Film Music Review
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Film Music of Brian Easdale

The Film Music of Brian Easdale

Music composed by Brian Easdale.

31 Tracks (Playing Time = 76:42)

Album produced by Brian Pidgeon. Music arranged and edited by Philip Lane, except for “Red Shoes Ballet” edited for performance by John Wilson. Featuring Cynthia Millar, ondes martenot (THE RED SHOES) and the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales conducted by Rumon Gamba. Recorded at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, March 8-10, 2010. Recording engineered by Ralph Couzens. Music edited by Jonathan Cooper. Design by Cassidy Rayne Creative.

Chandos 10636

Rating: ****


Chandos’ film music series turns to British film music with their latest release. For American audiences, Easdale’s music is less known often resting on a single memorable sequence from The Red Shoes. Rumon Gamba’s program surveys the composer’s work from throughout his earlier career through suites mostly arranged and edited by Philip Lane. For this recording, the venue has moved to the BBC’s orchestra in Wales, another of the many apt ensembles captured in Chandos’ warm and ambient acoustics.

The oldest score represented comes from the documentary KEW GARDENS (1936). Easdale’s first commercial venture, the film explores the Royal Botanical Gardens in very brief musical sequences. Lane has filled out the original chamber music setting for fuller orchestra. The music has that semi-Impressionist style popular at the time with Debussy-like flute lines floating above the strings. At little under seven minutes, the work provides for some tightly-conceived evocative music reminiscent of British chamber suites the likes of Warlock or Holst.

The earlier score is bookended by two of Easdale’s more familiar scores. BLACK NARCISSUS (1947) takes place at a convent in the Himalayas and originally, Easdale was supposed to write a single exotic dance for the film. That soon turned into a more complete score. The suite, for chorus and orchestra, pulls together the main titles and the almost Tiomkin-like choral backdrop for “The Palace of Mopu” (a la LOST HORIZON), two “songs” for folkloric color, a touching sequence between Sister Ruth and Mr. Dean, and the fabulous music that accompanies the final death of Sister Ruth. The disc opens with the familiar ballet from THE RED SHOES (1948). The score for the film gave Easdale his one and only Academy Award. The central ballet is truly one of the highlights of the score for a film about a ballerina that struggles to balance the love of her career with her attraction to a composer. The recording uses just the final film version of the suite—we will have to wait for someone to record the entire ballet, a third of which went unused in the final film. Cynthia Millar performs her on the ondes martenot, a reminder of the adaptations of this theremin-like sound from being heard in film noir, into a more standard dramatic film. The effect is naturally quite unsettling and the music moves towards its tragic conclusion. In both of these works, one hears Easdale’s music as a post-Delian Impressionism coupled with just a bit of Romantic musical sound that is not as overt as his Hollywood counterparts. There is a bigger clarity in his orchestration which tends to shimmer in orchestral colors and blocks, captured perfectly by the Chandos engineers.

The final three scores represented all hail from the 1950s. First if music from the 1956 semi-documentary war film, THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE. Easdale’s “Prelude” seems to have taken him into the land of Benjamin Britten slightly as he begins to explore more angular melodic lines and unusual, though still quite rich harmonies. His thematic idea builds off a dotted rhythmic motif that builds through brass and string. Easdale arranged this into a concert march which follows the premiere recording of the prelude. The march proper is a slightly more dramatic in its opening bars and moves into a more romantic setting of the main theme with long string lines that slowly move upwards. It is anything but your typical British war march. Next up is the “musical progress” ADVENTURE ON! which Easdale evidently arranged for Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra though there is no record of it ever having been played. The music is adapted from a documentary about tractor manufacturer’s and how their machinery is used in different parts of the world. After a nice prelude and gentle pastorale, Easdale explores, rather carefully, various ethnic colors as the scenes move to Africa, Aden, India, and Malaysia and Fiji. In some respects the work is simply a large-scale orchestral piece that has mild extra-musical associations. The final work on the disc is a suite for chorus and orchestra from GONE TO EARTH (1950). Lane has selected some of the more folk-like segments of the score that follow a very strong and dramatic “Titles” sequence which has a mysterious romantic quality. The only problem is the Finale here is just not a great way to end the disc as it feels a bit anticlimactic.

Gamba’s program, set up to include a first half of earlier music, and a second half of later scores, works quite well in allowing the listener to hear Easdale’s music evolve. Like its predecessors, this latest compilation of film music continues to expand the horizons and bring fabulous recordings of lesser known and familiar music to a broader audience.


-- Steven A. Kennedy, 8 March 2011

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