RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Scott of the Antarctic, Coastal Command, The People’s Land, 49th Parallel, The Dim Little Island, The England of Elizabeth, Story of a Flemish Farm, The Loves of Joanna Godden, Bitter Spring – BBC Phil./Rumon Gamba – Chandos

by | Sep 9, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

The Film Music of RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS [Collectors Edition]: Scott of the Antarctic, Coastal Command Suite, The People’s Land, 49th Parallel, The Dim Little Island, The England of Elizabeth, The Story of a Flemish Farm, The Loves of Joanna Godden, Bitter Springs – Merryn Gamba, sop./ Martin Hindmarsh, tenor/Ladies of Manchester Ch. Choir/ Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus/Chetham’s Ch. Choir/ BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – Chandos Movies (3-CD Set) CHAN 10529(3), 78:30, 70:47, 66:37 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

It didn’t seem right to place this marvelous collection in one of our Film Soundtrack articles.  After all it is music by one of the greatest composers to have written extensively for motion pictures, they are the only high quality recordings of most of this music, and finally they are nearly all recording premieres. Each of the three CDs has its own separate illustrated and extensive note booklet in the box.

The film score that stands out from all the rest here is the one for the masterful Michael Balcon film of 1947, Scott of the Antaractic. For the first time, all 18 cues which Vaughan Williams composed for the film are rearranged, edited and performed on this recording. They are more than double the music that the film’s director ended up using on the actual soundtrack, and illustrate the dilemma of most film composer in creating music that is never heard in the final film. The painful story of the ill-fated 1911-12 expedition is underlined with a compelling score colored by the force of the area’s cruel nature, represented with lots of percussion, a lonely female voice over a female wordless chorus, and even a wind machine.  VW later turned some of the themes from the film score into his Seventh Symphony, Sinfonia Antarctica.

Vaughan Williams was introduced to writing for the cinema in 1940 (when he was 68), for the only feature film produced by the British Ministry of Information during the Second World War, 49th Parallel. The story concerned the crew of a Nazi U-boat which runs aground in the St. Lawrence; they are trying to make their way thru Canada to cross into then-neutral U.S.  The hope was to bring the U.S. into the war sooner.  Instead of his usual practice of adapting English folksongs into his music, VW selected some folk music and hymns of the Germanic Hutterites of Western Canada. He also used themes which hinted at his Sixth Symphony, on which he was working at the time.

The third CD features two 25-minute suites of WV’s film music. The first is from The Story of a Flemish Farm, actually a British propaganda film about the Belgian Air Force, which was in exile in Britain at the time (1942). The rich and varied score contains two main themes which again were not used in the final film.  VW then made them the principal themes of of the second and fourth movements of his Sixth Symphony. The other 25-minute suite is from the music to a 1950 film, a sort of down-under Western about a trek in the Australian outback titled Bitter Springs. VW’s music for the kangaroos is a kick.

These are not very old original recordings, having been made from 2002 to 2006, and the sonics – originally recorded at 96K/24-bit – are excellent.

 – John Sunier

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