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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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Submitted by: Roger Mellor

British Film Music

Here is a review of a Decca CD of British Film Music, conducted by Bernard Herrman

Great British Film Music, Richard III, Anna Karenina Suite, Oliver Twist, An Ideal Husband, Escape Me Never, The Invaders, Things To Come.

Hollywood gave film music a bad name. For a while, Hollywood's films were so saturated with music - some of it great, most of it mediocre - that audiences eventually stopped listening to it or simply dismissed it as so much background noise. Its purpose - to set a mood, create an atmosphere, heighten dramatic or comic impact - was often lost. British film makers tended to be more sparing with the music, and they often hired some of the very best composers. A perfect example is this collection of music written for the movies by Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Arnold Bax, Arthur Bliss, Arthur Benjamin, and Constant Lambert. All of this was previously available on London's Phase 4 series. This is music that is in turn evocative, dramatic, lyrical imaginative, and in all instances well worth hearing.

On the lighter, brighter side is Arthur Benjamin's music for An Ideal Husband and Walton's somewhat wispy score for Escape Me Never. By contrast, Walton's fanfare-like Prelude for Richard III is appropriately regal, heroic, and dark-hued. VW's Two Lyrical Pieces for Oliver Twist seem to have little or nothing to do with the movie but obviously do work better with the on-screen images they are meant to accompany. Lambert's music for Anna Karenina is merely pretty.

The shortest excerpt is Vaughan Williams's piece, 49th Parallel, his first film score. By far the most compelling is the music Bliss composed for the darkly futuristic Things To Come, based on the HG Wells novel. It is the last suite presented here and is stark, powerful, vibrant, and far more moving than the scores preceding it. Not only is the music a perfect complement to the action and to the story, but it is quite stirring in its right; and, unlike the movie itself, seems neither old fashioned nor outdated.

What we have here is a sampling of film music at its best, conducted by a man who himself has contributed greatly to the genre and knows, therefore, how to make the most of every dramatic moment. All in all, it is a fine collection, beautifully played and recorded.

From American Record Guide 15th May 1997 v60:n3. p242(2)

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