Film Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams Volume 3/Gamba & BBC Philharmonic

October 2, 2006


What if Ralph Vaughan Williams had been born 50 years later and had devoted more energy to composing for films instead of the concert hall. There would have been two Williams receiving Oscar awards and nominations! Ralph (pronounced rafe) began his composing for films in his late 60’s at an age when most men retire! He scored 11 major films plus a documentary and a piece for television. This third volume of film music gives us “The Story Of A Flemish Farm”, “The Loves of Joanna Godden”, and “Bitter Springs”, the last two also being a premiere recordings. Why it has taken 50+ years for these recordings to be released is beyond this reviewer. Even his “The Flemish Farm” has had but one other full suite release (Marco Polo 8.223665). It really makes one ponder because the music he created can stand with his concert works! Thank heavens that Chandos has taken the job of bringing all of this material out of the libraries and into the fine hands of Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic.

“The Story of a Flemish Farm” was written in 1943 and a concert suite was given at the end of the war in August of 1945 conducted by the composer. To the best of my knowledge this was a suite that the composer arranged and orchestrated himself for concert performance. Alas, this is wonderful music which is rarely performed today, something which RVW commented to that “to call anything a suite was to damn it to extinction.” He perhaps only knew too well what would happen. The soundtrack collector wants every single note from the film including unused takes and the concert goer would rather partake in one of his symphonies. The propaganda World War Two film, based on a true story, has to do with the recovering of a Belgian flag hidden on a Flemish Farm. The seven movements offer the listener the best of both worlds in terms of symphonic RVW (listen for the Sea Symphony, #6, and the definite Holst influence). The seven sections include a proud patriotic theme ‘The Flag Flutters in the Wind’, the atmospheric ‘Night by the Sea-Farewell to the Flag’, romantic strains of a solo violin for ‘Dawn in the Barn’, light and airy dominate ‘In a Belgian Cafe’, an adagio/funeral like for ‘The Major Goes to Face His Fate’, a definite cue that should be seen with the film in ‘The Dead Man’s Kit’, and finally the return of the flag theme in ‘The Wanderings of the Flag’. This is an excellent example of being able to enjoy both worlds of RVW.

“The Loves of Joanna Godden” was edited by Stephen Hogger into a 15 minute tone poem style work incorporating material from a 1948 gramophone recording as well as other music for the Charles Frend film from 1947. This is a premiere recording and has no further breakdown other than 7 tempo changes. One of the more humorous quotations on the part of RVW came from a sequence he scored for this film. Arthur, one of the loves of Joanna Godden, has lost his sheep and RVW boasts that even Richard Strauss had never written a piece of music for hoof and mouth disease in music! William Irving who conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra for transfer to gramophone was quite impressed with the overall music. Since it was done during the final stages of his 6th Symphony there is more than a casual reference, as well as references made to his friend and colleague Holst. In addition there is a short but very touching woman chorus passage sung by the Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir. The entire piece is extremely well done and one that should be explored by classical fanciers as well as soundtrack enthusiasts.

“Bitter Springs” was a 1950 film about the outback in Australia and was a collaboration between Williams and Irving. Williams supplied some of the thematic material and Irving orchestrated it as well as contributing some of his own writing as well. This 25 minute work is broken down into 16 tracks and is also edited by Stephen Hogger. The ‘Main Titles and Opening Music’ which is also repeated in other tracks has a relentess theme and beat which is accented by trombones. Irving’s “Kangaroos” could very easily have fit into a cartoon with its comical style and ‘Boomerang’ features excellent use of a xylophone and percussion. ‘Housewarming’ almost sounds completely out of place with a more modern orchestrated dance band style track. The combination of Irving and Williams proves to be most effective in this score.

The 24 Bit recordings from Chandos, in this case Stephen Rinker being the engineer, are crystal clear. When comparing the Naxos recording of the Flemish Farm with the Chandos the sound difference was immediately noticeable. Liner notes were not only good from Michael Kennedy they were superb. On the “Bitter Springs” track listing there was an issue with the two sets of numbers not lining up correctly. The track number was slightly off from the actual track which also had numbers and the whole thing was quite confusing. Chandos could have done a much better job.

England has never produced a finer composer than Ralph Vaughan Williams and this includes concert and film material. Recommended.

Golden Scores Rating (***1/2)

Chandos # 10368

Produced by Brian Pidgeon and Mike George

Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC Philharmonic

Total Time is 66:37

Track Listing:

1-7 The Story of a Flemish Farm (25:08)

8 The Loves of Joanna Godden (15:13)

9-23 Bitter Springs (25:57)


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