ALWYN :  Film Music Vol. 4 – BBC Philharmonic / Rumon Gamba; Chandos

by | Jun 8, 2017 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ALWYN :  Film Music Vol 4 [contents below] – BBC Philharmonic / Rumon Gamba; Chandos 10930 reviewed as 24-96 flac download;  TT: 77:33 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

A fine collection of Alwyn film music portraying lots of stiff upper lip from the 1940s and 1950s.

William Alwyn (1905-1985) has been very well served over the years by Chandos.  Included are a cycle of the symphonies with Richard Hickox at the helm of the London Symphony Orchestra, sundry orchestral music, concertos, chamber works including the string quartets,  and this, their fourth volume of music for the cinema.

Alwyn contributed scores for around 70 films during his long career, though IMDB includes another 57 items written for documentaries, other shorts and television, and all between 1937 and 1963.  A substantial 46 works date from 1939-1945, written for wartime productions of one sort or another.  Some have survived in the public’s psyche; I guess the better-known ones include ‘The Winslow Boy’, ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’, ‘Odd Man Out’, ‘The Fallen Idol’, ‘The History of Mr Polly’, and two included in this new release, ‘The Master of Ballantrae’ and ‘The Ship that Died of Shame’.  One of the last he composed was a score for the Disney production of ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ in 1960.

The quality of the music included in this fourth volume remains undiminished.  The Suite from ‘The Black Tent’ does give the impression of generic Arabian mood music, and of its time.  ‘On Approval’ has a high-spirited score part of which brings out with great fun the unsophisticated humour of the Victorian Music Hall.  Paul Janes is at the piano for the ‘Denham Concerto’ (once a popular component in film scores) included in ‘They Flew Alone’,  and Charlotte Trepass sings affectingly the Mermaid’s Song from ‘Miranda’, a comedy based on a doctor’s rescue by a mermaid who’d have liked to have kept him for herself.  Oddly, IMDB doesn’t credit Alwyn with his contribution.

‘The Master of Ballantrae’ set in the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie is something of a swashbuckle, with music to match the starring of Errol Flynn, Roger Livesey and Anthony Steel.  The final item,  Manchester Suite, from ‘A City Speaks’ rounds off the programme with some effective writing, which readers can hear in full in its original context courtesy of the BFI.  It’s an optimistic view of the future from the aspect of a grey, grimy, sooty, just post-war Manchester, the home of both the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic Orchestras.  As I write this, the city is girding its loins yet again after a bombing claiming two dozen young lives.  Suffice to say, Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic are on excellent form producing some tight and entertaining playing.

Recorded at MediaCity UK, Salford, Greater Manchester during 21 & 22 January 2016, Chandos produce sound of excellent quality, the high resolution flac files giving a good sense of the recording space.   The superb booklet includes a first-class essay by Andrew Knowles and many effective stills.   This is a fine addition to William Alwyn’s discography.

Suite from ‘The Black Tent’ (1956) Reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane
Suite from ‘On Approval’ (1944) Reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane
Suite from ‘The Master of Ballantrae’ (1953)
Prelude from ‘Fortune Is a Woman’ (1957) Arranged by Philip Lane
Mermaid’s Song from ‘Miranda’ (1947) Arranged by Philip Lane with Charlotte Trepass, soprano
Prelude from ‘Saturday Island’ (1952) Reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane
Suite from ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ (1959) Reconstructed and arranged by Philip Lane
Main Titles from ‘The Ship That Died of Shame’ (1955)
Suite from ‘They Flew Alone’ (1941) with Paul Janes, piano
Manchester Suite from ‘A City Speaks’ (1946)

—Peter Joelson

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