Prom 38 – Flying the (British) Film Flag

Rawsthorne
The Cruel Sea – Prelude and Nocturne (1953, arr. Philip Lane)
Bax
Oliver Twist – Prelude; Fight; Romp; Chase; Finale (1948, arr. Muir Mathieson)
Addinsell
Warsaw Concerto
Arnold
The Belles of St Trinian’s – Exploits for Orchestra – Prelude; Train to Trinian’s; Flash and Miss Fritton; Races and Games; Finale (1954, arr. Christopher Palmer and Philip Lane)
Walton
Richard III (1955) – Prelude (arr. Mathieson)
Bennett
Murder on the Orient Express – Suite (1974, arr. David Lindup)
Barry
The Lion in Winter – Suite (The Lion in Winter – Eleanor’s Arrival at Chinon – We’re Jungle Creatures) (1968, arr. Nic Raine)
Dances with Wolves – John Dunbar Theme (1990, arr. Nic Raine)
From Russia with Love (1963, arr. Nic Raine)
Goldfinger – Main Theme (1964, arr. Nic Raine)
Bliss
Things to Come (1935, reconstructed by Philip Lane) – Prologue – March – Attack – Pestilence – Excavation – The Building of the New World – Machines – Attack on the Moon Gun – Epilogue

Philip Fowke (piano)
Roderick Elms & Alistair Young (piano duo)
Timothy West (narrator)
BBC Singers
BBC Concert Orchestra
Rumon Gamba


Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 16 August, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

At last – Rumon Gamba gets his own evening Prom!A stalwart of the morning Blue Peter Proms of recent years with his quondam orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, it was perhaps not surprising that it came in a programme devoted to British Film Music, repertoire that Gamba and the BBC Phil have been successfully recording for Chandos.At the concert, Gamba appeared with the London-based BBC Concert Orchestra.

As Timothy West told us, via Tommy Pearson’s pithy scripted introductions, the composers represented prove that film music is an art form in its own right.Although it wasn’t stated, the evening could have been dedicated to the untiring efforts of Muir Mathieson. He was behind (either as instigator, music director or arranger of concert suites) a number of the works on offer.It was Mathieson who persuaded Bax to write the music for David Lean’s classic Oliver Twist, although Bax was initially rather dismissive of the venture.And yet he produced a wonderfully evocative score, certainly worth hearing separated from Lean’s film, especially as it is only the second (and regrettably last) piece of Bax’s in the 50th-anniversary year of his death at this year’s Proms.Alan Rawsthorne provided the opener, with the swell and then night chill of his score for the wartime epic The Cruel Sea.

In the concerto spot was Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, nimbly dispatched by Philip Fowke. As someone confided with me, why have cod Rachmaninov when there is so much real (and, for that matter, really good) Rachmaninov to choose from?Such comparisons are always going to weigh heavily against the supposed cheaper imprint.Timothy West informed us that the film from which the music came (intriguingly the work was never heard complete on celluloid), Dangerous Moonlight, is best forgotten.Despite its popularity (it was the first bit of film music ever to be released as a recording), I feel the Warsaw Concerto should similarly be confined to memory’s cul-de-sac.

The piano stayed on stage for the most fun piece of the evening, Sir Malcolm Arnold’s St Trinian’s, where the seven percussionists of the Concert Orchestra donned straw-boaters, four with blond pigtails, three with dark. Gamba came back on stage with a teacher’s cloak dragging two naughty schoolboys in shorts, blazers and caps: Roderick Elms and Alistair Young, who mischievously appropriated the keyboard for the piano-duo part.The honky-tonk main theme immediately took me back to the classic Ealing comedies with Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell and George Cole.They certainly don’t make them like that anymore (although I’ve heard subsequently that they’re toying with a remake!), and Arnold provided some of his most winningly witty music.

It may have been a curious choice to put Walton’s Richard III Prelude after St Trinian’s, but (as I am now becoming to understand), good Walton can hold its place anywhere.

The second half was more sober.Richard Rodney Bennett’s Murder on the Orient Express slid us gently back into the swing of things, although John Barry’s The Lion in Winter wasted the BBC Singers.The Latin setting owed much to Carmina Burana – and like the Addinsell, Barry was found wanting in the face of Orff.But John Dunbar’s Theme from Dances with Wolves remains one of the most heartfelt and moving of recent movie scores (1990 – by far the latest in the programme), a cross between the final movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony and English pastoralism.Two excerpts from the James Bond series followed, both early scores, although not Barry’s famous orchestral version of the Monty Norman theme.My fervent wish for surprise special guest, Shirley Bassey, for the theme from Goldfinger, regrettably never materialised, but even in its purely orchestral guise it was probably the highpoint of the Barry excerpts.

Finally we had the earliest score of the evening’s selection: Bliss’s Things to Come, which – like so many of the scores – has had to be reconstructed by ear as the actual manuscripts (owned by the studios or distributors) have been lost.This is great music – and not only the famous March.The story of how the film was made, with H G Wells’s omnipresence overseeing every facet of the production and the fact that the score was composed in advance of the filming (and how commercial pressures eventually meant that the film was heavily cut, ruining the original conception) is fascinating in itself, but the music can now stand on its own.One of the few pieces that had been heard at the Proms before (Bliss himself conducted a suite before the film was shown – although the programme gave contradictory dates: David Wishart in the notes suggested 1935, while David Harman in his “Previously at the Proms” gave it as 1936), it rounded off this satisfying cinematic collection.One hopes that film music is now firmly established in the Proms repertoire.

One final plea.It’s about time that Proms’ audiences were able to hear Rumon Gamba conduct some concert music.Quite coincidentally, I have just returned from Iceland. Gamba has just completed his first year as music director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra.I would suspect there has never been any Icelandic music at the Proms – so what about bringing Gamba and his orchestra over for a programme to include something by Jon Leifs – or even Atli Heimir Sveinsson?His Icerapp 2000 was on Iceland Air’s classical music channel.If it’s good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for the Proms!

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