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Dimitri TIOMKIN (1894-1979)
Red River - film score (1948)
Score restoration by John Morgan
Moscow Symphony Orchestra & Choir/William Stromberg
Recorded at Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, Russia in Feb-March, 2002
MARCO POLO 8.225217 [64:10]

I’ve always had a fascination for unusual names, having one myself, so I remember catching sight of Dimitri Tiomkin’s name on the credits for "The High and the Mighty" when I saw that film at the Regal, Golders Green, London in 1954. I never forgot his name and always looked for it in the music credits of American films. So it was that I got to know the names of Elmer Bernstein ("The Magnificent Seven"), Jerome Morross ("The Big Country"), Miklos Rozsa ("Ben Hur"), Bernard Herrmann ("Psycho"), and that stalwart of the ‘B’ picture music scene, Mischa Baleinikov.

Film music in general doesn’t work so well on its own no matter how great its contribution to the picture because it mainly consists of fragments illustrating specific actions in isolation from each other. However, when a composer incorporates them into a suite it can hold its own and there are many examples to prove this is true, Prokofiev’s music for the films "Alexander Nevsky" and "Ivan the Terrible", Shostakovich’s music for "Hamlet" and Copland’s for "The Red Pony" to name but four. It is music such as this that gives the lie to the oft-repeated calumny that film music is inferior and its composers less competent, than those who write solely for the concert hall. The above composers plus people like Walton, Vaughan Williams, and Malcolm Arnold show what a fallacy such claims are. And just listen to Miklos Rozsa’s String Quartet that has a movement entitled "Modo Ungharese", and you’ll discover, if you don’t know already, how wonderful his music is, on or off the screen.

On this question of unusual names it is interesting to note how many composers for American films, had them, and that people such as Jerome Morross, Adolph Deutsch ("High Sierra"), Max Steiner ("The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"), Erich Wolfgang Korngold ("The Adventures of Robin Hood"), together with Herrmann, Rozsa, Copland and Bernstein, were from Central and Eastern European (and often Jewish) origin. Despite their origins, however, they wrote music that has such a quintessentially American flavour and indeed it was Copland who forged the path towards the creation of a truly American sound, where his predecessors like Templeton Strong, Chadwick and others had pursued the European tradition.

This CD, the first digital recording of the complete score of the music for Howard Hawks’ 1948 film "Red River", is thoroughly American in character. When a fellow Russian asked Tiomkin how a Russian (actually he was born in the Ukraine) from the St. Petersburg Conservatory could write music for a western, he replied "Did Johann Strauss, when he wrote ‘The Blue Danube’, know how to swim?" In fact Tiomkin’s secret was to write original music that sounded like folk tunes, and he used this technique not only in "Red River", but also in "High Noon", "Gunfight at the OK Corral", "Friendly Persuasion, and "The Alamo", a film that included the haunting song "The Green Leaves of Summer". Tiomkin wrote music for all kinds of films from "Dial ‘M’ for Murder" to "The fall of the Roman Empire" and worked for Directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Frank Capra and Stanley Kramer, and received Oscars for his music for "High Noon", "The High and the Mighty" and "The Old Man and the Sea".

The story of "Red River" has its roots in a true story of a vast cattle drive along the famous Chisholm Trail, and the growing and changing relationship between Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) and Matthew Garth (Montgomery Clift). The Main Title introduces Tiomkin’s ‘folk tune’ "Settle Down" which he uses throughout the score to underpin the action, and to provide a "musical home" to return to, together with creating a sense of calm, after periods of high tension. Helping to establish the illusion that this is a tune rooted in folk history he cleverly weaves into this musical fabric references to such well-known and genuine folk songs as "Deep in the heart of Texas", "She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes" and "Oh, Susannah". The music Tiomkin wrote for this film lasts over an hour, which is substantial in a film which runs for 145 minutes, and is an integral part of it, helping to create the atmosphere as surely as the actors themselves do. Just listen to "Stampede" to hear how this master of the media paints a kaleidoscopic musical picture of the chaos that occurs when thousands of cattle run amok. The music for this film is exhilarating, sentimental, full of thrilling moments that build up the tension and then let the audience drift back to a sense of well-being where problems have been resolved, if only for a short time.

Marco Polo have done a wonderful service in ensuring that such a brilliant score has been fully restored and recorded, and they have released many other discs of film music by Arnold, Herrmann, Korngold, Steiner, Waxman, Young and others, and are to be congratulated for doing so. Having said that I also have to say that in this particular case the music doesn’t work away from the action of the film for the precise reasons I mentioned at the outset, specifically because the score represents no less than 37 separate "episodes", and even the theme "Settle Down" cannot replace the knitting together effected through the creation of a suite, a process that can enmesh material so that the "joins" are smoothed away. This in no way lessens the effect of this dynamic and powerful score in its proper context but on disc it does limit its appeal to those film music buffs among us which is a shame, as musically it deserves a greater audience than it will likely receive.

Steve Arloff

see also double review by Ian Lace and Gary Dalkin

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