ALWYN: Film Music:  Odd Man Out.  Fallen Idol.  History of Mr. Polly. "Calypso" from The Rake's Progress.
London Symphony Orch/Richard Hickox, co

CHANDOS 9243 (F) (DDD) TT: 71:55

ALWYN:  Film Music (Volume II). The Crimson Pirate.  Green Girdle. Take My Life.  A Night to Remember.  The Card.  Desert Victory.  "Libera me" from Svengali.  The Winslow Boy.  In Search of the Castaways.  State Secret.
Susan Bullock, soprano; Canzonetta; BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba, cond.
CHANDOS 9959 (F) (DDD) TT:  77:29

Chandos continues their advocacy of music of British composer William Alwyn (1905-1985) with these CDs of film music.  Already they have issued admirable performances of five symphonies with the LSO/Hickox, plus a number of other orchestral works, concertos, songs, piano and chamber music. The first volume of film music when originally issued in 1993 had a different cover (shown above), and featured the winning team of the LSO/Hickox.  Volume II features the BBC Philharmonic under the dynamic direction of Rumon Gamba, who also completed the Chandos Arnold symphony cycle (started by the LSO/Hickox) in quite spectacular fashion (see review).

Alwyn, who wrote music for more than sixty documentaries and films, took his task seriously, working with some of the finest British directors.  His first film was the 1941 Penn of Pennsylvania, his last in 1963, The Running Man, directed by Carol Reed.  Scores for most of Alwyn's film work no longer exist as film studios stupidly destroyed them.  We are indebted to Philip Lane who has reconstructed most of this music from film soundtracks and done so to perfection.  Alwyn's music is appropriate for the situation, from the sinister, brooding score for Odd Man Out (1946) to the comic elements of The History of Mr. Polly (1949) and The Rake's Progress (1945). He could also toss off original polkas, waltzes and marches, many of which are heard on Volume II in the series.  This consists primarily of premiere recordings opening with a dashing overture on themes from The Crimson Pirate.  A lovely "pastorale tone poem" called Green Girdle (the entire score for the brief 1941 documentary) reminds one of Butterworth. 

The BBC Orchestra plays magnificently under Gamba's vivid leadership. John Bradbury is identified as solo clarinetist and Robert Holliday as the whistler in a suite from the 1952 film The Card.  The 17-member chorus Canzonetta appears briefly in "Libera me," which is from the 1954 film Svengali.  For me the only debit of this recording is soprano Susan Bullock who is heard twice, first in a brief dramatic aria from the 1947 Take My Life, in which an opera star who is the wife of a man accused of murder is performing in an opera house.  The other soprano solo is "Libera me" from the Svengali, in which a hypnotist turns a young girl into an opera star.  At the end of the film she sings this brief grand aria. For the movie they were able to get Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (how fortunate for them!).  Susan Bullock's voice is far removed from that exalted league, plummy with a wide vibrato and sometimes suspect pitch.  It's good to have this, but if you're going to record it, do it right please, as did Charles Gerhardt in his 1974 recording of film music of Bernard Herrmann in which the aria from Salammbo, poorly sung in Citizen Kane by Hearst's protégé wife, was sung to perfection by Kiri Te Kanawa (RCA/BMG 0707).  However, the soprano participation in this recording is less than six minutes, and we still have over seventy minutes of unadulterated enjoyment.

There is much to enjoy on both of these CDS. The Chandos sound is exceptional.  Highly recommended!

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)