William P. Perry: Music For Great Films Of The Silent Era

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A glorious, joyous, tuneful celebration of the days of Silent Cinema.

Of course there were no soundtracks for films of the silent era. Music was provided, in situ, in cinemas, by pianists or small instrumental groups, and, very occasionally, by orchestras playing in large cinemas for important film premieres. Often the music played comprised odd snippets - frequently from well known classical compositions that fitted the locations, pace and mood of the on-screen action. Years later when these Silent Era classics were rediscovered, new original music was composed for them. Foremost amongst composers for silent films are Carl Davis – and William Perry. This Naxos CD is a celebration of Perry’s work.

William Perry’s Gemini Concerto draws cleverly on themes created for films of the 1920s; for example the ‘New York: Broadway and Finale’ quotes music written from: Show People (1928), Fine Manners (1928) starring Gloria Swanson and from King Vidor’s 1928 masterpiece, The Crowd. The Gemini Concerto was written for the Swiss identical twin sisters, Fiona and Ambra Albeck, featured on this recording. It was premiered in Greenfield Massachusetts in May 2010.

The Gemini Concerto begins with an ‘Introduction and Travel Music’ that is a fizzy, exuberant mix of styles beginning with a ‘we’re off’ train whistle sparking material evocative of accelerating train wheels; this sparkling Introduction has colourful harmonies and imaginative orchestrations and ensembles - piano and violin solos, chamber and orchestral segments - all in pursuit of adventure, discovery and revelling in nostalgia. The sense of the train proceeding continues with ‘Dublin, Celtic Air and Runaway Reel’ which is the Concerto’s second movement that has a typically Irish tune with a prominent violin solo. The third movement takes us to Berlin for a ‘Cabaret March and Berliner Lied’, beautifully evocative, reminiscent of that city between the wars. It has an exquisite poignant melody for piano and violin - the Berliner Lied – that speaks of sadness of parting. This movement is worth the price of the CD alone. On to Moscow for a ‘Twilight Troika and Romance’ horses trotting through a snowy landscape; sleigh bells a-ringing before bells of a different kind introduce a sweet Romance for piano and violin à la Rachmaninov. In Vienna there is a sparkling and gaily romantic ‘Polytonal Polka and Waltz ‘Wiener Wein’ that sends champagne corks a-poppin’. Finally we land in New York for the Concerto’s glittering, jazzy ‘Broadway Ballet and Finale’.

Perry has drawn together music from three of his scores to form the somewhat less original, less inspired The Silent Years: Three Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra. The first of these Rhapsodies is on music for the 1927 John Barrymore swashbuckler, The Beloved Rogue which was a film based on the adventures of 15 th century rogue and poet, François Villon. Fanfares announce a swaggering devil-my-care theme for Villon. The suite includes music for court pomp and majesty and the requisite love music - material that Korngold would not have sniffed at - Blood and Sand famously starred Rudolph Valentino and Perry’s score is suitably exotically Latin, including flashing flamenco rhythms and music reminiscent of de Falla, for this Andalucian-based torrid melodrama about the fortunes of bullfighters. The evocative score follows this story of bravery in the bull ring, passion and betrayal and ultimate tragedy. Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush inspired Perry to pen music suggesting labouring with pick and hammer, comic and poignant adventures of prospector Charlie, a New Year’s party dance, Charlie’s shy romancing and his big gold strike.

Perry explains that he sometimes conceives themes that could be used to score film assignments he might yet receive. Accordingly, from such a store of themes, he has drawn together another brilliantly coloured suite of music entitled, Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie. Number one is a Dance Overture for an imaginary film that might conceivably be entitled ‘Wild Nights in Toronto’. It’s wild alright, bright and breezy and jazzy redolent of the roaring twenties with gangsters and their molls. Next we travel to France for a typically Gallic waltz that could grace such a film called ‘Raincoats of Dijon’; the obligatory accordion is featured prominently. Then it is south to Italy for a Serenade for a projected film ‘Angelus for an Angel’. The orchestration calls for wistful use of tubular bells. The fourth theme carries us off to South America and another Perry dream film, ‘The Bridge on the River Plate’. This time he uses stirring quick march music that he had actually composed for a silent film about World War I, What Price Glory; the soldiers must be in a happy mood judging by their whistling! Now comes a Nocturne in jazz blues mode for a film that might be entitled, ‘The Black Marigold’ – possibly a film noire set in a Manhattan night club? The final theme is for an imaginary science fiction film called ‘Voyage to the Dog Star’. This is a glamorous score that reminds one more of those Ziegfeld musicals and Bette Davis tear-jerkers than a sci-fi epic. The music might remind one of the grand Late Romantic piano concertos and there is a grandiloquent solo Siren Song from Irish soprano Helen Kearns as the space craft nears the fiery surface of Sirius. A wonderful way-over-the-top finale.

The RTÉ Orchestra and Paul Phillips play these colourful and melodic works with great enthusiasm and panache and mention must be made of Robert Nowak’s brilliant orchestrations.

Naxos have really gone to town with the documentation for this release. The 16-page booklet includes colour pictures of the composer and all the artists, plus full notes and even musical examples. ’Pity then that the dates of composition and films are not always given.

A glorious, joyous, tuneful celebration of the days of Silent Cinema.

-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 30, 2011

  • Catalog Number: 8572567

  • UPC: 747313256778

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: William Perry

  • Conductor: Paul Phillips

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: RTE National Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Ambra Albek, Fiona Albek, Helen Kearns, Michael Chertock