Music Webmaster Len Mullenger
FILM MUSIC RECORDINGS REVIEWS
EDITORS CHOICE - FILM MUSIC CD OF THE MONTH - March-April 1998
|MAX STEINER Casablanca Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (including dialogue)Turner Classic Movies Music/EMI Premier 8 23502 2 [64:29]||
My choice this month is, of course, self-selecting. I suspect that most people (over a certain age anyway) if asked to give a list of their top ten all-time movies would include Casablanca. Its all here, from the original soundtrack - not only the music but also the most memorable parts of the script which have practically passed into folklore:-
...I came to Casablanca for the waters. The waters? What waters? Were in the desert. I was misinformed.
...Call the airport.. and remember this gun is pointed right at your heart. That is my least vulnerable spot.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. Whats that youre playing? Oh, just a little somethin of my own. Well stop it. You know what I want to hear. No, I dont You played it for her. You can play it for me. Well, I dont think I can remember it. If she can stand it, I can. Play it!
Inside both of us we both know you belong to Victor. Youre part of his work. The thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and youre not with him, youll regret it...maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life...Well always have Paris...We got it back last night...Im no good at being noble but it doesnt take much to see that the problems of three little people dont amount to a hill o beans in this crazy world. Someday youll understand that.
Casablanca was not Max Steiners best score by any means but it is probably his most memorable one apart from Gone With the Wind. The song As Time Goes By is not Steiners; it was written by Herman Hupfield and originally sung by Frances Williams in a 1931 Broadway show called Everybodys Welcome and it had been an integral part of the play, Everybody Comes to Ricks which was the inspiration for Casablanca . Steiner, fitting his music to the finished film, as usual, did not like the idea of using the song, he didnt care for the tune and didnt think it would be a good song for Rick and Ilsa, he much preferred to write an original one and more to the point an original song would have earned him royalties. Supposedly, producer Hal Wallis went along with Steiner. Of course with a new song, portions of a few scenes, specifically referring to As Time Goes By would have to be reshot. But Ingrid Bergman had just had her hair cut short for her appearance in For Whom the Bell Tolls, so Steiner was told to use As Time Goes By. Nevertheless, Steiner skilfully wove his score around the song and other patriotic French and German songs such as La Marseillaise and Deutschland Über Alles.
The lavish CD booklet details not only the development of the score but of the whole production including the script which, as most fans know, developed on the wing with the cast not knowing the ending until they reached it. Much fascinating detail emerges including the fact that black singer/actor Dooley Wilson was dubbed playing the piano
The CD includes supplementary material including the complete vocal of As Time Goes By sung by Dooley Wilson and other songs included in the film such as It Had to Be You and Knock on Wood.
A perfect souvenir of a perfect film. A slight scratchy background early on is the only minor irritation
|ALEX NORTH. The Bad Seed; Spartacus; A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata Eric Stern conducts the London Symphony Orchestra Nonesuch Film Series 7559-79446-2 [51:58]||
This album, in the continuing superb Nonesuch series, was issued late last year but its importance assures its inclusion now. It complements the Leonard Rosenman album (Nonesuch 7559 79402-2) which I reviewed on this site last month in that it comes from that period in the 1950s when Hollywood composers were rebelling against the heavily romantic scores of Korngold, Steiner and Newman et al. In fact it was Alex Norths symphonic jazz score for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) which could be said to have started the revolution. Quoting from Royal S. Browns erudite and fulsome notes, North avoided the classical-music models that were still dominating Hollywood soundtracks, and instead turned to jazz, whose appearance in movies up to that time was limited almost exclusively to musicals. Streetcars New Orleans setting makes the use of jazz a logical choice, particularly since a jazz club called Four Deuces is right down the street from the near-slum where the drama takes place. Indeed, one of the most original aspects of Norths score is that it breaks down the distinction between source and soundtrack music; one is not always certain whether the music heard during the film is coming from the club or is part of the musical backing. But it works, the music heightens the sordid story of conflicting sexual passions and Norths music established a trend of associating jazz with the seamier side of life.
