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Album Review

Arthur Benjamin (1893-1960) is by far the better known of the two composers represented on this CD, a beautifully recorded body of mostly premiere recordings. Benjamin's most well-known piece of music was "The Storm Clouds Cantata" from Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much — the piece was used in both the 1934 and (with expanded scoring and dimensions) the 1956 versions by the director, and it is the latter that has been recorded here. This is the performance that we and the concert audience in the movie would have heard had we not, as viewers of the film, been "distracted" by the assassination attempt taking place around the performance — the music served its purpose in the two movies, and stands well on its own as a fine example of sturdy, early 20th century choral writing in the mode of Elgar and Vaughan Williams. And while it is a pleasure to finally have a fully realized performance of that piece, which overlays the most suspenseful moments of each movie, the composer's finest piece of music here is the suite from The Conquest of Everest, a richly melodic yet modernistic orchestral work, which contains hauntingly beautiful writing for the strings throughout — this is a piece that could, under the right cultural conditions, earn a place in the concert repertory. There are some less substantial but equally enjoyable orchestral "lollipops" in this collection, such as the composer's waltz and "Hyde Park Galop" from An Ideal Husband, and then we yield to the music of Leighton Lucas (1903-1982). A self-taught musician (and former dancer) whose performance work was mostly centered on the ballet, Lucas was a less imposing creator than Benjamin, much more in a light music vein, but he could deliver memorable and weighty pieces for the proper cinematic occasion, as demonstrated by his music for The Dam Busters represented here, and his piano rhapsody from Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) — the latter is his shining moment here, a moodily elegant, post-romantic piece that is a fine showcase for the soloist and the orchestra alike. Lucas' work for such less-well-remembered movies as Target for Tonight, This Is York, and Ice Cold in Alex (part of the latter borrowing a little too much from Holst's The Planets, every bit as shamelessly as John Williams would do 20 years later on Star Wars) is also on hand — all of it is presented with dignity and a good deal of energy by Ruman Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

The Film Music of Arthur Benjamin & Leighton Lucas, Rumon Gamba
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