The Film Music of Constant Lambert & Lord Berners

0 of 5 stars

Merchant Seamen – Suite
Anna Karenina – Suite [arr. Philip Lane]
Lord Berners
Champagne Charlie – Come on Algernon; Polka [both orchestrated Philip Lane]
Nicholas Nickleby – Suite [arr. and orchestrated Ernest Irving]
The Halfway House – Suite [arr. Lane]

Mary Carewe (soprano)

Joyful Company of Singers (female voices)

BBC Concert Orchestra
Rumon Gamba

Recorded 25 & 26 September 2007 in Watford Colosseum, Watford, London

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: August 2008
Duration: 80 minutes



“Champagne Charlie” is Alberto Cavalcanti’s 1944 biopic of the Victorian music hall singer George Leybourne who is best remembered as the lyricist of the song “The daring young man on the flying trapeze”. The Ealing Studios film concentrated on the rivalry between Leybourne and another singer of the day, Alfred Vance, and their promotion of drinking songs. Tommy Trinder played Leybourne with Stanley Holloway as Vance. It is a handsome-looking film and contains a number of memorable Victorian songs performed with great panache. The song included here, “Come on Algernon”, was originally sung in the film by Betty Warren but was not a Victorian original and had music by Lord Berners to which T. E. B. Clarke, a stalwart writer for Ealing Studios, contributed the lyrics. Here Mary Carewe gives her all in the song, making one feel that it could well be a Victorian ditty.

The delightful ‘Polka’ comes from the music Berners wrote for “Cinderella”, a pantomime produced at the Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, near Berners’s home in Faringdon. In fact the film of “Champagne Charlie” also includes music and lyrics by Una Bart, Noël Gay, Frank Eyton, Billy Mayerl, Alfred Lee and George Leybourne and the film’s Musical Director Ernest Irving.

Cavalcanti also directed “Nicholas Nickleby” (1947) which, appearing soon after the release of David Lean’s version of “Great Expectations”, suffered by comparison. The Suite of music from the film includes only about ten minutes of Berners’s score arranged at the time by Ernest Irving and it delineates various characters from the book in thumbnail sketches of Nicholas, Madeline, Kate, Ralph, Mr Squeers and Crummles.

“The Halfway House“ (1944) is a ghost story about a group of travellers who arrive at an inn in Wales with various problems. The inn is run by a landlord and his daughter (played by Mervyn Johns and his daughter Glynis) but in fact the inn had been bombed a year earlier and the two in residence are the ghosts. Little of Berners’s score was actually used in the finished film so Philip Lane has assembled and arranged it for this recording. It is full of contrasts and heaven alone knows why it wasn’t used on the soundtrack. The ‘Finale’ is a beautiful choral piece that evokes the otherworldly quality of the film every bit as much as ‘Neptune’ closes Holst’s The Planets.

Rumon Gamba and the BBC Concert Orchestra play this and all the other music on this recording with great gusto, relishing the musicality and musicianship of some fine but unnecessarily neglected British compositions.

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