VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Suite from music for the film Scott of the Antarctic.  Coastal Command Suite.  The People's Land
Merryn Gamba, soprano; Sheffield Philharmonic
Chorus; BBC Philharmonic Orch/Rumon Gamba, cond.
CHANDOS 10007 (F) (DDD) TT:  78:30

This is an essential disk for collectors of film music, Volume I in a series devoted to music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Chandos has started magnificently with this well-filled disk (78:30) that offers two premiere recordings, the first a "complete" version of the score for the 1948 Scott of the Antartic. The film itself contained less than half the music Vaughan Williams wrote for it; the score had 996 bars, the film but 462, although some of them were used several times. Of necessity some editing was necessary in preparation for this recording, done by Stephen Hogger who also transcribed and orchestrated the Prologue which did not exist in score.  Eight tracks are premiere recordings (Main Titles, Doom, Sculpture Scene, Ship's Departure, Ice Floes, Aurora, Scott on the Glacier, Snow Plain, Descending the Glacier and Deaths of Evans and Oates), a total of more than 27 minutes. The composer himself did not provide a concert suite from this music, instead he used much of it as the basis for his powerful Sinfonia Antartica (Symphony No. 7) premiered five years after the film.  There's no question there is an episodic touch in these excerpts; there would have to be. 

Coastal Command was a wartime documentary first shown in October 1942, about work of the Sunderland and Hudson flying-boats patrolling off Iceland and in the North Sea looking for German battle cruisers or other ships.  The eight movements are Prelude, The Hebrides, U-boat Alert, Taking off at Night, The Hudsons take off from Iceland, Dawn Patrol (Quiet Determination), Battle of the Beauforts and Finale, all descriptive presented by Vaughan Williams, particularly the last section describing the pilot's triumphant return home.

The other premiere is the complete score for The People's Land, a film about the work of the National Trust, first shown in 1943.  The composer used many folk tunes in his score.  In the film some of the music wasn't used and what was used was often completely covered by commentary.  Here we have this pleasant score in its entirety as edited by Stephen Hogger, a welcome addition to the Vaughan Williams discography.

Performances are first-class.  A budding dramatic soprano, Merryn Gamba (related to the conductor?), sings the brief atmospheric wordless interludes, which also feature the small chorus of women's voices. Chandos' sound is what we have come to expect from the label; audiophiles will relish the solid organ sonorities, rich strings and blazing brass. This is a valuable CD for many reasons, and highly recommended.

R.E.B. (January 2003)