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The Golden Age of Hollywood
see end of review for listing
Roderick Elms (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Watford Colosseum, London, 15-16 September 2005. DDD


The Golden Age of Hollywood 2
see end of review for listing
Clio Gould (violin); Jamie Talbot (alto saxophone)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, 9-10 January 2007. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Composer-conductor Jose Serebrier continues to surprise. His career has not followed the institutional way of being principal conductor of this orchestra or that. Opportunities are instead sought, offered and taken. In this way a freshness hangs over much that he does. The recording studio has yielded sessions for recording the new, the exotic and fairly often the unfashionable. Examples are legion and his Janáček and Chadwick (Reference Recordings) leap immediately to mind.

In the case of these two discs Serebrier squares up to film music. It’s a serious selection too, charting the vintage Hollywood years from 1939 to 1976. While Hollywood film scores are not the be all and end all and the time will surely come to explore methodically the film scores of the USSR, of Germany and France the fact is that Hollywood has been the home of some of the most sumptuous music for the asilver screen. That word ‘sumptuous’ certainly applies to the sound secured by the engineers for volume 2 at Cadogan Hall in London.

Herrmann’s Vertigo has never sounded as ripe. There’s also real rosiny grit and the panicky heat of the chase in the violins of the North By Northwest prelude. The sound of the music is reminiscent of the chilliness of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Steiner’s Caine Mutiny march has the requisite brazen blast and sheer excess - strangely at odds with the psychological dimensions of the film. That could never be said of the Herrmann music for Citizen Kane with its sour Gothic afflatus contrasted with childlike nostalgia. Serebrier sustains the atmosphere without a single gasp or hesitation. The lush violins are superbly floated for the Korngold The Adventures of Robin Hood. Elmer Bernstein’s miniature suite from To Kill A Mockingbird has a Gallic lightness and yearning poignancy. Clio Gould cozies up close and husky for the Rozsa Sherlock Holmes music which is drawn from the Violin Concerto. The Hungarian skirl is a Rozsa trademark on display again here. The Waxman Sunset Boulevard is given a viciously urgent spur and is driven so hard that it moves into Herrmann territory. A year later Waxman turned in another signature score in A Place In The Sun complete with world-weary saxophone and uncanny pre-echo of Shostakovich 11 in the chase music. Serebrier is especially good, in these moments, at unleashing a sort of controlled wildness. Tiomkin’s Dial M for Murder is a lush romantic score but Tiomkin lacked the blazing genius of Herrmann or Waxman and this shows in what ends up being pleasantly intriguing rather than riveting. Nino Rota’s Godfather music is pastoral shimmering in the Sicilian Pastorale, shiveringly doom-laden in Michael and Kay and operatic lump-in-the-throat tender in the Love Theme. There’s lovely legato playing by the RPO’s oboist. This is altogether a classy album.

Volume 1 has its moments but seems a notch down from its successor in all settings. There is clarity about the sound but the well known Watford Colosseum, on this occasion, fails to yield the sort of lush amplitude balanced with a degree of transparency found on volume 2. It’s intrinsically perfectly enjoyable but suffers in the comparison. I found this in the book-end Western themes especially The Big Country by Moross though the Magnificent Seven overture was less affected. Serebrier certainly knows how to accent this music and those eruptive golden horns in the Bernstein are matchlessly glorious. Steiner’s Casablanca suite suffers from what was already pretty much of a hokum score with much tired play made of national anthems. Steiner’s fault - I had the same problem with the RCA Gerhardt Steiner Classic Film Music album. Nothing has changed. The Spellbound Concerto by Rozsa is nicely despatched by Elms and the rest. The four movements from Psycho have urgency, macabre cold atmosphere and tensely freighted threat - the latter wonderfully done in the Sibelian tremble that makes up most of The Stairs. The shrieking violins for The Murder are very sharply delineated. Tiomkin’s The Guns of Navarone lumbers somewhat but soon develops a rather English film music style perhaps a little like Addison’s miniature masterpiece A Bridge Too Far (Chandos; Ryko; EMI Classics). Serebrier imparts real tenderness to the Love Theme from Ben-Hur and plenty of swagger for the Charioteers’ Parade. Herrmann’s Taxi Driver score was his last and was written contra torrentum in a world where cinematic scores seemed to be abandoning the orchestra. Phil Todd delivers a caramel smoochy saxophone solo. I have only recently heard Previn’s LSO Sea Hawk music (Korngold’s Sea Hawk, Prince and Pauper, Elizabeth and Essex and Captain Blood - Abbey Road, July 2001, DG 289 471 347-2). While Serebrier is often more than very good he is a rung down from Previn in terms of sheer sound. That said, the brass interlacing and terracing he secures is impressively and excitingly done. The Addinsell Warsaw Concerto is well executed but failed to stir me. Gone With The Wind is more Steiner but this is Steiner at his personal best and Tara’s Theme yearns very nicely indeed - at first in a delicacy worthy of Elmer Bernstein and later in swooping strings. Speaking of Bernstein I cannot praise too highly again those whoopingly exultant RPO French Horns in the final Magnificent Seven track - glorious glorious.

There you have it: two generously packed CDs, well documented, each with great strengths and featuring sharply imaginative and challenging playing. CD 2 stands a step up in recorded sound terms over CD 1. They’re each a great way to survey the Hollywood classic scores.

It’s what Serebrier brings to the podium that now makes me want to hear him tackle some of the complete film scores. I keep whittering on about recording Prokofiev’s war-time film music (not Nevsky and not Kije) but its also well past time that Mario Nascimbene’s score for The Vikings and Hugo Friedhofer’s The Best Years of Our Lives were revived and recorded afresh; the latter has been done in modern sound but Frank Collura’s conducting on Intrada seemed flat and undifferentiated to me. Serebrier would be an ideal choice for these projects.

Rob Barnett 

Track listing
Volume 1

Jerome MOROSS (1913-1983) The Big Country (1958) Main Theme
Max STEINER (1888-1971) Casablanca (1942) Suite
Miklos ROZSA (1907-1995) Spellbound (1945) Concerto
Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975) Psycho (1960) Prelude; The Stairs; The Murder; Finale
Dmitri TIOMKIN (1894-1979) The Guns Of Navarone (1961) Main theme
Miklos ROZSA (1907-1995) Ben-Hur (1959) Love Theme; Parade of the Charioteers
Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975) Taxi Driver (1976) Main Theme
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) The Sea Hawk (1940) Main Theme
Richard ADDINSELL (1904-1977) Dangerous Moonlight (1941) Warsaw Concerto
Max STEINER (1888-1971) Gone With The Wind (1939) Tara
Elmer BERNSTEIN (1922-2004) The Magnificent Seven (1960) Overture

Volume 2
Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975) Vertigo (1958) Prelude; The Nightmare; Scène d'Amour
Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975) North By Northwest (1959) Overture
Max STEINER (1888-1971) The Caine Mutiny (1954) March
Bernard HERRMANN (1911-1975) Citizen Kane (1941) Prelude & Finale
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) The Fight, Victory & Epilogue
Elmer BERNSTEIN (1922-2004) To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) Suite
Miklos ROZSA (1907-1995) The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970) Violin Concerto (Second Movement)
Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967) Sunset Boulevard (1950) Suite
Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967) A Place In The Sun (1951) Suite
Dmitri TIOMKIN (1894-1979) Dial M For Murder (1954) Theme
Nino ROTA (1911-1979) The Godfather (1972) Sicilian Pastorale; Michael and Kay; Love Theme



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