The Island/Philip Sainton
July 8, 2012
You can well ask the question why this tone poem took 54 years to indirectly receive its world premier. I say indirectly because much of the material was used in the soundtrack by Sainton the composer of the (1956) version of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck and directed by John Huston. His one and only soundtrack, it became a bright spot in a film that many feel was a disappointment. Quoting Ray Bradbury, who wrote the screenplay and a book Green Shadows, White Whale on his collaboration with Huston, “Moby Dick, the film is Melville, and Sainton is both Melville and Moby Dick.” This comes from a man who initially tried to sell Huston on the Moby Dick music written by Herrmann!
The Island was written in 1939 while Sainton was a viola player with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and it was dedicated to trumpet player Ernest Hall also a member of the orchestra. The opening trumpet solo, a majestic fanfare, had to have been written with Hall in mind. The trumpet solo is a prelude to the first theme a delicate one with swirling strings complemented by the trumpet. A harp enhances the orchestration along with an oboe playing the theme with a counterpoint melody. An all too brief Irish melody gives way again to the swirling strings. This is a beautiful romantic section depicting the beauty and calm of the sea. The nature of the ocean is also one of turmoil and Sainton includes a section beginning with ominous tones followed by a disturbing section featuring growling brass and percussion. Dissonance is the order of the day. It passes and the work ends with a coda that returns to the main theme once again. One can certainly hear the strong influences of Bax, Delius, Moeran, and Debussy present in the seventeen minute work.
The Island certainly has to take its place among the other quality tone poems written about the sea. It is quite tonal with good melodies, structure, and excellent orchestration. There is nice recording/miking separation between the brass and strings where the ear can easily hear both sections easily without straining. Include in the mix the always present percussion, again properly miked, and you have a great recording. I’m really quite surprised that this work hasn’t received more attention than this one recording. Matthias Bamert, conductor and champion of Sainton, Philharmonia Orchestra, and Chandos should all be commended on this one. This would be a perfect companion purchase to the person who has or is interested in the Marco Polo (8.225050) complete film score recording by Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony orchestra. Both recordings can be found for under $10.00. I’ve included two audio clips for you to compare Moby Dick and The Island.
Patrick Hadley (1899-1973), friend and student of Vaughan Williams, nine years earlier wrote a four movement symphonic ballad The Trees So High. One of his early works revolves around the main melody as all three movements like brooks flow into a stream which is the final movement. It is hear that we hear a Capella sung by David Wilson-Johnson and the youth work somewhat comes together. While Hadley made a nice attempt and there are some lovely passages that depict the English countryside there is a lack of cohesiveness and sections appear out of place. Written in ‘A’ minor it is overall tragic. On first listen I found it a very difficult one but further visits to it gave me some idea of what Patrick was attempting to do.
1… The Island (17:00)
The Trees so High-Symphonic Ballad in A minor
2… Adagio (molto) moderato (11:11)
3… Andante tranquillo
4… Vivace (5:06)
5… Adagio (13:05)
Total Time is 51:39
David Wilson-Johnson Baritone
Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus David Hill, Chorus Master
Matthias Bamert Conductor