The Film Music of Sir Arnold Bax – Chandos

0 of 5 stars

Oliver Twist (Complete score prepared by Graham Parlett)
Malta, GC (Part 2)

BBC Philharmonic
Rumon Gamba

Recorded September 2002 in Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2003

2003 is Arnold Bax’s year. He died fifty years ago and therefore we have a hook to hang his composing hat on. Yet, as his followers will testify, Bax’s music shouldn’t need an anniversary to play his music. Thankfully, his symphonies and tone poems are not strangers to being recorded – and this year has seen Vernon Handley at last setting down his view of the seven symphonies (also for Chandos).

This CD of film music is more than a Baxian appendix. Both scores were written in Bax’s final decade when he felt inclined to retirement, yet there is no tailing-off of invention. Malta, GC is a short documentary-type film centred on the island’s heroic resistance during the Second War. It’s a shame that we only have Part 2 here – I believe the first section has been recorded – and that Chandos couldn’t have produced a ’2 CDs priced as one’ package. The Gay March opening the sequence is rather jaunty (and written before ’gay’ had been hijacked for an altogether different connotation!) and is followed by set pieces for quietude, industry and heroism. Attractive music, not least one of those wonderfully broad tunes that is quintessentially British (hauntingly introduced by solo strings), which one senses as entirely complementary to the image.

The greater achievement, though, is Bax’s music for David Lean’s 1948 film of Oliver Twist, here given complete (an hour’s worth) – including music jettisoned before the soundtrack was made, sections thought lost (until found in a skip in Brighton!) and alternative versions of the closing pages. Anyone familiar with Bax’s symphonies and tone poems will recognise the composer. His ability to immediately establish a mood comes into its own. One is taken into a particular world, a specific one if familiar with the film itself, or a self-imagined one that is fed by Bax’s vividness.

For all that there are 30 sections there is no feeling of the score being bitty. Graham Parlett, whose copious preparation of the score is a singular achievement, writes about what was required as part of the booklet notes, which includes a helpful guide to each track’s place in the film.

Oliver Twist is a score of distinction, one atmospheric, intimate, bustling and witty, and with a clutch of memorable tunes, the characters’ sensibilities graphically drawn. A couple of movements feature piano solos (originally with Harriet Cohen in mind), which are attractively languid. The BBC Philharmonic under a convinced Rumon Gamba is as sensitive and virtuoso as required, and the recording is excellent in terms of warmth and detail.

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