For those of a mature age, this album will recall many memories from long ago. How well I remember, as a boy, in the late 1940s, rushing through my homework to enjoy every thrill-packed moment of BBC Radio’s week-nightly thriller Dick Barton, Special Agent. Charles Williams’s super-charged "Devil’s Galop", that cliff-hanger serial’s theme tune, added an extra degree of tense excitement. The BBC Concert Orchestra’s rousing performance is just one of 24 treasures that make up this first class compilation.
Charles Williams was born Isaac Cozerbreit in London’s East End, the son of an itinerant synagogue cantor who, as an operatic and choral soloist, performed under the name of ‘Charles Williams’. This Charles showed early promise, won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and adopted his father’s professional name in 1915. He played in theatre and symphony orchestras becoming leader of the New Symphony Orchestra as well as playing and recording under Sir Landon Ronald, Beecham and Elgar. In 1929 he began a fruitful association with the rapidly developing world of the cinema, contributing to the score of the first British sound film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail. As Anthony M. Clayden says, in his informative notes, "Sometimes he would be credited as in The Way to the Stars, as the conductor only, when in fact he wrote all but one six-note phrase!"
Through the 1940s, 1950s, and into the 1960s Williams was hard at work writing themes for cinema and TV newsreels (often music used as library material) and for radio, and TV series.
From the typically escapist/romantic British films of the 1940s, the album includes: the exceedingly popular ‘Denham Concerto’, "The Dream of Olwen", from the film While I Live; the tenderly romantic theme from the wartime thriller The Night Has Eyes starring James Mason; and another sweetly romantic melody called "Throughout the Years" that came from a forgotten post-war drama, Flesh and Blood. One of Williams’s best-loved melodies, "Jealous Lover", originally used for another British film, The Romantic Age (1949) starring Mai Zetterling and Petula Clark, was used again in the very popular American film The Apartment (1960) starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. Here Roderick Elms and the BBC Concert Orchestra realise a most affecting performance – just one of the many highlights of this disc.
From the world of early 1950s television there is the wonderful rousing march "Girls in Grey" originally written for the Women’s Junior Air Corps during World War II but adapted as the signature tune for BBC Television Newsreel; and a number of those interlude themes (most TV was ‘live’ in those days and intervals were a necessary part of the daily schedules) including Williams’s "Young Ballerina" used to underscore the ‘Potter’s Wheel’ interval film. From BBC radio there are the popular themes from Jennings at School, The Old Clockmaker, and from the long-running Friday Night is Music Night, the rousing fanfares of "High Adventure".
Other outstanding tracks include the very popular and exhilarating "Rhythm on Rails" which I seem to recall being a popular choice on BBC Radio request programmes; another breezy railway theme, "Model Railway"; and the pieces that celebrated the London Charles Williams loved so much including "Bells of St Clements", Williams’s miniature fantasy on the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’, which ends in a magnificently proud peroration for orchestra and bells and organ; "Destruction by Fire", newsreel music depicting London during the Blitz; the celebratory "Voice of London" which became the signature tune of the Chappells house band, the Queens Hall Light Orchestra; and the ‘flirty’ and warmly nostalgic, "London Fair".
One of the best albums of light music I have heard for years. A nostalgic wallow - wonderful, memorable tunes. First class performances and sound.