Wednesday 18 January 2017

CD Review (The Straits Times, January 2017)

Piano Themes From Cinema's Golden Age
BBC Concert Orchestra
Decca 478 9454 / ****1/2

Welcome to the 1940s and 50s world of the silver screen when film music all sounded like the piano concertos of Sergei Rachmaninov. That the composer defected from Bolshevik Russia to live his last days in Beverley Hills seemed like the ultimate irony. 

Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto, written for the 1941 British war movie Dangerous Moonlight, was the most famous example of movie music bringing together barnstorming pianism, dramatic gestures and lush Romantic orchestration. The earliest work in this genre however comes from 1940, in the little-known Portrait Of Isla from The Case Of The Frightened Lady by Jack Beaver which is every bit as sentimental.

Even Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich got into the act with his Assault On Beautiful Gorky from The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1951), which was his characteristic cinematic style but without the stock-in-trade grotesque jokes. Included also are Hubert Bath's Cornish Rhapsody (Love Story), Charles Williams' The Dream Of Olwen (While I Live) and Nino Rota's The Legend Of The Glass Mountain, which all sound more familiar than their titles suggest. 

The outliers are scores by Richard Rodney Bennett, Carl Davis and Dave Grusin, with contributions from the 1970s and 80s. Ukrainian-American pianist Valentina Lisitsa is in her element, bringing touches of glamour, romance and not to mention, virtuosity, to this unabashedly enjoyable album.  

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