Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


EDITOR’S CHOICE – October 1999


Collection: The Film Music of Georges AURIC Rumon Gumba conducts the BBC Philharmonic   CHANDOS CHAN 9774 [72:50]



Caesar and Cleopatra*; The Titfield Thunderbolt; Dead of Night*; Passport to Pimlico; The Innocents*; The Lavender Hill Mob†; Moulin rouge†; Father Brown*; It Always Rains on Sunday*; Hue and Cry*. (* - Premier recording † -Premier recording in this version.)

The Film Music - new recordings - suites from:-

Caesar and Cleopatra 1945
The Titfield Thunderbolt 1952
Dead of Night 1945
Passport to Pimlico 1949
The Innocents 1961
The Lavender Hill Mob 1951
Moulin Rouge 1952
Father Brown 1954
It Always Rains on Sunday 1947
Hue and Cry overture 1946.

Georges Auric was a member of the celebrated rebellious group of French composers known as Les Six (the others were: Darius Milhaud, Francois Poulenc, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger and Germaine Tailleferre). Under the influence of Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie, they achieved notoriety for their advanced ideas. Honegger and Auric (and to a lesser extent, Ibert) were prolific writers of screen music, mainly for the French cinema. [Jean Cocteau was famous not only as playwright and librettist but also as a screenwriter and director, with films like La Belle et la Bête and Orphée to his credit.]

In a forty-year film career, Auric composed well over a hundred French film scores and in the latter part of his career scored a succession of big-budget, pan-European co-productions aimed, presumably at the American market. It is, however, with his music for British films that this new Chandos album is concerned.

Auric composed nearly thirty British scores. It has been rumoured that Walton, Britten and Prokofiev all turned down the scoring of the 1945/46 Gabriel Pascal production of Caesar and Cleopatra, starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh, after Sir Arthur Bliss resigned form the project. The film was a mess due to the wayward excesses of Pascal who was something of an early Michael Cimino. Auric's music was one of its few saving graces. The nine-minute suite, recorded here, begins with the Main Titles that evoke the glittering waters of the Nile, the sultry atmosphere of Cleopatra's court and her own sensuality plus the majesty and might of Ancient Rome. 'At the Sphinx' is a fine impressionistic piece with very colourful orchestrations including piano, celeste, xylophone, bells, harp, saxophone, tuba, chirping woodwinds, and sultry strings all contributing to a hot house atmosphere of heady seduction and intrigue. 'The Battle' is another colourful and exciting extravaganza that, in places, is reminiscent of Respighi in his Roman trilogy mode.

While Caesar and Cleopatra ground on in post-production, Auric was contracted to score a very different film - the first great British horror film - Dead of Night (1945). This was a portmanteau film that included the story of the demented ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) and his devilish dummy. Auric's roller-coaster ride of a score is suitably nighmarish and spectral, but not without a wry sense of humour (ghostly horse-laughs and ghoulish glissandos suggesting passing wraiths). There is also a poignant edge to the music suggesting the ventrolioquist's plight and an appealing sugary Ravelian waltz.

Perhaps Auric's best known British score is that for John Huston's 1952 production of Moulin rouge, the story of the disabled artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Auric's music superbly captures all the brilliance and decadence of the legendary restaurant-cum-cabaret, the 'Moulin rouge' with its scandalous can-can dances - and polkas and quadrilles all heard in this nine-minute suite. The film was famous for its waltz song, 'April again, beside the river Seine,' sung endearingly here by Mary Carewe.

It is probably forgotten that Auric scored some of the best-remembered and best-loved British comedies filmed in the famed Ealing Studios. Here they are. The short suite from 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' (1953) is jolly and high-spirited. Just as his colleague, Arthur Honegger, had perfectly captured the essence of the huge locomotive Pacific 231, so Auric marvellously portrays the lumbering and puffing old steam engine of the title. He also brilliantly portrays the colourful characters who champion the threatened railway against the threat of the unscrupulous bus company. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) is another high-spirited romp. It begins with an imposing, pompous fanfare/march before the music lampoons itself and we are into quieter music of plotting and stealth before the comic-caper robbery music. Auric has a theme of glittering incandescence to portray the gold which is melted down and cast as miniature Eiffel Towers for the French tourist market. The hectic-paced 'The Eiffel Tower' cue music is a mercurial Gallic tour-de-force. Gallic charm pervades the suite from Passport to Pimlico (1949) which again begins self-importantly before Auric's irreverent high spirits take over as the cheeky cockney inhabitants cock a snook at authority and declare themselves the independent state of Burgundy. The score is suitably French-flavoured with some subtle London song colourings. A delight this score. Another merry bustling score came from Auric's pen for Hue and Cry ((1946) which was another light-hearted romp of penny dreadfuls and hordes of children chasing villains across war-scarred London.

