This is another entry in the excellent Chandos Movies, British Film Music series, and something of a departure from previous volumes which have tended to concentrate on classical composers who happened to also write for the cinema. Those albums, particularly those devoted to composers such as Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Arthur Bliss and William Alwyn, have focused on substantial suites. Ron Goodwin, on the other hand, was always a composer best known for writing ‘big themes’, and it has often been commented that he was less gifted at developing the accompanying underscore which would allow for worthwhile suites.
Rising to prominence in the early 1960’s, the glory years of catchy title tunes, Goodwin became a star name at almost exactly the same time as John Barry, the two giving a fresh new sound to British cinema with one unforgettable tune after another. Thus Chandos have wisely chosen to concentrate on these tunes, the 76 minute playing time containing music from no less than 22 productions. Which is not to say there aren’t also a handful of suites, rather than this is more of a “greatest hits” album than anything previously issued in the series.
The album opens with Goodwin’s most famous single melody, the BBC Philharmonic giving a rousing take on the infinitely heroic main theme from 633 Squadron (the less memorable but still attractive love theme is included later on the disc). This is followed by the elegant grandeur of the opening ‘London Theme’ title music from Hitchcock’s Frenzy, while track 12 is a stirring version of the famous main theme from The Trap. Many may well say, “famous - what?”, but this majestic piece, written for a forgotten Oliver Reed drama from 1965 has found a new lease of life by association with the London Marathon, and is better known today as the London Marathon theme.
663 Squadron proved such a hit Goodwin became closely associated with WWII dramas and the album features the premiere recording of Goodwin’s own suite compiled from one of his greatest scores, Battle of Britain. A superb patriotic piece of musical drama – with the ‘Luftwaffe March (Aces High)’ Goodwin manages to make the stoutest hearted Englishman proud to be German for a few minutes! – and the whole rather belies the theory that the composer’s music doesn’t bear exposure beyond title themes.
Indeed, shortly before Battle of Britain, Goodwin scored Where Eagles Dare, providing one of the most spine-tingling of all film themes for the movie’s opening. Though if Chandos have made a mistake it is by only including that theme, while the blistering seven minute cable car descent set-piece fails to make an appearance. Nevertheless, WWII is also represented by themes from Submarine X-1 and Force Ten From Naverone, the latter a jaunty march, though neither as memorable as the more famous melodies here. Goodwin also takes to the air again with more playfully energetic music from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, as well as delivering a suite from that feature’s companion piece, Monty Carlo or Bust.
Goodwin ventures into Barry territory for the more contemporary – for the 1960’s – sounding Deadly Strangers, an engaging track which sounds odd on a Chandos release. At the opposite end of the spectrum the main theme from Lancelot and Guinevere is grandly romantic in the Golden Age of film music tradition, and a suite from the little known Al-Mas Ala Al-Kubra (Clash of Loyalties) (the most recent piece here, dating from 1983) opens with pungent brash harking back to Arthur Bliss and suggests a little of the then very recent The Empire Strikes Back in the relentless main.
There is much more than these pieces to enjoy on a disc with the capacity to cross over well beyond film music aficionados into both the nostalgia and light music markets. Indeed, if you were only to have one Ron Goodwin album in your collection there is every reason that this should be the one. And if this gives anyone a taste for the composer’s music they may then like to explore his score for Battle of Britain (available on an album which also contains William Walton’s rejected score for the same film), and the full Where Eagles Dare, recently released on an excellent archive disc by Film Score Monthly. Meanwhile this current release is an excellent addition to any collection.