> GOLDSMITH Christus Apollo [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jerry GOLDSMITH (b. 1929)
Music for Orchestra, Christus Apollo*, Fireworks
London Symphony Orchestra/Jerry Goldsmith with* Sir Anthony Hopkins (narrator), Eirian James (mezzo-soprano), London Voices
Recorded 3rd - 5th September 2000, Abbey Road Studios, London
Narration recorded 10th October 2000, Sony Music Scoring, Culver City, California
TELARC CD-80560 [51’ 21"]


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"Christus Apollo" and "Music for Orchestra" date, respectively, from 1969 and 1970 and use dodecaphonic techniques. "Fireworks" is from 1999 and a breezily tonal piece of writing intended for performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

Before considering the principal work, "Christus Apollo", I should like to make a few reflections about tonal and dodecaphonic music, provoked by these two short (8’ 16" and 8’ 52") orchestral pieces. "Fireworks", as I said, starts off exuberantly and that’s how it goes on. To begin with you think that this is a jolly good romp, no great substance but nice. The trouble is, the tunes turn out to be not so much tunes as rather banal little motives tossed around the orchestra and the sheer lack of anything to say or any personal way of saying it makes it all seem pointless. I realise that composers of film music probably go apoplectic every time they read that their concert works would be effective as accompaniment for a film, but that’s exactly what I did think, so what else can I say?

The earlier dodecaphonic piece is obviously very different. Dodecaphonic techniques, as has often been pointed out, are ideal for writing music that reflects the nightmare of living under the Third Reich. For all Schoenberg’s protestations to the contrary, it is difficult to find music written in this manner which expresses anything other than tortured angst. So if you took "Fireworks" and revamped it dodecaphonically, you would end up with something like "Music for Orchestra".

Now it has to be said that serial techniques are not entirely useless. If the music has nothing to say, dodecaphony can provide it with a semblance of substance, even discipline. A fellow student in my university days, a girl with absolutely no ambitions to become a composer and who hated the weekly composition classes, once dashed off a twelve-tone string quartet while listening to other music on the radio, and the composition tutor, himself a composer of serial inclinations, said it was good. There’s nothing like an inverted tone-row for pulling the wool over gullible eyes.

I feel absolutely beastly to say all this, the more so when I read that "Music for Orchestra" was written at a time of great personal difficulty, while Goldsmith was going through a divorce and his mother was seriously ill with cancer. I believe his sincerity when he says that the dodecaphonic style was "a liberating way to express my deepest feelings"; nor do I think he intends to be pretentious when he says that "Fireworks" is "a grand celebration of my childhood, growing years, my years of maturity, and all the events that climaxed with my first appearance at the Hollywood Bowl". I just wish I could feel that this music conveys at least a part of these emotions to the listener.

"Christus Apollo" has a text by the noted science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury. Its curious mixture of philosophy, mysticism and wind-baggery is not wholly without poetic glow. The following is typical: three lines obscure, three mystical and the last two plain banal.

He walks upon the molecules of seas

All boiling stews of beast

All maddened broth and brew and rising up of yeast.

There Christ by many names is known.

We call him thus.

They call him otherwise.

His name on any mouth would be a sweet surprise.

He comes with gifts for all.

The poetry does, however, seem to envisage a certain joyfulness, together with its more mystical aspects, which most people will find central to the Christmas theme. Joyfulness does not appear to be part of Goldsmith’s agenda, however. But then, I have some difficulty in finding words to describe this music at all. Adjectives, by their nature, imply a response on the part of those who use them. This music is, for me, emotionally and artistically a void. Hard words and I recognise that the void may be in my mind rather than the composer’s but I can find no reason why one note should follow another in the way it does rather than in another way.

If I responded to anything at all on this disc, it was to Sir Anthony Hopkins’s narrations, which amount to a substantial part of the work. The musicality of his Welsh vowels and his feeling for poetic rhythm are a pleasure in themselves. However, I have a few queries even here. The narrations were recorded separately, as you can see from the location details above. I realise that the logistics of getting famous people together means that this sort of thing is often unavoidable but I wonder if Sir Anthony, on stage with an orchestra and chorus behind him, would have adopted this same low-key approach. He makes no attempt at theatrical projection but rather croons, even whispers, into the microphone. As I say, it has its own beauty but there is an obvious artificiality deriving from the fact that the spoken word and the musical performance are on completely different scales.

Sorry to be so negative. If others respond differently I shall be very glad for them, but I can only advise you to hear some of the music before purchasing. Incidentally, after writing this I did a little surfing on the Net and, while I am happy for Goldsmith that some people have waxed lyrical about this music, I am also comforted by the discovery that several others have reacted just as negatively as I did.

Christopher Howell

See also review by Gary Dalkin

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