Anthony Collins is probably best remembered
today as a gifted conductor of classical music, particularly of Sibelius and
especially of that composer’s symphonies, all seven of which he memorably
recorded for Decca in the early days of LPs (early 1950s). Collins wrote many
film scores, notably for producer Herbert Wilcox in England. Collins settled in
Hollywood and wrote music for RKO Radio Pictures. His film scores (other
than those featured here) include The Swiss Family Robinson and Tom
Brown’s Schooldays. Alas much of his music seems to have gone missing
due to various takeovers in the music-publishing industry. But with this new
release, piloted by the young conductor John Wilson (also something of a
scholar specialising in lighter music), perhaps a Collins’s revival might be
Victoria the Great, starring Anna Neagle, was Anthony Collins’s first film score. The
‘Prelude’ opens and closes imposingly, as befits the subject, with one of
Collins’s memorable ‘royal’ slow marches not far removed from Elgar and Walton
and used in the coronation scenes. In between there is atmospheric material
underscoring the Lord Chamberlain’s urgent ride to Kensington to inform the
young Victoria that she is now Queen. ‘Portrait of Lord Melbourne on his Horse’
introduces some gentle whimsy in the eighteenth century classical tradition as
the old soldier is mildly ribbed by the Queen while having his portrait
painted. ‘Victoria and Albert’ is a tender picture of domestic conjugal bliss
while ‘The Queen’s Caprice’ underscores Victoria’s gentle guying of the
hesitant Prince Albert when they first meet. The end titles feature ‘Victoria
Regina’, another grand march complete with cannon salutes and integrated with
the coronation music. It concludes this suite.
From another Anna Neagle film about the
World War II heroine, Odette, we hear the charming Viennese-waltz-style
‘Valse Lente’. The Lady with Lamp, again featuring producer Herbert
Wilcox’s wife, Anna Neagle, is represented by ‘Prelude and Valse Variations’. Collins’s
Prelude music speaks eloquently of suffering, endurance and heroism while the
waltz variations move from battlefields to glittering ballrooms.
The Festival Royal Overture forms a
wonderful rousing opening to this album’s concert. As its name implies, it is
full of pomp and circumstance. It was first performed by the BBC Concert
Orchestra on June 6 1956, conducted by Stanford Robinson. Besides its royal
connotations it would seem to be very suitable for newsreel introductory music.
Perhaps the best-known item is Collins’s
delightful four minute light music encore, Vanity Fair first broadcast
September 1952 and has been performed countless times since. The Song of Erin (subtitled Lamentation [perhaps for a dead hero as the concluding bars
might suggest] is a mistily atmospheric Celtic piece spotlighting the cor
anglais. Also from the Emerald Isle, Eire is a 3-movement suite
commencing with a jolly swaggering ‘Battle March’ setting of ‘Mat Hannigan’s
Aunt’. Next comes a misty dream-like ‘Reverie’ arrangement of the well-known
song ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ and finally another merry setting of ‘Phil the
Fluter’s Ball’. Saint Cecilia, termed by Collins as a madrigal, was one
of the composer’s last compositions, written some four years before his death.
No clue is given to the subject matter of this gently flowing work except that
it might be thought to be a sunny depiction of the church of that name in Rome.
Louis XV Silhouettes’ first movement ‘At Versailles’ begins majestically with a flourish
in the grand style of Lully before proceeding to sound rather more like Handel.
‘At the Tuileries’ covers various dances: ‘Sicilienne’, ‘Tambourin’, ‘Pavane’,
‘Forlane’, and ‘Passecaille’ - all cast in the style of the period but with an
unmistakeable Collins overlay, often spiced with a pinch of sly wit. The Suite
concludes with a movement entitled ‘At Luciennes’ located at the chateau of the
King’s mistress Madame du Barry. The music is all feminine charm, frippery and
The album concludes with Collins’s Symphony
for Strings, another example of the composer’s predilection for pastiche
period pieces. And once more his style is elastic, overlaying his own light,
witty touch over: first a Haydn-like Allegro; then an introspective ‘Adagio
molto’ that mourns gravely in the style of Bach, and finally the ‘Allegro
vivace’ that takes us back to the Celtish with a jolly, skittish setting of a
song that I seem to remember is entitled ‘Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be?’ or
has that line predominant.
John Wilson leads the BBC Concert Orchestra
in sparkling performances of these charming confections.
Film, and other music, by a quite-forgotten
composer-conductor. ’Charming light music, worth exploring by the adventurous.
The variety of the material makes it difficult to rate, so it’s with some
qualification I give this the rating I do.