Film music concerts are very rare, and film music concerts in my home city of Brighton are even rarer, this year however we have been treated on the South Coast to a pair of excellent performances at the cities famed Dome Concert hall, the first being back in the summer with the Bournemouth Symphony orchestra who performed a great evening of music from sci fi movies and movies about superheroes. Then this Sunday the 4th of December it got better as the BRIGHTON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA took to the stage to perform a varied and rich programme of music from British movies. THE BEST OF BRITISH FILM SCORES as it was billed and promoted was in fact just that, it included a line up which I think you will agree is the cream of the crop when it comes to British movie music. However, saying that after this concert I am hoping the Brighton Philharmonic might consider dipping their toes into the deep and thriving waters of British film music both old and contemporary. What I loved about this concert was that the content was not in any way predictable, in fact there were several items in the programme that I was surprised at. The conductor for this afternoon performance was Richard Balcombe, he is a conductor who has worked in opera, west end shows and is also well known as an arranger and orchestrator for numerous popular artists such as Sir Cliff Richard, Will Young, Lesley Garrett, Michael Ball, Ronan Keating and many more. He also conceived, arranged, and orchestrated WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW the music of Burt Bacharach and has conducted for Jose Carreras, Roberto Alagna, Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorgiu on BBC TV. He has collaborated with orchestras all over the world, including, THE GOTHENBURG SYMPHONY, ORCHESTRE NATIONAL DE LILLE, PRAGUE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA and ACCADEMIA NAZIONALE DI SANTA CECILIA. The orchestra has been established at the DOME since 1928 which is when they also became the fully orchestral symphonic players. They initially however started out as the Symphonic String Players in 1925 and were formed by Herbert Menges and gave concerts at Hove Town hall. In 1932 Sir Thomas Beecham was appointed as the orchestra’s first President, Beecham was followed by the likes of, Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughn Williams in this position. Herbert Menges remained as the orchestra’s principal conductor until his death in 1972, he was succeeded by John Carewe and then later in 1989 Barry Wordsworth was appointed in the role and in 2015 he became the orchestra’s first conductor Laureate after being their principal conductor and music director for 26 years. During their time the orchestra have tackled numerous pieces which are varied and diverse and regularly collaborate with the Brighton Festival chorus.
The concert opened with Sir William Walton’s stirring and patriotic sounding, SPITFIRE PRELUDE AND FUGUE from the 1942 movie, THE FIRST OF THE FEW which told the story of the development of the spitfire fighter plane by R. J. Mitchell played by Leslie Howard who also directed the movie. The piece we heard was the composer’s own adaptation of his score for the movie for concert hall performance. This acted as a perfect opener for the concert with the orchestra giving a polished and forthright rendition of this familiar and now famous music. After this rousing opening the conductor Richard Balcombe spoke to the audience welcoming them to the Dome and also giving a little information about the performance that opened the proceedings, he then said that not all of the music in the programme would be serious and turned to conduct the orchestra in a foot tapping and enjoyable performance of composer Ron Goodwin’s THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, this was the orchestral version of the well-known vocal main title that graced the movie. Again, the orchestra acquitted themselves marvellously, with the musical ups, downs and stops and starts of Goodwin’s infectious composition being accentuated and given an even more bouncy and comedic mood by the sheer enthusiasm of the orchestra’s playing.
Up next we were treated to a double helping of the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams, the first being taken from the score for COASTAL COMMAND, DAWN PATROL is a apprehensive and rather exciting piece which builds slowly but surely, purveying an atmosphere that is filled with uncertainty and urgency. Made by the Crown Film Unit in 1943, COASTAL COMMAND was funded by the Ministry of Information and was a propaganda film produced to boost morale, it starred the men and women of the RAF and showed how they patrolled the coast line and protected convoys and targeted the German U-Boats and warships as they attempted to cut off the life line of supplies being sent to Britain. Vaughn Williams score was almost continuous and underlined each and every moment of the film, giving the scenes on screen a greater impact.
This was followed by a particularly beautiful and emotive theme from the movie THE 49TH PARALLEL, the film which starred Richard George and Eric Portman tells the story of a German U-Boat crew who have become stranded in Canada and to avoid internment they make their way to the United States border who at the time are still neutral. Vaughn Williams poignant and breathtakingly beautiful theme for me was one of the highlights of the concert. Music from THINGS TO COME was next on the programme, the section of the score performed was THE MARCH music composed by Sir Arthur Bliss, released in 1936 the film was something of a landmark in film music history as it would mark the first time that a major composer would write music for film.
At first Bliss was reluctant to become involved with the project, but he was reassured by H.G. WELLS himself that his music would be respected, the march from THINGS TO COME is probably the most familiar piece from the score, and is an ominous and at the same time patriotic accompaniment to the residents of London preparing for conflict.
The illustrious actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier once described the next piece as “The most wonderful score I have ever heard for a film”. HENRY V, was released in 1944, and is still to this day a film that can excite and inspire, with its wonderfully lush colours and outstanding acting it is a classic in every sense of the word. The film was greatly aided by the driving and at times dissonant music composed by Sir William Walton, the music at times taking on the guise of the sounds of battle, but also underlining the nobleness of Henry and his dedication to his country and people, THE CHARGE AND BATTLE is a robust and rousing piece which when listened to away from the images it is intended to enhance, manages to conjure up scenes of conflict and the savagery of battle. The orchestra launched itself into this piece, again creating a wonderful performance which drew loud applause from the audience.
