Watership Down

Angela Morley, Malcolm Williamson/1978-2016/Dutton Vocalion

A beloved adaptation with an undeserved reputation as a nasty piece of work, 1978’s WATERSHIP DOWN is a tale of a group of rabbits that escape from their warren after believing a great danger is oncoming, and search for a new home. It was bestowed with a wonderful score by the late Angela Morley, with two original sketches by original composer Malcolm Williamson that were arranged and expanded by Morley and arranger Larry Ashmore, and those two cues begin the score and the album, the faux-biblical ‘Prologue’ (featuring the Michael Hordern narration from the film) and the serene ‘Main Title’, with the latter an important unifying theme in the score.

Morley’s own themes come in the wondrous ‘Venturing Forth’, with a lazy and bucolic feel with harp and woodwind, ‘Crossing The River and Onward’ which introduces the driving “Onward” theme pushing the group on during their difficult journey, ‘Kehaar’s Capture’ with the hilarious Viennese waltz for the rabbits’ grumpy avian companion. Other themes are included for the evil Efrafans, but it’s the Onward theme that really shines as a propulsive agent for the story, as well as just being a fabulous and charming theme. WATERSHIP DOWN varies between the wonderful sense of British countryside the film captures so well and the more threatening elements from all sorts of dangers, from the Efrafans to speeding cars, and Morley is able to deftly weave both together at the end with a consistent tone to produce some really special music.

Of course, also present is ‘Bright Eyes’ by Mike Batt and sung by Art Garfunkel, with a wonderful interlude by Morley. But this really is an essential album, and Vocalion have done a superb mastering job, with a beautiful sense of clarity and depth*, and it sounds wonderful. The programme is exactly the same as the original LP and previous CD, which is to say out of film order but still a great listening experience. Liner notes come from Robert Walton, who discusses the score in a brief track-by-track format, with much of it in context of similar classical pieces.

Also from Vocalion comes the jazzy television score THE ROGUES by Nelson Riddle and comedy score HOW SWEET IT IS! by Patrick Williams. ROGUES is a typically fun and swinging score from Riddle, who most will know as the composer of the first couple of seasons of the 1966 BATMAN show, but it’s HOW SWEET that’s a hidden gem, with some beautifully lyrical work amongst the zany arrangements from Williams. But out of the three, WATERSHIP DOWN is the real treasure, and needs to be hunted down as soon as possible. - Charlie Brigden