Ralph Vaughan Williams Film Music Volume 1 Review

Album. Released 2007.  

BBC Review

The recording has tremendous weight as well as detail...

Andrew McGregor 2002

Vaughan Williams wrote more film scores than he did symphonies, which may surprise some music lovers - despite the fact that one of his symphonies is a film score! No. 7, the Sinfonia Antartica was more-or-less the soundtrack for Michael Balcon's 1948 Ealing epic Scott of the Antarctic, in which John Mills, Kenneth More and company walked, impeccably stiff-upper-lipped, to their chilling destiny at the South Pole. Except that there's much more to it than that, musically as well as historically.

When Vaughan Williams was first asked for the film score, he read everything he could find about the ill-fated polar expedition, and as the pictures filled his imagination, so did the music. VW had written most of the music before he'd even seen a script, never mind the rushes, and inevitably there was too much music; some of it had to go. Just over half of what hed written, in fact. The remainder we know well from the film and from the Sinfonia Antartica...but what happened to the rest of it? And was it any good?

Well, it turns out it's superb, full of atmosphere, evocative landscapes, icy bleakness and chilling orchestral effects. Hearing the whole score in its complete version is a revelation; the familiar items were always effective, but fleshed out like this with the missing numbers the epic scope of Vaughan Williams's vision is fully realised, and suddenly we're aware of how deeply affected he was by the story of Scott's tragic expedition, and the unnecessary loss of life. No fewer than ten out of the eighteen numbers have never been recorded before, probably never performed - including such effective pieces as 'Doom' with its growling contra-bassoon and chilling brass, or 'Ice Floes', which shimmers and sparkles over a sinister bassline, giving the impression of an immense mass moving slowly but inexorably...while 'Scott on the Glacier' is a heroic vision that could sit proudly alongside Strausss Alpine Symphony.

The recording has tremendous weight as well as detail - every listen has you marvelling at yet another detail in Vaughan Williams's score and Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic play as though their lives depend on it, not Scott and his team. The Coastal Command Suite and The People's Land (another premiere recording) are considerable bonuses...but it's Scott and the icy polar wastes that dominate the disc; music and visions so chilling you should probably wear an extra layer and turn the central heating up a notch before you hit play.

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