This is an important album in the firmament of film music: the first ever
release of the original soundtrack of the most famous Western ever (perhaps
vying with High Noon - which centres rather around a song than this score
which has some very fine music). Elmer Bernsteins music, or more accurately
the big theme, has been recorded and presented in concert many times. The
complete music, of which I would guess pretty well every substantial segment
has been presented here, was, astoundingly, never issued on LP. Of course
there may have been the odd pirate LP but certainly nothing commercial or
approved. The closest you get to a contemporary commercial release is the
LP of The Return of the Magnificent Seven which contains much of the original
score in a (then) freshly recorded version.
The film is a classic and had a classic cast. Eli Wallach was suitably villainous
(more so than his successor) villain in the first sequel. The Seven
are lead by the indomitable and murderously cool Chris - which in turn made
Yul Brynner a natural role in the Michael Crichton technology-gone-berserk
film Westworld. Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan, Charles Bronson,
James Coburn are all foremost names and Brad Dexter with Horst Buchholz are
only slightly less celebrated. By the way I do hope that people will not
forget the original grittier and certainly less commercial (and more amoral)
Akira Kurosawa film which was the template for Magnificent Seven (I am sorry
but I do not recall the music at all - no doubt my fault). Kurosawa offers
the story with rough edges and without the faint commercial sheen offered
by Hollywood and director John Sturges.
The main theme jumps and kicks like a stallion. If age has roughened the
edges of the sound it has not robbed it of its visceral charge. The high
mountains, desert plains, dusty streets are all here - together with an
geographically asynchronous dash of Copland - after all this is Mexico not
Montana or Texas or Appalachia. Never mind - Copland did write several
devastatingly effective Latino pieces - El Salon Mexico being the best known
and the best. Extensive use is made of the famous theme both in direct quotation
and as a basis for various variations. Galloping barking figures stride through
the 23 tracks contrasted with Mexican-style fiestas, honky-tonk saloon pianos
(track 5) and the occasional romantic guitar serenades. The stylistic
cross-references include Ponce (Concierto del Sur and Violin Concerto), Joaqin
Rodrigo, Copland (of course), Piston, Randall Thompson and Manuel de Falla
(track 11). The drum toccata in track 7 sounds as if it escaped from
everyones cliché of darkest Africa. Track 9 uses
metal drums in something which sounds very much like a Caribbean tin metal
band. Later tracks gallop and storm and that blessedly famous theme is never
far away. The Mexican romance element finally slumbers quietly into a warm
twilight elegy (track 23).
Having played the disc through several times I have to contradict myself
in my other review (included in this batch) of the Return of the Magnificent
Seven album. There is too much music here and Bernsteins inspiration
while often burning strongly coasts along repetitively at low voltage (track
22 is an example) for at least ten minutes in the complement offered here.
Attention is not held consistently. The Return album, which is in better,
but less atmospheric, sound leaves you wanting more. The trick may be to
avoid playing the present album all in one go.
The notes are by Jeff Bond who writes enticingly mixing fact and observation.
There are a couple of paragraphs from Elmers daughter Emilie (since
1990 the orchestrator for his film scores) who was one of the moving forces
for the disc. Great stills from the film, location shots and a rather crude
looking poster copyrighted 1980 - it must be for a re-release of the film.
The sound is grainy and we are warned as much by Emilie who refers to the
original soundtrack being recorded without the benefits of modern day
recording techniques. With the rider mentioned above I can recommend
this disc to the aficionado of Western scores, enthusiasts for the film itself
and for Brynner mavens and also for collectors of Bernsteins scores.
Warm thanks must go to Rykodisc and MGM/United Artists for making this CD
While I have my reservations about some of the music (about 55 minutes would
have been just about ideal) this is a very significant disc, generous in
timing (not given on the sleeve) and handsome in presentation. Incidentally
this disc (unlike The Return disc) fills its 67:40 without resorting to dialogue
clips from the film.