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Music for Stage and Screen
rec. 1923-1958 ALBION RECORDS ALBCD041 [65:53]
With one or two exceptions, Albion Records have focused their activities on bringing us new and archive recordings of the music of Vaughan Williams. This latest release, however, represents something of a departure. VW is represented but his music occupies only about 10% of the playing time. The programme has been curated by Stephen Connock, Vice President of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, and with one exception – the Rutland Boughton item – all the tracks were sourced from LPs and 78s in his personal collection. As if that were not enough, Mr Connock has written the comprehensive notes.
Appropriately, this compilation begins with VW and an excerpt from the music by which he announced himself as a composer for the silver screen. The 1941 film, 49thParallel depicts the attempts of a small group of U-boat sailors to evade capture in Canada. They were stranded ashore when their submarine was sunk and to reach freedom, they need to cross the border with the USA – the 49th Parallel – and into what was then neutral territory. We hear the Prelude with its fine, aspiring main melody. This, as Stephen Connock says, “suggests the wild expanses of the Canadian terrain and the courage of its people”. Amazingly, having penned such a memorable tune, VW didn’t use it again during his incidental music until it accompanied the end credits. Fortunately, like the cinema audiences of the 1940s, we also get a second chance to hear it, at the end of the disc. Both pieces are played by the LSO and Muir Mathieson but the recordings come from quite different sessions – and for different labels. The Prelude was recorded for HMV in November 1949 but the Epilogue was a recording made for Decca London in June 1946. These recordings may not have the amplitude of Rumon Gamba’s modern Chandos recording (review) but they still sound well.
VW’s great friend, Holst is represented by his Ballet Music from The Perfect Fool. Sir Adrian Boult recorded this twice with the LPO. I’m very familiar with his 1961 recording but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this 1954 version. It’s very good. There’s plenty of earthy energy in the music representing the Earth Spirits, after which the music for the Water Spirits is played with due grace and delicacy. Boult and his players make the Fire Spirits music very exciting. It’s very good to have this version in an excellent transfer.
Walton himself conducts the Philharmonia in two numbers from his celebrated music for Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V. I particularly liked the tender rendition of ‘Touch her Soft Lips and Part’. From the same year comes the film Western Approaches for which the little-remembered Clifford Parker furnished the music. The ‘Seascape’ from that score is quite an impressive piece of writing. Stephen Connock describes the main melody as Bax-like and, in fact, I’d say that the whole piece bears the beneficial influence of that composer. The LSO and Muir Mathieson recorded the piece for Decca in June 1946 and in the same session they set down Alwyn’s ‘Calypso Music’ from The Rake’s Progress (1945). From the description in the notes, it sounds as if the film was fairly forgettable but Alwyn contrived this attractive little number as part of the film score. Mathieson and the LSO also give us the Main Theme from Alwyn’s score for The Cure for Love (1949). The most memorable part of this piece is a pleasing, if slightly sentimental, slow waltz.
If you’re wondering who is the rather attractive lady pictured on the front of the disc, it’s Victoria Hopper. She took the title role in the 1934 film adaptation of Lorna Doone. Though by that time she was following a career as an actress, she had trained as an opera singer, so she was able to sing this song herself. It’s Rutland Boughton’s only foray into film music and, in fact, it was only a fairly limited foray. Apparently, the full score for the film was composed by Armstrong Gibbs but it was decided, late in the day, that the film should include a song for the heroine. Why Boughton was asked to supply this rather than Gibbs I don’t know. Both the song and Miss Hopper’s style of singing are of their time. However, I should say at once that Victoria Hopper’s voice is clear and nicely produced.
I know that Delius’s music for Hassan is highly regarded by many Delians but I’ve never found it all that interesting. The extracts, here woven together, consist of the well-known ‘Serenade’, here sung as a wordless tenor solo, which segues into the ‘Road to Samarkand’ chorus. This is the earliest recording in the collection, dating from 1923. Both the sound and the style of singing – especially the choral singing – make clear the age of the recording. Much more to my taste is the splendid, bracing March that Bliss composed as part of the music for Things to Come (1936). This recording, by the LSO and the composer, was transferred from the soundtrack of the film in February 1936.
I think there’s a strong case for saying that the most valuable part of this collection is Sir Thomas Beecham’s account of Falla’s El Amor Brujo. It’s valuable both because Beecham never recorded the work commercially and because it’s a rather fine performance. The recording was made for the 1959 film Honeymoon; in it Beecham conducted the Rome Radio Orchestra, which couldn’t be billed under its proper name for contractual reasons. The singer, who appears in a couple of items, is the mezzo María Carla Alcalá, and jolly authentic she sounds. The score had to be abridged for the film – one such casualty was the ‘Ritual Fire Dance’, which is a pity since Beecham does it so well. It should be noted also that there are quite a lot of extraneous noises – the wind blowing, foot-stomping and the like – which were added for the film. Those, however, are minor issues. What matters is the quality of the performance that Beecham inspired. I’ve already mentioned the earthy and passionate ‘Ritual Fire Dance’. I also noted an incisive and energetic rendition of ‘Dance of Terror’. The performance of ‘Pantomime’ is especially winning. As Stephen Connock observes, Beecham “caresses the melody in exquisite fashion” and I really like the lovely, lyrical sway he imparts to this number. All in all, this is a highly significant addition to Beecham’s discography on CD.
This disc is as enjoyable as it is enterprising. The programme has been very well chosen and includes some worthwhile rarities plus the very significant Beecham ‘bonus’. The transfers have been made by Pete Reynolds and I think he’s done an excellent job. The performances come through clearly and without distortion. As usual with this label, the album is comprehensively documented.
John Quinn Contents Ralph VAUGHAN WILIAMS (1872-1958)
Prelude to 49thParallel [3:20]
London Symphony Orchestra / Muir Mathieson (rec. November 1949) Gustav HOLST (1874– 934)
Ballet Music from The Perfect Fool
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Sir Adrian Boult (rec. November 1954) Sir William WALTON (1902-1983)
Excerpts from Henry V
‘Death of Falstaff’ [2:48]
‘Touch her Soft Lips and Part’ [1:47]
Philharmonia String Orchestra / Sir William Walton (rec. October 1945) William ALWYN (1905-1985)
Main Theme from The Cure for Love [3:05] (rec. November 1949)
‘Calypso Music’ from The Rake’s Progress [3:45] (rec. June 1946)
London Symphony Orchestra / Muir Mathieson Clifton PARKER (1905-1989)
‘Seascape’ from Western Approaches [4:07]
London Symphony Orchestra / Muir Mathieson (rec. June 1946) Rutland BOUGHTON (1878-1960)
‘Lorna’s Song’ from Lorna Doone [3:19]
Victoria Hopper (soprano) with Orchestra (rec. November 1934) Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
March from Things to Come [3:31]
London Symphony Orchestra / Sir Arthur Bliss (transferred from film soundtrack, February 1936) Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Excerpts from Hassan [4:24]
H Farrar (tenor); His Majesty’s Theatre Chorus & Orchestra / Percy Fletcher (rec. November 1923) Manuel DE FALLA (1876-1946) El Amor Brujo (abridged) from Honeymoon
Studio Orchestra (Rome Radio Orchestra) / Sir Thomas Beecham (rec. 1958, Rome) Ralph VAUGHAN WILIAMS
Epilogue from 49thParallel [4:17]
London Symphony Orchestra / Muir Mathieson (rec. June 1946)
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