In contrast to his comedy scores, Auric composed altogether darker material for the 1961 production of The Innocents a subtle but harrowing horror story, starring Deborah Kerr, and based on the Henry James story, The Turn of the Screw. Auric takes the innocuous old English folksong 'O Willow Waly' and gives it a chill disturbing twist. It is sung here, unaccompanied, by soprano Anthea Kempston. The Main Titles music is equally disturbing beginning with solo oboe and flute singing mournfully in a remote key and other woodwinds joining in with brushed cymbals and eerie high strings circulating around the sound stage to create an opaque and mysteriously threatening atmosphere. More cheerful music underscores the coach ride but the atmosphere chills as Bly House is reached.

Another darker score was penned by Auric for It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). This 14-minute suite is the most extended selection on this album and it is powerful material that should have been recorded long since. Auric cleverly suggests the teeming rain, and not only a sense of tragedy and foreboding, but also Cockney fun, in his Main Titles and Opening Scene music with its stabbing staccato chords suggesting gunfire. There is poignant romantic music for 'Tommy and Rosie' which suggests a hopeless passion. This cue and 'Farewell' have a Debussy-like intensity. 'The Getaway' music underscoring the life-or-death chase of the escaped convict, John McCallum, through the railway marshalling yards is exciting indeed. Younger film music composers could learn a thing or two from this inventive chase music.

Finally there is another great and cheerful Auric score that should have been recorded ages ago - that for the Ealing-like Father Brown (1954). This film starred Alec Guiness as the mild provincial Catholic priest who has phenomenal powers of detection. Very appositely the Father is pitted against a French master criminal 'Flambeau' allowing Auric, once again, to demonstrate his cross-channel versatility. Auric's colourful, busy score combines an appealing Poulenc-like insouciance with more serene material to suggest Father Brown's piety and 'The Cross of St Augustine.' The Channel Crossing and the cheerfully evocative 'Train Journey to Fleurancy' music are particularly appealing.

This is a very welcome addition to film music enthusiasts' collections. The BBC Philharmonic play with great enthusiasm and conviction under their young conductor Rumon Gamba. The sound is first class too, revealing this music for the first time in all its vibrant colours. [British film music recording techniques of the 1940s and 1950s left a lot to be desired too many scores sounded muffled and thin.]

Highly recommended.

Ian Lace

and Rob Barnett adds

This disc takes us through one aspect of Auric's film music. He wrote only 30 scores for British films. There are 100 or so other continental scores including Rififi (1954) and La Belle et la Bête (1946). As one of the group of French composers known as 'Les Six' he has a reputation as a joker and a bit of a flâneur. This disc shows that he has a wider span of accomplishment.

The Cleopatra music is richly impressionistic and impassioned with a hint of Irishry at least once - a tribute to G.B. Shaw perhaps? The Titfield Thunderbolt score starts jokily but the middle section (Triumph) has a few memories of Honegger's Pacific 231 and indeed I am sure I caught a hint of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik as well. The title bars for Dead of Night are out of the same book as Mossolov's Zavod. This is fearsome music of machines - wild and imposingly tempestuous with perhaps a presence from the Valkyries. Passport to Pimlico echoes with memories of rural France and one can speculate that this brightness which I also associate with Canteloube's orchestral Auvergne arrangements had its impact on the young Malcolm Arnold. Respighi's Pines and Mossolov's music of machines meet in the exuberant finale.

The ethereal riches of Anthea Kempston's soprano chimes across the music in The Innocents, catching the slightly boomy effect of a boy alto. The nerviness of machine music is also there in the Coach Ride plus the gracious dip and bow of Ben Frankel's Carriage and Pair. Both machine rhythms and Respighian excess hit you between the eyes (ears?) in The Lavender Hill Mob. To this is added an English pastoralism and the rush and scramble of the chase scenes at the Eiffel Tower. The end-titles have a baroque trumpetry grandeur.

Moulin Rouge's minatory storminess soon departs in favour of a sweet tune. This melts into the Belle Epoque celebration and flouncy petticoats which returns in the final Quadrille. Mary Carewe's Waltz Song is sweetly sung and fortunately escapes the operatic style which would have killed this song stone dead. Whoever was responsible for selecting Mary Carewe should take a bow. This is touchingly done. An instant hit and must son catch the attention of Classic FM as should all of the tracks on this collection.

Father Brown's music is dashing - catching the spirit of Dickensian London (yes, I know the novelist is G.K. Chesterton). The Train Journey (interesting that trains played a part in Auric's life rather like Goossens and Moeran) and the finale are much affected by railway beats and machine rhythms.

There is a substantial suite from It Always Rains On Sunday initially rosily sentimental but this soon fades into a mechanistic nightmare like a great steam engine with pistons out of control and the governor broken. The overture (all the other films are represented by suites) from Hue and Cry is a champagne gambol through the alleys of London. From the music the locale could just as easily have been Paris. In this mood Satie (Parade), Milhaud (Boeuf sur le Toit) and Ibert all jostle each other.

I was not surprised to see that this collection had been restored by the redoubtable and heroic Philip Lane who had the full cooperation of Mme Michèle Auric.

This is a comprehensively enjoyable collection and will appeal, given half a chance, well beyond the confines of the film score enthusiasts. Do please get it. The collection has a generous playing time and recording quality of the finest.


Rob Barnett


Ian lace

Rob Barnett

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