The Bad Seed was about an eight-year-old girl who is a psychopathic killer. She is frequently seen practising at the piano playing the French folk-song Au Clair de la lune often hammering it out maliciously. North catches her depravity and weaves a devilish score tinged with chilling dissonances around this tune to create a creepy and evil atmosphere - even the Our Baby cue has shadowy undertones to what should be an innocent lullaby. Viva Zapata was about revolution in Mexico and is a study in crescendo as the compelling, hypnotic rhythms of Gathering Forces draws the revolutionary forces together. A softer form of jazz, a quiet bluesy fox trot, underscores the attraction between Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits
Spartacus is probably Norths most popular score. The film was about a slaves revolt in ancient Rome. Again North breaks with tradition in eschewing the grand romantic sweep for the Main Title. Instead, he opts for a grim, uncompromisingly steely march full of clashing chords to represent the harsh and oppressive Roman regime. Any warmth in this score is reserved for the slaves and for the well known love music for Kirk Douglas and Jean Simmons as Spartacus and Virinia. In the Draba Fight cue, the music is dissonant and savage as the slaves, as gladiators, fight each other to the death, and the Vesuvius Camp cue is very reminiscent of Copland ballet music as the slaves train for war. Camp at Night brings soothing relief and poignancy as Spartacus senses defeat. It is a lovely nocturne with only faint off-stage trumpetings to disturb the tranquillity.
Eric Stern leads the London Symphony Orchestra in first class performances captured in superb sound. This CD is a must for all students of film music history
Kismet: Night of My Nights. The Band Wagon: Dancing in the Dark. Meet Me in St Louis: The Trolley Song. Gigi: Titles and Fountain Scene. Singin in the Rain: Singin in the Rain. The Pirate: The Pirate Ballet. Brigadoon: The Heather on the Hill. The Ziegfield Follies: This Heart of Mine Elmer Bernstein conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra CHANDOS CHAN 7053 [52:44]
This CD was first issued by Chandos in 1990 and it went by largely unnoticed which is a great pity because it is absolutely fabulous. It has repeatedly visited my CD player in the intervening years. It is now reissued on one of Chandoss mid-price labels, their 7000 series with a refurbished booklet that has a new front cover design but unfortunately omits many of the marvellous historical photographs of the MGM music department that was in the original booklet. This CD, in its way, is a tribute to the late and much-missed Christopher Palmer who did so much to champion film music and British music. These are Palmers glittering reconstructions of musical arrangements by Conrad Salinger who was responsible, more than anyone else for giving the MGM musicals their unique sound. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Ambrosian Singers play and sing their hearts out for Elmer Bernstein in performances that are completely faithful to the originals this enjoyable concert. The sound-alike singers are worthy too: Bruce Ogston for Vic Damone in the Kismet number; Mary Carewe substituting for Judy Garland in The Trolley Song and Nick Curtis as Gene Kelly in Singin the Rain and The Heather on the Hill and for Fred Astaire in This Heart of Mine. The orchestral highlights include: the enchanting Central Park scene as Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (what a wonderful dancer she was) are Dancing in the Dark; the lovely romantic waltz sequence from Gigi; the colourful, high-spirited ballet music for The Pirate, full of Russian-style pyrotechnics; and the extended thirteen minute symphonic-proportioned tour-de-force Ziegfield Follies number where climax builds on shattering climax.
|JERRY GOLDSMITH Frontiers. Music for Science Fiction Films Jerry Goldsmith conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Varèse Sarabande VSD-5871 [47:40]||
Some of Jerry Goldsmiths most memorable themes have been written for the science fiction genre. This is a superb collection, in splendid sound, containing music in varying moods and with many memorable themes so that interest is sustained throughout. Goldsmith shows that he is a master of his craft and a brilliant orchestrator, in a top class with his colleague John Williams; his writing for the brass is particularly spectacular. His enthusiasm infects the Royal Scottish Orchestra who give him splendid performances.
