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John France
British Classical Music: The Land of Lost Content, June 2010

I must make a confession. I do not like Werewolves or films which involve psychological drama. Torture and violence—either physical or mental are not part of my definition of entertainment. But I do like comedies and light romantic tales and adventures…I do love the music on this CD: it has all the hallmarks of a great composer writing effective music which has the desired effect of pointing up the action on the screen…Look at the plot of Curse of the Werewolf—a young man, Leon, is struck down with lycanthropy (causes humans to change into wolves at each full moon) His mother had been made pregnant by a crazed and evil beggar. After a reasonably normal childhood Leon falls victim to vice. Even the love of Christiana does not help him reform—and eventually he comes to a sticky end with a silver bullet fashioned from a crucifix. All very scary stuff—at least to people of my generation—although I wonder what today’s young filmgoers would make of it. Perhaps the ‘scariness’ is a bit camp by today’s standards.

The Prisoner has a harrowing plot—a Roman Catholic priest is arrested on ‘trumped up’ treason charges and is subject to torture and brainwashing, before rolling up at a ‘show’ trial. Not much fun there, I fear, although I understand the film received great accolades when it was released in 1955. And with Alec Guinness (priest) and Jack Hawkins (interrogator) in the leading roles, success was bound to follow.

Neither film is on my list of ‘ones to watch before I die.’ But the music is great! The present CD gives a complete account of all the music that Benjamin Frankel wrote for the ‘Curse’ and for The Prisoner. The latter score is in fact a first recording of this music since the film’s release. Interestingly, the composer makes use of ‘serial’ technique in the ‘Curse’—this being the first British film to use this particular compositional technique. Strangely, Frankel never used this tool again in his work for the cinema.

Now for my secret listening strategy. I listened to the ‘Curse’ and then switched the ‘hi-fi’ off. I had a rest, a cup of tea and a walk round the ‘policies’ and then listened to ‘The Prisoner’. I deliberately put all thoughts of evil and torture and werewolves and dark windy castles out of my mind: Gothic horror and ‘Stalinist’ excesses were forgotten for this exercise. I told myself I was listening to Benjamin Franklin’s “Symphonic Variations” followed by his “Variations on a Theme” for Orchestra. And this did the trick. It actually worked well—there is an internal consistency in each of these two scores that do allow the works to be listened to without reference to the plot or programme. They are actually extremely effective ‘concert pieces’ if heard in this manner. But (I agree) it is a scam! And call me unsophisticated if you will…Of course the other two film scores represented are easier on the mind. The short extract from the mysterious So Long at the Fair is pure romance. Most listeners will know the evocative ‘Carriage & Pair’ which has featured in a score of British Light Music record and CD releases. Frankel’s music makes much use of this memorable tune and the result is a lovely miniature suite. The Love Theme to The Net—a spy thriller—is another one of the composer’s attractive tunes. Of course there was much more music from this score—but Carl Davis and the redoubtable Liverpool Phil. gives us what I presume to be the highlight.

So in sum this is a great CD…

American Record Guide, October 2006

Many of Benjamin Frankel’s concert works were rooted in serialism, but most films do not exactly cry out for 12-tone music. So, of his more than 100 scores, only two use this avant-garde technique, and both are on this record Curse of the Werewolf was another Hammel Films production that brought garish color and explicit gore to the monster legends popularized by Universal films in the 1930s and 40s. The assertive dissonances sound more like Berg than Bennett, though there are some temporary respites of tonality. The finale, with its driving rhythms and whooping horns, is especially potent.

The Prisoner, not to be confused with the cult television series, was dark fiction loosely based on the case of Cardinal Mindszenty. The music reflects the story line: stark, desolate and foreboding. For the most part these scores should appeal to admirers of Frankel’s symphonic output.

With over an hour dedicated to the two main features, the remaining films are represented by brief excerpts. Both are charming’ interludes that sound positively old-fashion sandwiched between their modernistic counterparts. Davis and the Liverpoolers do the music proud, and Naxos contributes realistic sonics.

