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Dimitri TIOMKIN (1894-1979)
Red River - film score (1948)
Score restoration by John Morgan
Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir/William Stromberg
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, February-March, 2002
NAXOS 8.557699 [64:10]
 


This Naxos Film Music release is another migrant from Marco Polo, in this case 8.225217, released as recently as 2003 where it featured a spicy John Wayne cover. Here we have a rather less overtly cinematic, rather more artistic image on the booklet cover, a painting by W.R. Leigh of a cattle stampede.
 
Once again in this series John Morgan has undertaken the considerable job of restoration. The score lasts sixty-four minutes and the thirty-seven cues, here separately tracked, offer the Tiomkin devotee plenty of interest and excitement. That said I have to admit I’m not a huge admirer of the score. The claims advanced for it over the years are at best tendentious and its existence as an independent entity rather works against it. This is primarily in respect of the compression necessary which gives it a breathless and rather hectoring tone, one that in the film is relieved by dialogue and by the natural punctuation of the filmic medium.
 
That said there are still plenty of moments of interest. I advise you to put up with the chorus whose approximations of English are less than convincing and listen instead to what has always seemed to me a characteristically Russian infusion of Prokofiev-like violence in the fourth track, The Red Menace Strikes. Here the low brass and percussion really tell, as does the cello-rich string patina and the dark orchestral palette. This is in any case a distinctive feature of Tiomkin’s orchestration, here pushed to its optimal limit in theatrical characterisation. And splendid it is too, and equally well presented by the Moscow forces under William Stromberg, himself a fine orchestrator of film scores, as many will doubtless appreciate.
 
The Russianness of this quintessentially American film is underlined by such things as the Chaliapinesque chorus in The Birth of Red River. And one should always remember that much of the cowpokery in which Tiomkin indulges was self-invention. Talking of influence I detect a Tiomkin influence on Malcolm Arnold, especially in the drunken scenes, where brass and rhythmic control distinctly foreshadow Arnold’s own adventures in such things – not just confined to his own film scores either.
 
Still, I do find the constant reprises of material – the highfalutin’ might prefer leitmotifs – somewhat exhausting and much of the material, whilst rhythmically exciting, is not always thematically convincing. Moments of calm amongst the torrent are few. One such is The Missing Cowboy (track 15) and the expressive advantages for the listener are palpable. The general tenor of the score however is toward the galvanic and that can be enervating, taken in one sitting.
 
All praise to the Moscow forces however – their vocal brethren perhaps excluded - for their powerful commitment to this score and its ebullient realisation in this performance. Whatever my reservations here one can’t deny the powerful impression made in this recording. Marco Polo’s extensive booklet notes have been compressed into the standard Naxos booklet but no essential information has been lost.
 
Jonathan Woolf

 

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