The first track with its imposingly noble and aspiring Star Trek theme really reaches out at you. This grand heroic theme is later richly developed in the track entitled The Enterprise (from Star Trek - The Motion Picture). The music accompanies an airborne tour of the refurbished Enterprise, one gets a feeling of mighty warp power, the beckoning of distant stars and prospective adventure. The music at times is very Holst-like, so too is the remote almost mystical portion of the Overture for Steven Spielbergs Twilight Zone - The Movie. This Overture concentrates very different moods of music in its short six minute span: it starts gently in almost homespun lyrical atmosphere but finishes in horror mode for the Nightmare at 20,000 feet sequence of the film with snarling brass, pounding percussion and devilish violin trills. In sharp contrast, the music for The Illustrated Man is practically a chamber composition. It is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams in pastoral mood; there are contemplative string passages and evocative use is made of a wordless female voice; and there is important solo writing for the winds. Two very emphatic almost brutal scores are included for Capricorn One and Total Recall. The former explodes with raw energy punching its main theme across to emphasise the ruthlessness of an administration that will not shrink from killing returning astronauts rather than have the truth emerge that their moon landing was faked. The contrasting softer, middle theme, representing Kay, one of the astronauts wives, is one of Goldsmiths most appealing love themes. Total Recalls Main Title theme impresses with its hypnotic anvil-like ostinatos and tough melody. Logans Run is about the struggle of the individual versus authoritarianism (as symbolised musically by lyricism versus dissonance) in a state where nobody is allowed to live over the age of 30. The music incorporates a wide range of styles, much is impressionistic but one can also discern influences as diverse as Respighi, Bartok and Janácek without Goldsmiths own individuality being submerged. Also included is the End Title music from Alien and two short excerpts from Damnation Alley as well as the Main Title from Star Trek: Voyager, the latest TV series, with Goldsmiths noble theme for French horn.
|CINEMAS CLASSIC ROMANCES. Film Music themes and suites (Contents listed as part of the review) City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Kenneth Alwyn (unless otherwise indicated) SILVA SCREEN SILKD6018 [75' 23"]||
All right. I confess: I really liked this CD. Silva Screen have made a speciality of confections drawing from various scores and composers. Given the title this could have been, in other hands, yet another super Mantovani collection issued, remaindered and forgotten. As it is, this is one of the best of Silva Screens anthologies. There are very few misfires here and the standard of both playing and the music seems consistently high and the interest is engaged throughout. For all but a handful of tracks the conductor is that doyen of film music Kenneth Alwyn. The City of Prague Philharmonic have a great feel for the various idioms and the acoustic and recording conspire to produce a classic collection. If I have complaints they are that the title and cover design are disappointing. Well actually I also wish that the Sekacz, Sarde, Bennett, Yared and Jones tracks had been much longer but more of that later. The notes by David Wishart are excellent giving enough background information about the film to bring memories flooding back. A pity there is not more about each of the composers.
Gabriel Yared: The English Patient; A cor anglais opens this 4 minute extract, seeming to drift momentarily into the Auvergne - but out of the gentlest of shudders and whispers from the orchestra and the pointilliste contribution of the cimbalom, emerges a slightly ghostly romantic theme. At first this seems to lean into the world of the famous Mahler adagietto but escapes into a colder but still romantic world. Patrick Doyle: Much Ado About Nothing; Hamlet; Much Ado offers rousing brass with a well calculated burr on its edge, confidence and high festivity. Perhaps there is the occasional nod in the direction of John Williams here. The Hamlet music enters a crowded and distinguished marquee where all the seats seem taken already. Over there we have Shostakovich and there Walton. Doyle of course was never embarrassed in company of that quality, witness his early prominence in the Henry V score. This segment is devoid of high pomp and grim bleakness: it portrays Ophelias funeral. Leaning over the classical fence, it has something of the atmosphere of Frank Bridges slightly more astringent orchestral piece: There is a Willow... Rachel Portman: Emma (c. Paul Bateman); Distant echoes of The Lancers and country dances blend happily in with a strangely Christmassy trumpet contribution. The music undulates. It has no jagged edges. Quietly evocative. Alfred Newman: Wuthering Heights; This is a slice of hyper Hollywood, violin dominated smooch. It is utterly effective all the same and makes its impact all the better for being the only high octane golden age track on this CD. Composers in Hollywood must have found it difficult to avoid falling into Korngold mode and Newman didnt bother to avoid the trap. I blame Stephen Banfield who has identified filmic passages in Finzis music (see his new Finzi Biography, Faber, 1997) for the fact that twice I noticed strange echoes of that quintessentially English composer.
