Chandos’s generously-filled third volume of
William Alwyn’s film music kicks off with a 15-minute, six-movement suite from
the 1951 film, The Magic Box produced for the Festival of Britain
celebrations of that year and celebrating the life and career of William
Friese-Green (Robert Donat) an early pioneer who perfected the art of colour
photography and the moving image. The suite opens with an Elgar/Walton-like
imposing theme. The movements that follow charts the relationship between
Friese-Greene and his sweetheart, Helena, first in tender tones (reminiscent of
Elgar in salon, Salut d’amour mode) then after marriage increasingly fractious
as the inventor becomes more and more obsessive of his work. There is wit in
the form of a polka underscoring Willie’s first attempts at portraiture, then
for ‘Willie Goes to London’ there are more witty cameos as the Friese-Greene’s
taste life in the capital. ‘Willie and Edith introduces an attractive
‘Edwardian’ waltz and the final movement recalls the pride of the opening.
Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic perform this charming music with style and
sensitivity to its period.
Much in the same style and period, there
follows William Alwyn’s glittering Waltz The Million Pound Note
(1953), based on the story by Mark Twain and starring Gregory Peck. The Cure
For Love (1948) has a softer mistily-dream-like waltz for piano and
orchestra. Then from the ballroom to the drill square and Alwyn’s stirring
march from The Way Ahead (1944) which is not without some sly, sardonic
humour surely pointing fun at square bashing and the rough life of army
recruits. Another war-time march from The True Glory (1944-45) is
stirring in the fashion of Eric Coates and Bliss.
Another suite, some 9 minutes longs
follows, from Swiss Family Robinson (1960) and it marked the third
collaboration between Alwyn and Disney. The opening movement is a vivid
evocation of a vicious storm at sea and the shipwreck of the Robinsons. The
other music is playful as the children make acquaintance with all the animal
characters on the island, and wistful and poignant with a sweetly sentimental
violin solo to illustrate harmonious family life and the warmth between the
parents (John Mills and Dorothy McGuire)
A note of menace is introduced in dark,
bleak, grotesque nightmare music Paul’s Last Ride from The Rocking Horse
Winner (1949) in which a young boy rides his rocking horse in unbridled
frenzy to predict the winner of the Derby. The 1941 film Penn of Pennsylvania
as might be imagined drew a musical pastiche of elegance and refinement the
movement titles reflecting after the Title Music: ‘Banqueting Scene’ in Baroque
dignity and splendour with a cheeky little gigue-like aside, wistful and
sentimental ‘Love Music’ working up to a passionate climax, The King’s
Portrait’ is another witty little Baroque cameo – gentle fun poked at the Royal
dignity. ‘Finale’ has pride and pomp of a new state of America.
The Running Man (1962) produced and directed by carol Reed was Alwyn’s last score.
It starred Laurence Harvey as a pilot who fakes his own death to collect the
insurance money. The music, in four movements is dramatic and tense. ‘Glider
Flight’ is evocative of the thrill and fun of gliding on thermals (the music
nicely evoking twists and turns and lifts and falls) over sunny landscapes.
‘Stella and Stephen’ begins quietly with a Spanish-style guitar strumming
before a sudden string chord introduces disquiet on tremolando strings and
rasping trumpets, dark Spanish rhythms pervading.
‘Spanish Gipsy Wedding’ is delightful and
relaxing Spanish music in the style of Chabrier.
The most substantial suite (17 minutes) is
that for the 1955 film Geordie Much of the material is derived from
Scottish folk tunes for this story of a young Scottish athlete who triumphs at
the Melbourne Olympic Games. The Main Titles music moves from broad march-like
statements to a broad romantic melody. ‘Watching the Eagles’ is a vivid
evocation of the magnificent bird in flight against a Scottish landscape. ‘The Samson Way’ is Alwyn in comic mode as the young Geordie (Paul Young) is transformed from a
weakly raw youth into a robust young athlete (Bill Travers).’Father and Son’ in
more darkly dramatic mode, and probably the most impressive movement of the
suite, with timpani to the fore underscores a scene in which an injury to an
animal, in the highlands, that leads to the death of Geordie’s father. Sturdy
Scottish dance rhythms inform ‘The Hammer Reel’ and finally ‘Geordie and Jean’
is lovely romantic music for the scenes between Geordie and Jean and some of
the most enchanting music penned by Alwyn.
All the above music is very pleasant and
often quite charming. It is played with due commitment. The trouble is that
thinking back over it all I cannot remember one outstanding theme, even the
enchanting ‘Geordie and Jean’ hardly presents anything novel. This for me is
the difficulty I have with so much of the remainder of Alwyn’s music (after the
material included in Chandos’s The Film Music of William Alwyn Vols 1 and 2) –
it is to my ears, despite being excellently crafted, too derivative.
Gary Dalkin adds:-
I have little to add other than I
completely agree with Ian’s comment that, ‘thinking back over it all I cannot
remember one outstanding theme.’ The music is expertly crafted, and does its
job perfectly well in all the films for which it was composed. Unfortunately it
is also no more than professionally generic, and almost completely uninspiring.
I was roused briefly by ‘The Ride’ from The Rocking Horse Winner, and by
parts of the suite from Geordie. Otherwise it seems Alwyn’s heart was
not in it. His concert music, on the other hand, is often haunting, thrilling
and unforgettable. Newcomers would be much better served by Chandos’ marvellous
Alwyn – Orchestral Works (CHAN9065), including the gorgeous harp concerto Lyra
Angelica and the equally wonderful Autumn Legend, Pastoral Fantasia and