For the next three sections the programme concentrated on one composer Ron Goodwin, Goodwin was one of the busiest composers during the 1960, s often writing music for war movies and producing some of the most enduring and popular themes in British film music history, Goodwin also was in demand as an easy listening artist and released many albums on the EMI Studio Two label. Which were compilations of both film themes by the composer or light music which was given the Goodwin treatment and at times the composer acted as an arranger giving popular themes by other composers his own twist. These albums included ADVENTURE, EXCITEMENT and releases such as HOLIDAY IN BEUIRUT and ELIZABETHAN SERANADE. The pieces performed in the concert included the lilting and haunting BELLE’S THEME from a made for television film of THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST which starred George C. Scott as the beast. For the performance at the Dome the orchestra’s leader John Bradbury took centre stage and gave a heartrending solo performance which seemed to mesmerise the audience. Then we were treated to the resounding and volatile sounding theme from THE TRAP, which is probably a movie that not that many people have seen, but the music is familiar because the BBC use it for their coverage of the London Marathon.
The movie starred Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham and was released in 1966, directed by Sydney Hayes who began his directorial career in the late 1950, s and later acted as second unit director on movies such as A BRIDGE TOO FAR and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER and worked extensively in TV in the States on series such as T J HOOKER, THE A TEAM and BAYWATCH to name but a few. THE TRAP tells the story of a young mute girl who is forced to marry a fur trapper nicknamed La Bete (the beast) played by Oliver Reed. The performance of this was just like listening to the original version and evoked memories of my early days as a collector back in the mid 1960’s. Then the ultimate Ron Goodwin theme from the 1964 war movie 633 SQUADRON, again this was a lively and well performed piece by the BRIGHTON PHILHARMONIC and delighted the audience. The last piece before the interval was from the 1955 motion picture THE DAM BUSTERS, music here is courtesy of Eric Coates, and what a theme this is, it is equal to POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE or even LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY, it is such an iconic piece of music, rousing, patriotic and inspiring. It is as popular and familiar now as it was when it was first written, the performance was also epic and it brought the concert to its halfway mark. So, the first half ended as it had begun with superb thematic material from a bygone age of film making and of film music. Many film music collectors and historians talk of the Golden age of film music, normally this relates to the vintage film scores of Hollywood as penned by the likes of Korngold, Newman, Steiner, Toimkin, Friedhofer and their like, but what of the golden age of British film music, with the music of Sir William Walton, Sir Benjamin Britten, Eric Coates, William Alwyn, Clifton Parker, Richard Adinsell, Vaughn Williams etc. I know we have seen releases on Chandos records of the classic music from British movies, but I am of the opinion we need more re-recordings of this magnificent material and more live performances and concerts.
Part two of the concert opened with a suite of music from CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER music by Canadian born composer Robert Farnon. Although Canadian by, Farnon is looked upon by many as being a Brit. Critics and fans of his music held him in high esteem and considered him as being the greatest composer of what was labelled as light music during the second half of the 20th Century, he was inspired by the music of Eric Coates and his contemporaries and decided that writing music for film was the way he wanted to go.
In 1951 Warner Brothers commissioned the Maestro to score the Gregory Peck movie CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER R.N. His score was perfect for the film, the composer loved writing music that depicted seascapes and the movement of the sea itself he was inspired by the power and unpredictability of the ocean and its varying moods for want of a better word, the music is not only written in a traditional swashbuckling fashion but also has to it a heart and an emotive side that is hauntingly beautiful and purveys perfectly the and one can actually smell the salty air when listening to it. The suite which was a lengthy one included, the opening and introduction from the score plus, THE WIND, POLWHEAL, LADY BARBARA and NATIVIDAD.
This was wonderful to hear live, I have had the recording a long time now but it sounded so fresh and bright when performed by the Brighton Philharmonic. Next on the programme was the highly lyrical and effervescent opening music from the Kenneth Branagh movie MUCH A DO ABOUT NOTHING, the score for this adaptation of the famous Shakespeare work was by Patrick Doyle, who also featured in the movie in an acting role. Doyle worked with the filmmaker and actor Branagh on numerous movies which included DEAD AGAIN, FRANKENSTEIN, HENRY V etc. MUCH A DO ABOUT NOTHING the Overture is one of those pieces of music that instantly draws attention, it is rousingly lyrical and abundantly energetic and on this occasion, was performed with much commitment and gusto by the Brighton Philharmonic.
This was followed by one of the most beautiful melodies that Has been composed for film in recent years, the music was by Nigel Hess who began his musical career in theatre and progressed to scoring TV series such as DANGERFIELD, WYCLIFFE and the ever popular HETTY WAINTHROPP INVESTIGATES, his music for the 2004 movie LADIES IN LAVENDER is in a word stunning, THE FANTASY FOR VIOLIN AND ORCHESTRA was the piece that was performed and again leader John Bradbury created an emotive and polished performance.
Music from the 1946 Ealing studios production THE OVERLANDERS which had a score by composer John Ireland, was next in the running order and the cue THE STAMPEDE FOR WATER was the selected piece from the score for the afternoons performance. This is an exciting and highly robust composition, which aided the action on screen greatly, sadly this was to be the composers only foray into scoring movies and his last composition as after writing the score the composer retired. The last piece on the programme was suitably fitting as it was a FANTASIA ON CHRISTMAS CAROLS by Malcolm Arnold, taken from his score to the 1952 film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, the film which starred Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson, dealt with a vicar who had neglected the needs of his own grown up child to tend to the problems of his flock.
This brought the concert to a resounding end and drew much applause from a very appreciative audience. This was a concert that was not only entertaining but interesting because of the diversity of its content. I must congratulate the orchestra on their flawless and highly polished performance and thank conductor Richard Balcombe for his sterling work and his informative commentary during the concert. Bravo Brighton Philharmonic, Bravo THE DOME. More please, much More film music..