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Brian Easdale was a prolific composer whose extensive output covered most genres, from orchestral pieces, concertos, and choral works, including a mass for the new Coventry Cathedral, to chamber compositions.
Part of Chandos’ film music series with Rumon Gamba, the works on this release showcase Easdale’s career in film with music from, among others, The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and The Battle of the River Plate.
In his youth, Easdale attended the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with such prominent figures as Cecil Armstrong Gibbs and Gordon Jacob, conducting with Malcolm Sargent, and organ with Arnold Goldsborough. As a jobbing musician he undertook arranging projects, working most notably on such scores by Benjamin Britten as the Soirées musicales and the Piano Concerto. He also orchestrated Britten’s On the Frontier for a production at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge in 1939, before spending much of the war in Ceylon and India working on documentaries for their governments’ film units. Returning to Britain in 1946, he was invited by British film-makers, The Archers, to write an exotic dance for Jean Simmons to perform in their forthcoming film, Black Narcissus, and ended up composing the whole score. The film is a veritable masterpiece of melodrama with highly dramatic music to match.
The involvement of Easdale in Black Narcissus effectively launched his career in film music and led him to other projects, most notably The Red Shoes (1948) for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score. This is one of the most iconoclastic films in the Pantheon of British Cinema. Given a highly atmospheric score, the film concerns a travelling ballet company and tells the story of a young hopeful ballerina, catapulted into stardom and wrestling with her love for a composer and the pull of her career. In the end it becomes too much of a fight and while on tour with the company in Monte Carlo, she leaps to her death.
The Battle of the River Plate (1956) is also worth a separate mention. A semi-documentary account of the trapping of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo harbour, and her subsequent scuttling, the film was commercially very successful. The two movements recorded here are the Prelude (heard over the main titles and opening scene with narration) and a March, the concert version of which was created by Easdale after the film’s release.
Brian Easdale: The Red Shoes: Ballet (performing edition by J. Wilson)
I. Allegro vivace
II. Allegro moderato e molto ritmico
III. Poco piu mosso
IV. Lento tranquillo
VI. Presto, quasi cadenza
VII. Allegro assai
Brian Easdale: Kew Gardens Suite (performing edition by P. Lane)
I. Introduction and Allegretto
II. Spring Flowers
III. Summer Sequence
Brian Easdale: Black Narcissus Suite (performing edition by P. Lane)
I. Main Titles and the Palace of Mopu
II. Irish Song
III. Sister Ruth and Mr Dean
IV. Hunting Song
V. Death of Sister Ruth
Brian Easdale: The Battle of the River Plate: Prelude and March (performing edition by P. Lane)
Brian Easdale: Adventure On Suite
I. Prelude and Pastorale
II. Intermezzo and Dance (Africa)
III. Barcarolle and Sultan's Fanfare (Aden)
IV. Pastorale and Lullaby (India)
V. Finale Progress (Malaya to Fiji)
Brian Easdale: Gone to Earth Suite (performing edition by P. Lane)
II. The Hunt of the Death Pack
III. The Prayer
IV. The Shropshire County Fair
V. Hunter's Spinney
VI. Undern Morning
“this excellent CD puts [Easdale] back where he belongs, in the top rank of film composers...The young voices of the BBC National Chorus of Wales add a vivid and dynamic dimension to both of these scores. Rumon Gamba conducts Easdale's music with a blazing conviction that entices the listener back to the films themselves.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.