Mysterious Romanian-English composer Francis Chagrin once described himself as "Romanian by birth, British by nationality, and cosmopolitan by inclination." He might have added the adjective "chameleonic" to his retinue, as that is what Chandos Movies' The Film Music of Francis Chagrin is -- a collection of fascinating film scores and transcribed soundtrack segments, none sounding much like one another. Even more so than his Hungarian contemporary Miklós Rozsa, Chagrin was able to re-invent himself wholly in order to suit the requirements of a given property, and to invest in it the dramatic content it needed, an ability that carried him through more than 200 films and television shows. These ranged from the popular Gainsborough Pictures anthology film Easy Money to incidental music for some early episodes of the BBC's legendary science fiction odyssey Doctor Who.
The sheer variety of moods, styles, and emotions that one encounters in the course of The Film Music of Francis Chagrin is staggering. From the confrontational, Russian Futurist-inspired wallop of Chagrin's score for The Intruder to the sweet, Viennese confections evoked in his music for Last Holiday, to the folk-like, Eastern European mannerisms of his Yugoslavian Sketches for "The Bridge," Chagrin is a composer whose work leaves the listener totally unable to recognize what is behind the next door to open. One wonders where Chagrin could possibly have heard all of the music that he references, as he only lived in four cities -- Bucharest, Zurich, Paris, and London. However, not all of Chagrin's inspiration derives from purely musical sources. Note, for example, the clearly stated musical rendering of the Morse code signal "S.O.S" at the start of his music for The Four Just Men. Chagrin allegedly worked for the O.S.S. during World War II, encoding secret messages into musical notation, and evoking familiar signals known to his audience are hallmarks of Chagrin's work. The amusing quodlibet that is The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra additionally demonstrates Chagrin's uncanny skill in assembling disparate strands of pre-existing melodic material.
The BBC Philharmonic under Rumon Gamba is in top form on The Film Music of Francis Chagrin, delivering loving, fully attentive, and well-articulated performances of this music, some probably better played here than on the original soundtracks. If one is inclined toward film music, then one cannot afford to miss The Film Music of Francis Chagrin. Upon revival, most obscure composers tend to illuminate various corners of the repertoire without substantially changing what we know about musical developments in a historic sense. Chagrin belongs in his own class and is a major discovery in a field that does not have many stones left to overturn.