Nino Rota: Romeo and Juliet; Strange how I just did not warm to this on a first hearing but the third time around the penny dropped and everything fell into place. Even if it is a single theme piece, that theme is impressive. It has some of the passion drenched power of Prokofievs own Romeo and Juliet score. Trevor Jones: Last of the Mohicans This film was fairly tough meat. The battle scenes were particularly graphic. The music should perhaps have been separated from the Rota score because the big theme here sounds like a sister of the Rota piece. It too has a tragic edge and is played all out. The insistent drumming keeps the piece keyed into the North American Indian milieu. Ilona Sekacz: Mrs Dalloway; I knew this composers name from countless radio plays, usually on BBC Radio 3. Often her scores for radio required small forces and we start this segment with solo piano then solo violin before gently and gradually the full orchestra joins in. Everything is calm and understated. Things become more animated with a theme which recalls the township music from Disneys Beauty and the Beast and very effective it is too. Once again those Finzi echoes (In Terra Pax, I think) at 3:55 and elsewhere on woodwind and horn and then strings. Am I imagining this. I think not. The solo piano leads the music to a close. A wonderful score.
Ennio Morricone: Hamlet (c. Nic Raine); Another Hamlet score for a film famous for a very distinguished cast headed by Mel Gibson. This amounts to an intermezzo for oboe and strings. It does not register strongly in this company. Shaun Davey: Twelfth Night (Fiachra Trench + Irish Nat Film Orch) Shaun Daveys Granuaile (Tara CD3017) a wonderful song cycle for soprano, uillean pipes and orchestra is one of the hidden treasures of Irish music. It uses the extraordinary, vital and characterful voice of Rita Connolly. Do get to hear it: you will not be disappointed. Daveys music here is not in that class but it does cut a very effective dash. It opens with an evocation of lightning and scudding storm clouds, moves into high class light entertainment music and ends in Handelian splendour. The music is from a CD of the complete music again from Silva Screen. Patrick Doyle: Sense and Sensibility; Mr Doyle again ... and again he delivers. This section of the score is all calm and, largely understated, romance. This time both Finzi and Sondheim (or is it Paul Gemigniani) seem to be influences.
Philippe Sarde: Tess; At last here it is! After years of this score being unavailable except on a long gone LP of the sound track we now have a fairly substantial 5:45 extract. Given Polanskis complicated legal situation at the time the film was shot in Normandy which is, after all, only across the Channel from Wessex. The film is a masterpiece. I found not one false note struck. This is incredible given the locale and the fact that Polanski had to deny himself the real Stonehenge for the tragic dénouement. For all that the music is written by a Frenchman it is one of the most devastating portrayals of frisson inducing English romantic yearning. The sheen of the wide screen string theme is not the stainless steel of Hollywood but vulnerable and fragile. Yes, Vaughan Williams, Patrick Hadley, Moeran and Butterworth seem to have been influences but the themes and ideas are intrinsically strong and the orchestration is rich and waist deep in imaginative magic. The use of the cimbalom (also a feature of theYared score) puts the finest edge on this rapturous score without collapsing into Hary Janos. The section portraying Tesss first encounter with Angel Clare has an overlay of Rawsthornian angst hinting at the tragic path of their relationship. The music also uses figures which evoke birdsong. The score is a classic of world cinema and we must hope that this brief extract will serve as a taster for a complete recording.
