The Battle of the Bulge (original score).
Queensland So/Werner Andreas
CPO 999 696-2. (78'
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.
See also review
by Gary Dalkin
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