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The Battle of the Bulge (original score).
Queensland So/Werner Andreas Albert.
CPO 999 696-2. (78' 43'')
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More a series of expertly scored mini-tone poems than a soundtrack, Benjamin Frankel's score for the 1965 blockbuster "The Battle of the Bulge" ranks amongst the most powerful film music produced in the 1960s. It was Frankel's last feature film work and was nominated for an award for best original score at the 1966 Hollywood Golden Globes. The excellent programme notes accompanying the CPO disc written by E D Kennaway helpfully include a series of examples of the main motifs Frankel employs throughout the score: it is the strength and variety of these ideas which adds to the irresistible impact of much of the music. The "Victory theme" which appears in the first and last tracks is a splendid piece of C major jubilation in an honourable line from the first subject of the Finale of Beethoven's Fifth to the brass-led coda of Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony. "Guffy's Tank Theme" is a good-humoured Coplandesque hoe-down whilst "Lt. Col. Kiley's Theme" is an expressive melody for horn which paints a picture of wide open spaces and reflects the natural nobility of Henry Fonda's character in the film. The "Panzerlied" (the original battle song of the Panzer troops) was included at the insistence of the film's producers and Benjamin Frankel was understandably reluctant to employ it. The theme recurs many times throughout the score and is usually imaginatively treated by the composer, especially in the last track where it emerges on the tuba, spent and deflated as the German tanks retreat in defeat. It appears twice with uncredited singers (presumably taken from the original soundtrack).

The tracks appearing on record for the first time on this CD contain some of the most dramatic and involving music. No wonder "The Armaments Train" was used as an overture to be played whilst audiences arrived - it acts as a perfect distillation of Frankel's score and contains the essence of the film's spirit. "Hessler in high spirits" and "Final tank battle" also contain a varied and involving collection of motifs clothed in ear-catching orchestration. The shortest item on the disc lasts for over two minutes and there are 18 tracks in all, giving some idea of the weighty nature of the material. Indeed, such is Frankel's skill in weaving his themes into a rich fabric of orchestration that the listener is hardly aware of any repetition of material: frequently a drawback in many "soundtrack" releases where themes recur relatively unchanged ad nauseam to rapidly diminishing effect.

It is easy to overlook the excellent playing of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, so involving is the music on this superb CPO disc. Yet the performance is superb and the recording quality exemplary. If only more film scores could be presented at this level: they might not be so looked down upon by the Music Establishment. This has to be one of the most important and satisfying recordings of film music to emerge in recent years. I hope this will not be the only film score of Benjamin Frankel that CPO are planning to record: at least the ground-breaking 1960 score for Hammer's "Curse of the Werewolf" should be presented in its entirety. For the present, there is the imminent release of the Symphonies 7 and 8 by the Queensland forces under Albert's authoritative direction to relish.

Paul Conway

See also review by Gary Dalkin

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Paul Conway

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