INTRODUCTORY LISTENER'S GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF BENJAMIN FRANKEL by Dimitri Kennaway
Most people at all familiar with British films of the period from 1934 to 1965 will have heard music by Benjamin Frankel, perhaps without even realising it. Among the more famous titles are "The Seventh Veil"; "Mine Own Executioner"; "The Man in the White Suit"; "The Importance of Being Earnest"; "A Kid for Two Farthings"; "Curse of the Werewolf"; "Night of the Iguana" and "Battle of the Bulge" (the latter two being American films). The popular light- music piece "Carriage and Pair", from the 1950 film "So Long at the Fair", has remained a firm favourite through the years and is currently available on three different CD recordings. The most recently issued of these is 'British Light Music Classics, Vol.2' on Hyperion CDA 66968, with the New London Orchestra under Ronald Corp. This charming and memorable piece provides one very easy introduction to the composer's music but his concert works also offer such opportunities.
There is, perhaps, no better work with which to start than Frankel's orchestral prelude 'May Day - a Panorama', Op.22 (on CPO 999 240-2, with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra Under Werner Andreas Albert). This bustling, episodic, piece is full of colour and incident, covers a wide range of moods and contains perfectly hummable tunes. So too, 'Mephistopheles' Serenade and Dance - a Caricature for Orchestra', Op.25 (on CPO 999 242-2, with the same artists). Unusually for Frankel, the latter work is a piece of pure program music, with a witty scenario as its basis.
Another, mainly light-hearted, work is 'Youth Music' for string orchestra, Op.12 (CPO 999 221-2, with the Northwest Chamber Orchestra Seattle, under Alun Francis). This short, four movement suite, covers a wide expressive range and, once again, contains many captivating melodies.
Among the many chamber works, Frankel's Trio for Clarinet, 'Cello and Piano, Op.10 (CPO 999 384-2, with Paul Dean (Clt.) Marcus Stocker (Cllo.) and Kevin Power (Pno.), offers a most welcoming introduction to his 'late-romantic' style and contains a hint of Brahmsian textures. On the same CD, the 'Early Morning Music' (three 'cartoons' for oboe, clarinet and Bassoon, Op.20) demonstrate the composer in relaxed and witty mood ( the three titles - 'Too Early', 'Breakfast Cackle' and 'Unwillingly to Work' are all perfectly characterised ). Still in a highly melodic and late-romantic idiom are the String Quartets Nos.2 and 4 (CPO 999 420-2, with the Nomos Quartet).
All of the above would offer an ideal starting point for those new to Frankel's concert works, after which, it should be only a small step towards his somewhat more challenging works. Most important among these would be the Violin Concerto, Op.24, 'In memory of the Six Million' (CPO 999 422-2, with Ulf Hoelscher (Vln.) and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, under Werner Andreas Albert) and, of course, the eight symphonies. Of the latter, the Fifth, Op.46 (same details as for 'May Day' mentioned earlier) is the most immediately accessible, with a somewhat pastoral first movement, a delicate second and a rousing third (complete with a grand finish). From here, one could move on to any of the other symphonies ( the First is coupled with the Fifth ), such as the Second, Op.38 (coupled with the Third, on CPO 999 241- 2), or the Fourth, Op.44 ( coupled with the Sixth on the same CD with 'Mephistopheles' Serenade and Dance' mentioned above).
Of the more challenging chamber works, the String Quartets Nos. 1 ,3 and 5 ( details as above) and the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 28 ( perhaps the composer's loveliest chamber work ), would be obvious next steps on this voyage of discovery.
Those who can locate and afford the, now scarce, original soundtrack LP or CD of Frankel's music from "Battle of the Bulge" (with the Philharmonia under the composer) could have no finer introduction to his serious, dramatic, film music (in time, CPO plans to produce a brand-new CD of the entire score).
List of Current Recordings