Stanley Black is best remembered as a conductor of mostly dance and light music with the BBC Dance Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra, the Osaka Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra (of which he was the first non-American conductor).
Black was a prolific writer of film scores – writing for some 200 films between the late 1930s and the 1980s. Some of the best remembered films such as Mrs Fitzherbert (1947) It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) Laughter in Paradise (1951) are not represented here. But it has to be said that many of the films he scored were frankly B pictures and pretty awful.
Each of the film scores in this album (except Blood of the Vampire) has a suite of two, three or four movements unimaginatively labelled Movement I, Movement II etc.
The album opens with music for the Peter Sellers comedy Battle of the Sexes based on a clash between English and American business methods in a traditional Scottish tweed company. It is eclectic and mildly amusing with a mock pompous opening and tongue-in-cheek pastiches ofOffenbachand other light classics in the central movement with helter-skelter slapstick material rubbing shoulders with Scottish folk music in the last movement. Much more amusing is the hilarious take-off of all those familiar Arabian figures, the belly-dancing music, bumbling romance and comic camel material that comprises the Sands of the Desert score for the Charlie Drake comedy of 1960. Still on a lighter note, there is the concluding jolly 3-minute high-spirited music for the Cliff Richard musical The Young Ones nodding nicely towards George Gershwin.
Black’s sinister, tense music for Three Steps to the Gallows is cast in the tradition ofHollywoodfilm noire scores especially those of Miklós Rózsa (including Rózsa’s gift for creating tender melodies). Max Steiner is brought to mind in Black’s romantic music of the last movement of his music for another thriller, Stormy Crossing. Elsewhere in this suite Black creates some impressive atmospheric seascapes.
Finally to the two scores for horror films. Blood of the Vampire is a typical score of the genre and, in the early part of the suite, as good as any of them; eerie, full of bats and blood, gothic gloom, and screeching menaces. But for much of its length this music is rather tedious so too is the opening movement music for Jack the Ripper which nods non too imaginatively or originally towards Holst and Stravinsky; the eerie atmospheric material of the central music and the more tender music of this score come are better.
Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra embrace the comedy and thrills of this album’s music with commendable enthusiasm yet one cannot help feeling that it is not exactly the most inspired of Chandos’s on-going series devoted to British Film Music.