The Film Music of Clifton Parker

The Film Music of Clifton Parker
The Film Music of Clifton Parker

This is yet another superb release in the FILM MUSIC OF series by Chandos Records. Clifton Parker was one of the driving forces behind British film music during the 1940s through to the late 1960s. Like fellow composer/conductor Muir Mathieson, Parker was involved in many projects and was responsible for being an innovator in the style of music that was to be utilized in British movies for decades to come. This recording is a testimony to his work, and also a reminder of just how talented he was as a composer and arranger. The CD contains a mere handful of examples of his movie music, but hopefully Chandos will at some point release a volume two, or even a further two volumes, as there is certainly enough material written by Parker to make this a practical project. The disc opens with a suite of music from the Walt Disney 1949 version of TREASURE ISLAND. The music from the movie has been arranged into seven sections representing Parker’s rousing score. The movie, which is arguably the best version of the classic tale by Robert Louie Stevenson, starred the wonderful Robert Newton, who gave a suitably over the top but believable performance as Long John Silver. Parker’s music for the movie opens in a typically sea-faring fashion with strains of “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum“, being bandied and tossed around  by the orchestra. It is documented that before starting work on the score for TREASURE ISLAND Parker undertook a study programme that involved the investigation of sea shanties, and it is said that the composer extensively researched over 300 of these to acquaint himself with the type of music that was needed for the movie so that he could at least attempt to infuse some sort of authenticity into his score. This certainly paid off as the soundtrack is full to the brim with a sound and style that is so authentic, one can almost hear the sea and taste the salty damp air when listening to it. This style is most prominent in the cue ‘To Bristol/Setting Sail – the composer’s music perfectly depicting the bustling port of Bristol and eventually accompanying the vessel HISPANIA preparing to leave port and eventually setting sail. This is classic film scoring that would inspire and also influence the likes of Hans Zimmer and company when they came to work on another popular Pirate series of movies some six decades later.  TREASURE ISLAND was to be  the first of three Disney movies that Parker performed the musical duties on. The second selection on the disc is from the wartime documentary WESTERN APPROACHES, which was released in 1944. The movie had no stars as such, just the men of the Merchant Navy. The film focused on a group of sailors, whose ship had been torpedoed and were struggling to survive in the unpredictable and hostile environment of the Western Approaches of the Atlantic Ocean. The section included here is entitled SEASCAPE and was arranged by the composer into a suite utilizing elements of his score from the movie. The five minute suite has also been performed in concert.

Next up is a premiere recording of music from the Ken Annakin directed THE SWORD AND THE ROSE. This period drama set in the time of the Tudors called for more meticulous research by the composer in music from that period in time – research which again paid off and via his score Parker was able to create an atmosphere and authenticity which aided the movie greatly, because at the time of its release it was criticized heavily for flaws in its historical factuality  Track 13 is the march from the 1958 WWII movie SEA OF SAND. For this, the composer wrote an infectious and moderately rousing march, which can be compared with Bernstein’s THE GREAT ESCAPE and Arnold’s BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI – obviously not as popular as the aforementioned, but nevertheless a simple  and effective composition that lingers in ones head long after listening to it. The march was actually whistled by one of the film’s stars, Richard Attenborough in the opening section of the movie. SEA OF SAND told the story of a special demolition group who were based in North Africa. The movie also starred well known British actors John Gregson and Michael Craig. For the next section on the compilation we head back to the 1940s – 1948 to be precise – THE BLUE LAGOON was a charming movie which told the story of two children who are shipwrecked on a desert island and charts their ten year stay on the island away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

A very young and beautiful Jean Simmons starred along side a youthful and athletic looking Donald Houston in this Frank Launder directed movie, which proved to be a hit with cinema audiences. Parker’s score was also a popular one with audiences and a 78rpm record was issued in 1948/49 which contained selections of his music from the soundtrack. THE BLUE LAGOON still remains one of the most requested Clifton Parker scores to be re-recorded in its entirety and hopefully this will come to fruition sooner rather than later. The next section is from the 1957 horror THE NIGHT OF THE DEMON (AKA – THE CURSE OF THE DEMON). This is arguably one of the composer’s best known main themes. It contains all the qualities and ingredients of a good horror movie theme; it is dramatic, eerie, attention-grabbing and thrilling. Upon its initial release the film failed to grab audiences attention, but after some years has attained the status of being a cult movie. The performance on this particular cue by the BBC Concert Orchestra is excellent and evokes a sound and style that has sadly long gone in the world of film music. A ten minute suite from VIRGIN ISLAND comes next in the running order. This 1958 movie starred a fresh faced Sidney Poitier. Parker’s score included a number of Caribbean based compositions, these cues were arranged by the composer into a suite entitled A CARIBBEAN RHAPSODY, which is included here. The penultimate cue is the march from the 1960s war movie SINK THE BISMARK. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, this was a popular film and Parker’s score is to this day, revered and respected by critics, film music collectors and audiences alike. The march is an intensely patriotic and stirring composition in a true Walton/Elgarian fashion. Last, but not least, is an almost 16 minute suite from the 1960 documentary BLUE PULLMAN which was an information film made for British Railways. The film was hailed as one of the best documentaries produced about railways in Great Britain and Clifton Parker’s score was a wonderful driving asset to the production. This compilation is probably one of Chandos’ best releases to date, but saying this they will probably soon top it with yet another excellent release, much of this recordings appeal is obviously due to the quality of Parker’s music but a special mention i think must be made of the work undertaken by Philip Lane on the arrangements and reconstruction of the music, Lane in my opinion is one of the unsung heroes of film music reconstruction, his attention to detail and authenticity is stunning and thanks to him we are able to listen to many wonderful pieces of film music that would have been lost forever. The performance of the music is too excellent  by the excellent BBC Concert orchestra under the baton of Rumon Gamba. The release is packaged to a high standard with a plethora of information and stills from the movies that are represented, it is a “must have” compact disc.

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