AOM Logo February 1999

Warsaw Concerto and other Piano Concertos from the Movies

Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto; Beaver: Portrait of Isla; Rozsa: Spellbound Concerto; Rota: Legend of the Glass Mountain ; Bennett: Theme and Waltz from Murder on the Orient Express; Bath: Cornish Rhapsody; Herrmann: Concerto Macabre from Hangover Square; Williams: The Dream of Olwen; Pennario: Midnight on the Cliffs

Philip Fowke, piano
RTE Concert Orchestra, conducted by Proinnsias o Duinn

Naxos 8.554323

David Aspinall

Record Cover

Many of us who grew up by the glorious light of a black and white TV, remember getting our intro to the romantic piano concerto through some of the works included in this compilation. Naxos must be hoping that those who think Celine Dion and James Horner the epitome of screen romance will find these reminders of real reel romance as revelatory as did their grandmothers. Some of the above desserts will indeed seem potent to those nurtured on the artificial sweeteners of the '90s.

Addinsell, Rozsa, Rota, Bath and (Charles) Williams met many times in similar compilations in the early stereo era (Geoff Love and Felix Slatkin were good at this type of thing). Addinsell originated this genre with his Concerto from the 1940 film, Dangerous Moonlight. Certainly, it’s still the most memorable of the Grieg/Rachmaninov pastiches generated by this trend. This is not to denigrate the quality of Addinsell’s melodic invention. The Warsaw Concerto has the enviable distinction of instantly evoking an era (WW2) and, with it, a whole complex of associated feelings. The other pieces, all twice familiar (to my generation), are not quite that potent, but similarly attractive. It says something for their quality that the music has long outlived the films for which it was written. (Quick, tell us the plot and stars of While I Live or The Glass Mountain or Love Story - sorry, the 1945 version, not the 1970 'Love means never having to ...' weepy.)

I was unfamiliar with the Jack Beaver work (from another forgotten film, The Case of the Frightened Lady). It is more interesting than the offerings of the two 'serious' musicians, Misters Richard Rodney Bennett and Leonard Pennario. They seem to be slumming, so mechanical and ersatz are their efforts (and who needs ersatz pseudo-Rachmaninov?). The Herrmann is welcome vinegar in the middle of the enveloping sucrose. However, the bass-shy sonics do not do justice to the crashing clangor of Herrmann's invention, Shostakovich-as-interpreted-by-Karloff. The Achucarro/Gerhardt performance (RCA) is preferred. Otherwise, the bright sound and committed performances will do fine.

For those who have a sweet tooth (my wife insists I do), this disc is recommended. It would make a nice gift for the loved one who is not yet ready for a full dose of Chopin, Schumann or their musical descendants. Others should be forewarned. Seventy-four minutes of this, at one sitting, would be comparable to being hung upside down in a vat of caramel. However, as an after-dinner treat it is ideal -- one or two bites at a time.

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