Analysed by Robert Walton
In the 1940s there was an outpouring of potted pieces for piano and orchestra written specifically for British films. These include The Dream of Olwen (Charles Williams) from “While I Live”, The Legend of the Glass Mountain (Nino Rota) from “The Glass Mountain” and just for a change the real Rachmaninov for “Brief Encounter” borrowed from the Second Piano Concerto. It was Steve Race who cleverly coined the phrase “the Denham Concertos” after the film studio that often featured such works on their soundtracks.
But there were three really outstanding Rachmaninov-inspired works for piano and orchestra, two from movie soundtracks. The most popular was Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto from the 1941 film “Dangerous Moonlight”. Then there was Clive Richardson’s independent composition London Fantasia (1945), a brilliant depiction of the Battle of Britain. The third, Hubert Bath’s Cornish Rhapsody from the film “Love Story” (1944) was another World War 2 composition that caught the public’s imagination mostly because of the music. It’s the story of a concert pianist, played by Margaret Lockwood, who learning she had an incurable illness, moved to Cornwall.
Apart from the title Cornish Rhapsody that gives away its location, two other connections with the piece have a distinct English west country association. The composer’s surname reminds you of the famous Roman city but his birthplace was actually Barnstaple in neighbouring Devon.
The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer with pianist Harriet Cohen goes straight into the main tune. Then everything changes with sudden dramatic chords followed by a rippling run from Cohen who continues the theme. Back comes the orchestra until a solo violin produces a brief tender moment supported by an oboe, horn, and sustained double basses.
Now Cohen sensitively plays the melody on her own; the first time we hear it clearly. After the orchestra creeps in, she acts as decorator until a distinct break occurs. Heading for the heights, she goes into solo mode including some bird-like chirps in the treble (Messiaen would have approved). Then she gets heavy-handed working up a bit of a lather before quietly welcoming the orchestra back with some gentle highly technical pianistics. Thunderous percussion precedes the orchestra that spells out the tune in the strongest of terms. Cohen again joins up with some thrilling playing for some musical tennis, tossing the tune around with the orchestra. From there it’s all go to the end, building up to a colossal climax and giving the glorious main melody its final outing with soloist and orchestra coming together for a magnificent finale. That performance is guaranteed to make any audience applaud rapturously.
And that’s exactly the feeling I used to get each time I heard Cornish Rhapsody all those years ago. For me it was the best of the film piano and orchestra compositions probably because it was a simple tune yet at the same time so dramatic.
“The Composer Conducts” (Vol. 2)
“The Golden Age of Light Music”
Guild (GLCD 5178)