The Film Music Of Constant Lambert, Lord Berners / Gamba

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A generous selection of largely unknown film music done with conviction and style.

This is the first in the Chandos film music series to have two composers share a single disc. There are compelling reasons for this. It’s necessitated because neither composer wrote enough to be allocated a single disc and the music warrants recording. Also the friendship of the two composers provides the glue if cohesion is necessary. Do not expect the music to be similar though. Berners is zany, harum-scarum, polished yet volatile and welcoming of voices from popular culture. Lambert is the master in this company writing touching and consistently rewarding music for a dispensable genre.

The score for Merchant Seamen represents one aspect of Lambert's war work. The trumpet-emphasised fanfares are as strident and rebellious as those in Horoscope. The score's first movement also has cross-currents from Vaughan Williams despite Lambert’s execration of the cowpat style. After a very moody and Baxian Convoy in Fog with little flurries from Ravel comes a fast and furious Prokofiev-accented storm for Attack. This depicts one of the merchant ships being torpedoed. Safe convoy is perfectly peaceful and in its contented Celtic lull reminds the listener of parts of Bantock’s Hebridean Symphony and, more plausibly, of Malcolm Arnold's Third Scottish Dance - Arnold was a trumpeter in the orchestra when the suite was premiered by them on 15 May 1943. It may even have been a contributor to the inspiration behind Eric Fogg's orchestral miniature Sea-Sheen. The final March goes through the motions but seems empty for Lambert.

Vivien Leigh and Ralph Richardson appeared in the 1948 film of Anna Karenina. This is represented by another five movement score magically recorded by the Chandos team. Far from catching any Russian flavour the first movement sounded a mite like Malcolm Arnold, complete with alcoholic slurs - Lambert was no stranger to the grain. The second movement, Anna and Vronsky's first meeting has links with Vaughan Williams' score for The 49th Parallel. Anna and Vronsky on the Train might well have drawn on his earlier Aubade Heroique; in fact dedicated to RVW on his seventieth birthday. The Seance Scene and Anna's Illness take us back into creaking and aching Bax territory and does so as strongly as in the Convoy in Fog movement. The Anna's Garden movement returns us to the Ravel inflections of Convoy in Fog. The rocking and entrancing rustle of Forlana was later recycled in the Tiresias ballet.

Lord Berners was a very different, brilliant and eccentric creature and the change in the music is something of a crashed gear-change. Mary Carewe deserves an Oscar for her music-hall pin-sharp Come on Algernon from Berner's film score for Champagne Charlie. It's rife with innuendo. Come on Classic FM start playing this track - people will love it. The Polka from the same film score is elegant and full of haute-couture sensibility rather like Barber's Souvenirs suite.

The ten minute suite from Nicholas Nickleby is in a single continuously-played track yet with recognisable episodes. This is more in the nature of a medley yet following the plot sequence. Ravel's La Valse jostles with the Polka of Champagne Charlie. The six movements of Berners' score for Halfway House are much more serious and passionate than the zany Champagne Charlie and Nicholas Nickleby. The Drowning Scene is suitably occluded and dank. Philip Lane's adaptation of the Seance Waltz drifts in a hazed focus between Barber's Souvenirs and Sondheim. This is flouncy music in the grand manner. In the finale there is romance and birdsong. The vocals merge nicely with the other orchestral lines and the piece ends with a technicolour sunrise.

The notes are by Philip Lane and are an exemplar of their type.

The recording throughout is wonderfully palpable yet manages eerieness and the quieter moods with as much conviction as the demonstrative heroism.

This disc is generously full and very few of the tracks are anything less than engaging.

I will keep mentioning the need for a complete Chandos disc of the film music of Brian Easdale – until then enjoy this latest entrant.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10459

  • UPC: 095115145920

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Constant Lambert, Lord (Tyrwhitt) Berners

  • Conductor: Rumon Gamba

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Concert Orchestra, Joyful Company of Singers

  • Performer: Cynthia Fleming, Mary Carewe