The Film Music of Gerard Schurmann – Rumon Gamba conducts the BBC Philharmonic [Chandos]

5 of 5 stars

Gerard Schurmann
Music for films – Dr Syn; Konga; Claretta; The Ceremony; The Long Arm; Horrors of the Black Museum; The Gambler; Attack on the Iron Coast

BBC Philharmonic
Rumon Gamba

Recorded 19 & 20 June 2018 at MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester, England

Reviewed by: Brian Barford

Reviewed: August 2019
Duration: 78 minutes



Gerard Schurmann (born 1924) is one of the more neglected figures of British music. He was born in the former Dutch East Indies and came to Britain at the age of four. He studied composition with Alan Rawsthorne who became his friend and mentor. After pursuing a career as a pianist and conductor he worked in the British film industry, often as an assistant to Rawsthorne on his scores for Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) and The Cruel Sea (1954). His breakthrough as a film composer came when Ealing Studios asked him to compose for The Long Arm (1956) and then The Man in the Sky (1957). He created a reputation as a composer for action films and horror (he did two movies for Hammer) whilst continuing to be in demand as an orchestrator, including Lawrence of Arabia and Exodus. His parallel career in the concert hall is extensive and Chandos has also recorded his Concerto for Orchestra and Violin Concerto.

Stylistically, his music most resembles Rawsthorne in its mixture of big tunes and gaunt neo-Romanticism. His film scores are invariably well-crafted and symphonic in scale. Chandos has chosen a representative sample of his film work and Schurmann – in his mid-nineties – has been heavily involved in this project and has created these suites for it, all first recordings.

Dr Syn (1963) is the opener. It’s a Disney story of Essex smuggling folk and is held together by an exuberant performance from Patrick McGoohan as the eponymous doctor. ‘Brandy Smugglers on the Beach’ is reminiscent of Holst with fanfares in brass and woodwinds to suggest galloping horses. The Doctor Syn theme in the strings rises from an undulating opening to a plush climax, and Squire Brooks (Michael Hordern) has a variation that has a threatening distant posthorn. The suite ends with a richly scored version of the Syn theme with an added sense of yearning and a nobly triumphant coda as characters set sail on a Dutch trader to liberty and a new life.

Konga (1961) shows Schurmann in horror mode and was one of two scores provided for the American producer Herman Cohen whose films, including Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), had a greater emphasis on sadism, cruelty and violence, with a sexual undertone, than the more supernatural terror of Hammer. Konga starred Michael Gough as a mad doctor and Jess Conrad and had more than a passing similarity to the classic King Kong (1933). Dark sonorities suggest the gorilla who turns into a rampaging monster and there are melancholy strings as Konga eventually dies in London beneath Big Ben. Schurmann’s other Cohen score was the more sadistic Horrors of the Black Museum (1959) again with Gough and also Shirley Anne Field. ‘Gruesome Murders’ is classic horror stuff with threatening timpani.

Claretta (1984) starring Claudia Cardinale as Mussolini’s mistress Claretta Petacci is in a much gentler vein: tranquil flute, harp and strings and there is also a pleasant waltz. Things become more vigorous with The Ceremony (1963) starring Sarah Miles and Laurence Harvey who also directed with considerable self- indulgence. The film has a Moroccan setting and much of the score reflects the influence of Manuel de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat. Two items use the treble recorder and Indian flute beguilingly. The sequence ends with a dark, intense and violent account of a prison revolt.

Bizarrely, The Long Arm (1956) directed by Charles Frend and starring Jack Hawkins is given much exposure on the cover and in the accompanying booklet but is the shortest item here. Schurmann’s most-recent score is The Gambler (1997), a rather good film by Karoly Makk with Michael Gambon, Polly Walker and Dominic West based on Dostoevsky’s novel. ‘Gambling’ is rendered in an impressionistic style with woodwinds and strings to suggest whirling roulette wheels whereas ‘Carriage Ride’ has more than a suggestion of the gamelan.

The release concludes in rousing style with Attack on the Iron Coast (1967), a war film with Lloyd Bridges, re-scored by Schurmann for this recording, and the epitome of dynamic action music.

Rumon Gamba supplies energy and subtlety in equal measure and the BBC Philharmonic plays with much spirit, captured in wide-ranging sound. There is an interesting and detailed booklet note by the composer’s wife, Carolyn Nott.

There is enough material for another Schurmann album: it would be good to hear The Bedford Incident, Camp on Blood Island, and The Lost Continent given the Chandos treatment.

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