Carl Davis: Pride and Prejudice; Carl Daviss pastiche Georgiana score is of the highest quality. The thing is done to perfection here. Horns bark their hunting calls. The top drawer romantic string tune makes its effect all the more strongly for riding on top of a Haydn early Beethoven backdrop. The piano glitters light heartedly throughout. Thomas Newman: Little Women; If Davis brilliantly catches an aspect of an imagined England, Newman is sensitive to the fact the story on which this film is based, takes place in America. The musical language is only a small side step away from Copland and rural Roy Harris. Richard Rodney Bennett: Far From the Madding Crowd; Richard Rodney Bennett (Knighted in the New years honours list) is one of those composers with two styles. He has a style accessible and commercially very effective for the cinema and a thornier, more challenging style for his concert music. In this score we have a classically yearning theme of great moment with perhaps a nod in the direction of Nino Rotas Romeo and Juliet score. The storm is portrayed employing a rougher, almost atonal, palate complete with explosive brass interventions á la Malcolm Arnold (perhaps he had heard performances of Arnolds Symphonies 4 and 5). This turbulence subsides as the solo oboe (again recalling the Arnold of the oboe concerto) ushers in a gentler reflection of the tragedy which makes Hardy novels (and poetry) so irresistible. The yearning theme is never far away but it is presented in so many guises and colours that you do not tire of it. Some episodes (e.g. at 9:00) drift most effectively into Tippetts sound world. The suite (the longest extract on the disc, at 13:32) closes very quietly. Richard Rodney Bennetts score is one of the classics of British cinema. It is a tribute that it is difficult now to disentangle the music from novel let alone the film. This CD is recommended strongly!
Rob Barnett © 1998
LADYKILLERS: Music from the Ealing Films.
Georges AURIC: Passport to Pimlico; The Titfield Thunderbolt; The Lavender Hill Mob. John IRELAND: The Overlanders. Alan RAWSTHORNE: The Cruel Sea; The Captive Heart. Sarabande for Dead Lovers. Ernest IRVING: Whisky Galore. Benjamin FRANKEL: The Man in the White Suit. Gerard SCHURMANN: The Man in the Sky. MOZART arr Philip Lane: Kind Hearts and Coronets. Tristram CARY: The LadykillersRoyal Ballet Sinfonia/Kenneth Alwyn. Silva Screen FILMCD177 [60:49]
British film music seems to be getting increasing exposure and not before time. In this slightly ungenerous selection spanning just over an hour in 18 tracks we have a useful and often enjoyable sampling of music from Ealing Studios films of the 1940s/50s. For a British audience of a certain age it conjures up TV Sunday Matinées. Standing head and shoulders above all the contributions here are the Frankel, Rawsthorne and Schurmann tracks. They each have an edgy splendour. I was particularly drawn to Rawsthornes Cruel Sea music and Saraband for Dead Lovers. I should not neglect the three Auric scores: Passport to Pimlico, Titfield Thunderbolt and Lavender Hill Mob. There is a lightness of touch here and glittering orchestration: a perfect match for the spirit of the films. As a souvenir of a genre and an era this collection is well worth getting. If I am left wishing there had been more Rawsthorne and Frankel it is an indication that there is a yawning gap in the market for complete CD collections of film music by these composers. The booklet is a fine combination of strikingly imaginative design (making effective use of the original film posters as does the CD itself) and solid information. The music appears to be very well projected by conductor and orchestra.
