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Movie Magic: Twenty Big Themes – Space, Action and Romance
London Symphony Orchestra, Stanley Black Orchestra/Stanley Black
rec. DDD 1987
ALTO ALN1969 [79:13]

This very full CD should gladden the hearts, and other parts, of film music enthusiasts. At least it should speak to those who are looking for an injection of variety that mixes 'top picks' with a measure of lesser-knowns. It's like a shot in the arm to those jaded with complete soundtracks who have had to withstand hum-drum tracks as the price of 'plum' title music.

The orchestra here make an affluent and well-upholstered sound and Stanley Black (1913-2002) ensures there is plenty of punch and no ho-hum. In his way with the ruftie-tuftie of Goodwin's 633 Squadron it's not just the horns that shine. Oddly enough it's Goodwin that I kept hearing in the Arnold/Alford Bridge on the River Kwai which was one track where I found the swagger too much of a good thing. I wonder what Black would have made of the march for A Bridge Too Far - sensational in the hands of Marcus Dods and the CBSO on EMI ASD 3797. John Williams is not sold short by Black's virile way with the now very familiar Star Wars/Raiders/Superman pieces.

Tiomkin has done better things than Guns of Navarone, which seems thin gruel. That said, Black gives it a taut and barkingly affirmative twist. It's Tiomkin that is at fault. I am far from sure about substituting a fairly assertive fore-grounded piano for solo guitar in Patrick Gowers' Deerhunter music.

Of classic Western scores Moross's The Big Country bristles and swells just as it should, as also did Elmer Bernstein's roaring smack-in-the-face Copland-influenced Magnificent Seven. Here the recording draws agreeable attention to itself with lots of in-your-face detail and Latino swoon. I suppose that Elmer Bernstein's music for The Great Escape can be grouped in a sub-genre with the River Kwai march but its swagger stick bluster works well here rather like Ron Goodwin's 'Berlin' music for Battle of Britain.

With this reading of Chi-Mai by Morricone things are placed right in our laps and rather like the Bilitis music a bit of distance would have enhanced the effect.

No complaints about the tense nine-minute James Bond medley/fantasy. Nice electric guitar, close-up percussion and super-blown brass. The work of Barry and Monty Norman is very resilient and also blooms well in other hands. As a comparison from the all-Bond competition do not shrink from tracking down The Best of Bond on RPO Live. Mary Carewe's voice there is sensational.

Things that could have gone with a soporific yawn, like Barry Gray's Thunderbirds, are rapped out by Black for all they are worth. I expected John Williams' theme music for Superman to be good and in this version it yielded no disappointments here. The Rodgers' Carousel Waltz goes for broke, sounding like an escaped movement, in glitz and kitsch, from Khachaturyan's Masquerade Suite … or perhaps it's the other way around.

Frederick Loewe's music for Gigi swoons deliciously and the strings have a moonlight shine. Even more devastating is Black's super-lush way with Moon River (Henry Mancini). It's a world-beating melody. Impressive to be reminded by Black of how affecting is the music for Raksin's Laura which surely pays tribute along the way to Franz Waxman. Black himself plays the piano in style. Also scoring highly in the romantic stakes, and again with Black at the piano, is Barry's rheumy-eyed Somewhere in Time and the sun-dappled soft-focus of Francis Lai's score for Bilitis.

If you were wondering, and have long memories, this disc is so much more than a cut above the sort of thing that you would get with similarly titled collections on Music For Pleasure LPs. Full-on treatment for a sometimes far from obvious selection of film scores.

Rob Barnett


[1] Star Wars (Episode 4) (John Williams) [5:35]
[2] 633 Squadron (Ron Goodwin) [3:04]
[3] Thunderbirds (Barry Gray) [2:53]
[4] Gigi (Theme and Thank Heaven) (Frederick Loewe) [4:16]
[5] Bridge on the River Kwai (Kenneth Alford, Malcolm Arnold) [2:53]
[6] Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Theme & Moon River) (Henry Mancini) [3:26]
[7] Theme from Superman (John Williams) [4:34]
[8] The Big Country (Jerome Moross) [3:08]
[9] Laura (Dave Raksin)/ [4:12]
[10] Guns of Navarone (Dmitri Tiomkin) [2:42]
[11] Somewhere in Time (John Barry)/ [3:57]
[12] Carousel Waltz (Rodgers) [3:08]
[13] The Magnificent Seven (Elmer Bernstein) [3:53]
[14] Bilitis (Francis Lai)/ [3:11]
[15] Raiders of the Lost Ark (John Williams) [4:23]
[16] The Deer Hunter (Stanley Myers) [2:13]
[17] The Great Escape (Elmer Bernstein) [2:38]
[18] Chi Mai / Life & Times of David Lloyd George (Ennio Morricone) [4:02]
[19] James Bond Medley (Main Themes) (Monty Norman, John Barry) [9:05]
[20] Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (John Williams) [5:13]


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