COMPOSERS: Halas & Batchelor: animated classics
LABELS: Blue Dolphin
ALBUM TITLE: Halas & Batchelor: animated classics
WORKS: Tales from Hoffnung; Ruddigore
PERFORMER: D’Oyly Carte Opera Company; LPO
CATALOGUE NO: BDVD 2009
The British-educated German refugee Gerard Hoffnung kept the 1950s laughing as fruity-voiced broadcaster, impresario and performer of the famously lunatic Hoffnung music festivals, but above all with his gently surreal cartoons, on musical themes especially. In 1964, five years after his tragically early death, the BBC and celebrated animators Halas & Batchelor created this hugely popular series of short films, mostly fantasies on unconnected Hoffnung images. A Palm Court trio plays unstoppably on through fire, shipwreck and whale-swallowing; a janitor becomes a superstar conductor; tubas grow out of brass bedsteads; a soprano’s bouquet turns carnivorous; a father dithers around the birds and bees; a sloppy bandsman faces a firing squad of trombones; a housewife plays a vacuum-cleaner concerto. It all happens to fragments of the classics wittily deranged by Francis Chagrin, a composer, like Malcolm Arnold, Humphrey Searle and others, to whom the Hoffnung concerts gave a valuable if slightly unstable platform. The animated ideas are rarely as good as Hoffnung’s own, but his charm still carries these films along wonderfully. The only blot is that, according to his widow Annetta, his estate earned very little from them.
The difference Hoffnung’s images make is apparent from the same studio’s 1964 Ruddigore, to a neatly trimmed version of Decca’s D’Oyly Carte recording. It has plenty of vitality and good nature, but the visuals remain blandly conventional, little improvement on Hanna-Barbera’s of the same era. It may appeal to children; but the Hoffnung films still stand to captivate all ages, especially the musically inclined. Michael Scott Rohan