(This CD has been available for some time now but it was thought important to include a retrospective review - The editor)
SWASHBUCKLERS Twenty Symphonic Suites and Themes.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Max Steiner: The Adventures of Don Juan. William Alwyn The Crimson Pirate. Alfred Newman/Hugo Friedhofer: The Mark of Zorro. Bernard Herrmann: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Miklós Rózsa: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Elmer Bernstein: The Buccaneer. Mario Nascimbene: The Swordsman of Sienna. John Williams: Hook. James Horner: Willow. Geoffrey Burgon. Robin Hood. John Barry: Robin and Marian. Michael Kamen: Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves. Howard Blake: The Duelists. John Du Prez: The Crimson Permanent Assurance Overture. John Debney: Cutthroat Island.Paul Bateman conducts The City of Prague Philharmonic Silva Screen Enhanced 2CD set (with ROM content) FILMXCD 188 [103.38]
The opening Korngold Main Title from Captain Blood reaches right out at you and is a good foretaste of 100 minutes or so of stirring, heroic music which I suggest should be taken in small doses to avoid fatigue - try alternative samplings with Silva Screens other new album: Cinema Romances which Rob Barnett reviews enthusiastically above. One notes a number of welcome additions to the film discography from the list above. British film music enthusiasts will no doubt welcome William Alwyns score for The Crimson Pirate which starred a young Burt Lancaster, all athletics and toothy grins, and Nick Cravat (what a name to conjure with!). Its good to hear Alwyn in high-spirited and humorous mood after all the dark and angst-ridden movies that usually came his way. Here he has the opportunity to be irreverent and boozy even. His love theme is nicely warm and tender and there is also time for a grand symphonic sweeping statement of the grandeur of the seafaring life. I was impressed with Howard Blakes score for The Duelists. Darkly restless and brooding it perfectly complements the visually stunning, misty, pastoral images and the morbidly obsessive desire for complete to-the-death satisfaction that drives the duelists to re-engage their fight, repeatedly, over sixteen years. The Chateau which is the equivalent of the scherzo of Blakes suite is a most engaging pastiche of eighteenth century French styles.
It was a good idea to include four composers views of the Robin Hood legend. Geoffrey Burgons Robin Hood Suite shows a gritty and down-to-earth side of the legend completely eschewing the typical Hollywood high romance that is evident in Michael Kamens Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which is as much ringing Americana as Sherwood Forest. John Barry shows the more mature and intimate side of Robin and Marian in his elegiac and nostalgic score. Then there is the wonderful Korngold score for The Adventure of Robin Hood, still the best Robin Hood film and the best score! But this suite is the most weakly realised on this set. Errol Flynn would hardly be fired up to pursue the lovely Olivia de Havilland with this anaemic realisation, and the March of the Merry Men and Battle in the Forest lacks the clarity and bite of Charles Gerhardts RCA readings. This is a shame because the rest of the Korngold material on this set is well realised and I think, on the whole, I prefer Batemans thrillingly rendered suite from Max Steiners The Adventures of Don Juan to that of Gerhardt.
James Horners exciting and evocative score for Willow is a welcome inclusion even if one might have wished for a clearer and more emphatic statement of the main theme at the very beginning of the cue. It is also good to have music from The Mark of Zorro. The stirring quick march main theme is by that under-rated Hollywood composer, Hugo Friedhofer who orchestrated so many Warner Bros scores while the remainder of the score, with its infectious Spanish rhythms (the film is set in Old California) and radiant love theme with its strumming guitars and romantic violins, is by Alfred Newman. Bateman and the Prague players do what they can for John Williams Hook but this is one of his least inspiring scores - the poor quality of the screenplay (one of Spielbergs few turkeys) must have brushed off on him - after a scintillating opening the music soon degenerates into poor friggin in the riggin material. Of the remaining items, I would mention that I liked the strong readings of the lusty scores for The Buccaneer (Elmer Bernstein), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Herrmann), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Rózsa).
David Wishart is right in saying that Cutthroat Island was unfairly mauled by the critics there have been far worse productions in the genre and, anyway its always a pleasure to see Geena Davis in a feisty role. John Debneys score is appropriately lusty and enjoyable and it brings the programme to an exciting close. Notwithstanding the remarks I made about the Korngold Robin Hood and the Horner cues, this is an enjoyable set in stunning sound.
[The enhanced part of the CD, put into your PC, reveals more information about the composers and the films.]
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