Monday, 10 May 2010

Clifton Parker: Virgin Island – A Caribbean Rhapsody

I first came to know Clifton Parker’s music through the British Transport Films that included The Elizabethan, Blue Pullman, Ocean Terminal and The Long Night Haul. A year or so I posted a link to a scene from one of the feature films that he provided the score for – the 1944 film Western Approaches. However one of his most attractive pieces of ‘light’ music is called Virgin Island: A Caribbean Rhapsody.
The original score was produced for a light comedy film, Virgin Island (1958) starring John Cassavetes, Virginia Maskell and Sidney Poitier. It was a lighthearted romp involving a young American student who finds himself married to an attractive British tourist. They set up their home on a small atoll in the West Indies. Naturally there are all sorts of minor adventures and difficulties to resolve, including a troublesome mother-in-law and a commissioner who asks a few too many questions. In fact it is questionable as to whether the couple actually own the island. And then what about the lantern on the hill at night? Are they wreckers? Sidney Poitier plays a friendly islander who acts as a father figure, especially when ‘junior’ arrives on the scene.

Clifton Parker originally scored the music for a calypso group – on the film soundtrack it was played by Hermanos Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band. Later, the composer rescored the work for guitar, orchestra and a battery of ‘exotic percussion’ including maracas, bongos and timbales. The recorded version was edited by Philip Lane.

The Rhapsody opens quietly with a guitar melody. At this stage the music is more pastoral than Caribbean. Perhaps this is suggestive of the homeland of the heroine? Yet the Latin beat is gently simmering beneath the musical activity. Another key element of this piece is the trademark Clifton Parker sea-music. Once again this element of the work is never far away. After what could be described as a ‘jocund dance’ the Latin beat takes over.
The composer, in this orchestral score does not try to parody or mimic the calypso combo instrumentation. It uses

At the halfway point a beautiful little duet is contrived between guitar and ‘cello. It is a combination that deserves further exploration. This is night music. After this interlude the Latin beat takes over with the percussion, although this is laid back rather than frenetic. A romantic string tune emerges, before the music ‘gets into the groove’ although retaining a touch of melancholy. Amongst this activity the ‘love theme’ makes attempts at establishing itself, however it is pushed aside by the last minute romp to the final bars. Here the Latin trumpets shout in glory, the percussion provides a myriad of exotic effects and the strings provide a romantic subtext. Effective countermelodies provide interest. The work concludes with a handful of quite night-music in a quiet reminiscence before the Rhapsody comes to a close.

The piece can be heard on ‘The Film Music of Clifton Parker’ Chandos 10279

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