Various Artists

Spellbound: Great Film Themes in Original Versions

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There's a ton of rare recordings on this 75-minute CD, all composed for British films of the 1940s, representing a multitude of idioms. "The Way to the Stars," written by Nicholas Brodsky, is the most conventional of the scores here, effective mood music, string-laden, and melodramatic, intended to evoke nostalgia for the war and the emotional lives of a group of pilots and their spouses and families. "The First of the Few," composed by Sir William Walton, opens with a martial invocation that anticipates Walton's later music for Laurence Olivier's Richard III, but its highlight is a beautifully orchestrated fugal section accompanying the story of the hero's race against his own impending death to complete work on the Spitfire fighter plane. It's a pity that Walton only recorded two short portions of the music he wrote for Olivier's Henry V in 1944, which are present here but hardly represent the complete score or the film. Hubert Bath's "Cornish Rhapsody," from the wartime British movie Love Story, with its rippling piano cadenzas, sounds almost more like Rachmaninoff than Rachmaninoff did. Much more interesting is Nino Rota's elegantly scored "The Glass Mountain," which melds full-blown romantic orchestral scoring with a Puccini-like sense of drama, while retaining a folk-like simplicity. Rota's "Obsession," from the 1948 thriller of the same name, by contrast, displays a surprising debt to George Gershwin and An American In Paris in its more playful moments. Richard Addinsell's "Blithe Spirit" is almost more charming and lively than the film to which it was attached, a vibrant, exciting and witty prelude about life (and lust) after death. Somewhat ironically, Miklos Rozsa's "Theme From Spellbound," despite being the title-track, is the least well-served score here -- it's been re-recorded so many times that the abridgement here is superfluous. Addinell's "Warsaw Concerto" is better represented in an eight-minute version that encompasses the original piece. Anton Karas's "Harry Lime Theme" is present in its original 1949 recorded version, its first appearance on CD. The disc saves the best for last, the introductory section of Brian Easdale's "The Red Shoes Ballet" and a short suite built around Allan Gray's playful yet profound music from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway To Heaven). The sound throughout is amazingly good considering the 78 rpm sources that were used, and the notes are reasonably thorough.

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