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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





and other film music by Benjamin Frankel

25 Tracks (Playing Time = 74:40)

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (12 tracks: 34:22); THE PRISONER (11 tracks: 30:35); and selections from SO LONG AT THE FAIR and THE NET

Produced by Tim Handley. Featuring the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Carl Davis. Engineered by Phil Rowlands. Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 26-27 July, 2005. Design by Ron Hoares.

Naxos 8.557850

Rating: ****


This is one of the more recent entries into Naxos “Film Music Classic Series.” It may seem as an odd choice of music but for Frankel fans it will be a welcome one. The disc includes the first complete recording of Frankel’s score for Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1959) and the world premiere recording of his music for 1955’s THE PRISONER. The “Love Theme” from THE NET (1953) and a suite of selections from SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) help round off this ample disc.

The recording approach here is more typical of classical music releases but features a stellar sound that is crystal clear. The details of different parts in the orchestration are fascinating to hear. The largest problem some will have is that the dynamic ranges are somewhat extreme in places making it difficult to hear quieter passages before they are overcome by triple forte ones. The classical music recording approach may be off-putting to those who like their soundtracks recorded in a drier, more immediate acoustic.

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF has many interesting musical touches. There is a sound in this score that feels like the template for all Hammer scores to come. The strong dissonant, atonal passages that permeate the opening “Prelude” give way to more lyric and gentle passages in the “Pastoral” segment. The “Final Trnasformation” has an interesting ostinato pattern that moves through various instruments. A shimmering vibraphone effect also plays a hand in spots. The “Finale” for this score is a wonderful orchestral scherzo with astringent jazz rhythms pulsing against heroic horn gestures and various atonal colors. It makes for fascinating listening and one can see how this score has achieved cult status with fans of the film.

The suite of music from SO LONG AT THE FAIR is a pleasant enough contrast that fits nicely alongside the music of Malcolm Arnold with a little Delius thrown in for good measure. It is perhaps this latter composer where Frankel finds a kindred spirit. Both composers seem to approach melody in a similar way but from two completely different harmonic languages. Frankel thinks of melody in smaller units that ebb and flow in an almost subconscious way moves freely between late-romantic and atonal styles. Even in the segment “Carriage and Pair” the melody seems almost incidental to the proceedings. You will remember the tune less than the whole of the piece and this is part of understanding and appreciating Frankel’s style. Even the “Love Theme” from THE NET, while gorgeous, is a piece of angular writing and wonderful orchestration that is not afraid to move into dissonant territory.

THE PRISONER continues providing a window at Frankel’s scoring approach. The angular lines hint at larger thematic structures but become nothing more than gestures underscoring the screen drama. There are some interesting emotional outbursts, musically speaking, in “Cardinal and Interrogator” making it a powerful cue. The music moves between moments that feel confined and which blossom outward constantly teasing the listener with a freedom both musical and dramatic. The effect is one that is most unsettling as the score plays. The musical ideas have a kind of Shostakovich-like feel in “Civil Unrest” but then there are these arching lines that are purely Frankel. The lengthy “Solitary Confinement” is another intriguing musical track that winds around a small collection of pitches while gaining in dynamic strength and folding back in on itself. A solo line eventually appears to be something like a theme, but again it is developed in a completely different and unexpected way that spins out continuously through the music touching on various ideas and sounds. Its effect is almost mesmerizing.

We can hope that there will be further albums from this source in the future. Frankel is a more peripheral composer for film music fans in this country, but known in Britain for a career that spans over a hundred scores including the superb BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965) and THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964). The notes give a brief overview of the composer and skips a track-by-track explanation of the music. At the price Naxos is asking, it is great to know some can discover this music anew.

--Steven A. Kennedy 26 May 2006

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