene between Scott and his sculptress wife.
Vaughan Williams' evocation of the
cruel, icy waste lands, is vividly evocative, capturing the glittering ice
flows and the dangerous awesome grandeur of the glacier using a deep organ
pedal underlining. The soprano soloist (Merryn Gamba) and a small chorus
of women's voices wordlessly convey the biting chill of this hostile environment.
The 'Aurora' presents the majesty of a crystal-clear, star-bejewelled polar
night sky, while some humorous relief comes in an amusing portrait of pompous-looking
but wobbly penguins. One of the most effective cues is 'Blizzard' again using
voices – and a wind machine –to create a most convincing portrait of a terrifying,
blinding white terror. The death of Evans and Oates is an affecting elegy.
Unlike the Symphony, the film score ends on a heroic upbeat, for, after all,
Scott was regarded as a national hero.
Command here receives a more energetic and convincing reading than
the 1990 Silva Screen recording (FILMCD 072) made by Kenneth Alwyn and the
Philharmonia Orchestra (this interesting album also includes music by Arthur
Bliss for the film Conquest of the Air
and Brian Easdale's
The Red Shoes ballet music, the latter is
particularly recommended). The music for Coastal
Command is derivative of RVW's concert music, particularly of his
Fifth and Sixth symphonies yet it sympathetically evokes the aspirations and
dangers of the crews of the Sunderland and Hudson flying boats that patrolled
the waters off Iceland and across the North Sea in search of hostile German
shipping during World War II, the subject of this Crown Film Unit documentary.
Such cue titles as 'U-boat Alert', 'Taking Off at Night', 'Dawn Patrol (Quiet
Determination)' and 'Battle of the Beauforts' suggest the varying moods of
The People's Land was another documentary film (first shown in 1943),
this time about the work of the National Trust. RVW's score is chiefly based
on folk songs – among them 'John Barleycorn'; 'The Springtime of the Year';
and 'Love will find out the way'; together with linking motifs that illustrates
places and pastimes such as the White Cliffs of Dover and the Lake District,
and cycling, walking and climbing.
An excellent introduction to the evocative film music of Vaughan Williams, especially
important for presenting the full score of
Scott of the Antarctic. Thrilling, evocative
performances captured in the best Chandos sound.