David Wolman
Fanfare, September 2006

The CD title selection here is Curse of the Werewolf, a 1959 cult film classic. The music is appropriately narrative, with more urgency than creepiness. Without seeing the movie, you can guess what’s happening by the musical allusions. Yes, it’s necessarily programmatic. Surprisingly, for all its accessibility and familiarity—it’s composed in 12-tone row, proving that what is serial may be packaged like cereal.

The Royal Liverpool PO does a fine job of performing the scores, with Carl Davis in fine conducting form. © 2006 Fanfare Read complete review

Steven A. Kennedy
American Music Preservation, May 2006

This is one of the more recent entries into Naxos “Film Music Classic Series.” It may seem as an odd choice of music but for Frankel fans it will be a welcome one. The disc includes the first complete recording of Frankel’s score for Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1959) and the world premiere recording of his music for 1955’s THE PRISONER. The “Love Theme” from THE NET (1953) and a suite of selections from SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) help round off this ample disc.

The recording approach here is more typical of classical music releases but features a stellar sound that is crystal clear. The details of different parts in the orchestration are fascinating to hear. The largest problem some will have is that the dynamic ranges are somewhat extreme in places making it difficult to hear quieter passages before they are overcome by triple forte ones. The classical music recording approach may be off-putting to those who like their soundtracks recorded in a drier, more immediate acoustic.

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF has many interesting musical touches. There is a sound in this score that feels like the template for all Hammer scores to come. The strong dissonant, atonal passages that permeate the opening “Prelude” give way to more lyric and gentle passages in the “Pastoral” segment. The “Final Trnasformation” has an interesting ostinato pattern that moves through various instruments. A shimmering vibraphone effect also plays a hand in spots. The “Finale” for this score is a wonderful orchestral scherzo with astringent jazz rhythms pulsing against heroic horn gestures and various atonal colors. It makes for fascinating listening and one can see how this score has achieved cult status with fans of the film.

The suite of music from SO LONG AT THE FAIR is a pleasant enough contrast that fits nicely alongside the music of Malcolm Arnold with a little Delius thrown in for good measure. It is perhaps this latter composer where Frankel finds a kindred spirit. Both composers seem to approach melody in a similar way but from two completely different harmonic languages. Frankel thinks of melody in smaller units that ebb and flow in an almost subconscious way moves freely between late-romantic and atonal styles. Even in the segment “Carriage and Pair” the melody seems almost incidental to the proceedings. You will remember the tune less than the whole of the piece and this is part of understanding and appreciating Frankel’s style. Even the “Love Theme” from THE NET, while gorgeous, is a piece of angular writing and wonderful orchestration that is not afraid to move into dissonant territory.

THE PRISONER continues providing a window at Frankel’s scoring approach. The angular lines hint at larger thematic structures but become nothing more than gestures underscoring the screen drama. There are some interesting emotional outbursts, musically speaking, in “Cardinal and Interrogator” making it a powerful cue. The music moves between moments that feel confined and which blossom outward constantly teasing the listener with a freedom both musical and dramatic. The effect is one that is most unsettling as the score plays. The musical ideas have a kind of Shostakovich-like feel in “Civil Unrest” but then there are these arching lines that are purely Frankel. The lengthy “Solitary Confinement” is another intriguing musical track that winds around a small collection of pitches while gaining in dynamic strength and folding back in on itself. A solo line eventually appears to be something like a theme, but again it is developed in a completely different and unexpected way that spins out continuously through the music touching on various ideas and sounds. Its effect is almost mesmerizing.

We can hope that there will be further albums from this source in the future. Frankel is a more peripheral composer for film music fans in this country, but known in Britain for a career that spans over a hundred scores including the superb BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965) and THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964). The notes give a brief overview of the composer and skips a track-by-track explanation of the music. At the price Naxos is asking, it is great to know some can discover this music anew.

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