Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


May-June 1998 (Contd)

Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Piano Concerto in C sharp for the left hand Joseph MARX Romantisches Klavierkonzert in E Major Marc-André Hamelin (piano); Osmo Vãnskã conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra HYPERION CDA66990 [64:39]                                                   


As readers may have probably noticed, this site refuses to be constrained by normal film music editorial policies. We will have no hesitation in including reviews of concert music by composers of film music and what better example to commence this policy than with music by Korngold who, with Max Steiner, really set the standards for symphonic film scores in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s for so many successful Warner Bros films.

There is a definite link between Marx and Korngold. They were lifelong friends - in spite of a fifteen-year age difference between them and the gulf of exile which separated them when Korngold spent the years of World War II in Hollywood. They were both Austrian, both were typical products of the late Romantic tradition and they were both brilliant pianists. Marx was also an eminent teacher (for a time after the War he taught Erich's younger son Georg who would later go on to champion his father's music and, together with Charles Gerhardt, record 13 albums of classic film scores for RCA which did much to promote the genre).

This new album is a revelation particularly so the Marx work. It has been long neglected because it needs considerable pianistic virtuosity and, indeed, this is its first recording. The remarkable virtuosity of Marc-André Hamlin is therefore the perfect choice for this recording (he has earned a considerable reputation for his recordings of works from which many of his peers shrink away with horror - such as the fiendishly difficult music of Alkan). Here Hamlin treats us to a superb performance. Had it been more widely known in the 1930s and 1940s, film producers would have probably been falling over themselves to use this concerto as source material for their screenplays. It is very accessible, very melodic and full of the lush romantic gestures one associates with the music for the films of, say, Bette Davis - real chocolate-box and handkerchief material. Apart from a few heroic figures the accent of the music leans more towards the feminine. The influences are very diverse: Brahms, Lizst, early Scriabin, Rachmaninov and, in the central Andante, a mixture of Delius and, briefly at one point, the syncopations of Gershwin.

Korngold's Piano Concerto for the left hand was composed for the celebrated one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. (Later, Richard Strauss, Franz Schmidt, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev and Marice Ravel - among others - would also be approached.) Whereas Marx's Concerto is truly rooted in the Nineteenth Century, Korngold's more acerbic work is clearly a product of the Twentieth. Marx's treatment of his work in giving so much interesting material to the orchestra so that it does not play a merely supportive role to the soloist, would suggest that his concerto is more a symphony for piano and orchestra; likewise, Korngold's work, written in one long movement, and again giving much weight to the orchestra, might be considered a symphonic poem for piano and orchestra. Korngold's writing for the soloist is so imaginative and skilful that one frequently forgets that it is only one hand fleeting over the keyboard. The work itself is full of drama and passion employing most unusual aural colours.. Ironically, it anticipates the bitter, dramatic terseness of his late Symphony in F sharp. Although it was written in 1923, one can clearly hear a pre-echo of themes he would use in Hollywood in the next decade or two.

Vãnskã and the BBC Scottish Orchestra provide splendid flamboyant accompaniments and this album is unreservedly recommended to film music devotees. It should be mentioned that an equally fine recording of Korngold's Piano Concerto exists on Chandos (CHAN 9508). The all Korngold programme on that album also contains the Military March, Symphonic Serenade for string orchestra and Korngold's Cello Concerto written for the Warner Bros film Deception starring Bette Davis Paul Henried and the consistently-excellent Claude Rains.

Ian Lace

Alan SILVESTRI Contact OST WARNER BROS 9362-46811-2                      


I caught up with Contact on its April (UK) video release hence its late appearance on this site. I was impressed enough with its music to want to include it - even to the extent of seeking out and purchasing a copy when WEA's London press office informed me that review copies were no longer available. Once again Alan Silvestri is inspired to give of his best for a Robert Zemeckis production - he contributed scores for Romancing the Stone (1984) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), all three Back to the Future films (1985, 1989 and 1990), and Forrest Gump for which Silvestri won an Academy Award nomination in 1995. This new score is very reminiscent of his uplifting, almost beatific, choral and orchestral music for James Cameron's The Abyss a film which like Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the inspired music for that film was, of course, by John Williams) was about the benevolent intervention of aliens. So, too, is this newer Jody Foster film, Contact, again, a Zemeckis production, this time about a friendly alien response to radio and TV signals emitted from the earth and carried to them through infinities of space.

Track one "Awful Waste of Space" (referring to the phrase in the film, and to its philosophical heart, that if there are no intelligent life forms out there then it is an awful waste of space), immediately sets the mood. Succinctly, in just one and a half minutes, it portrays Ellie (the Jodie Foster character), speaks comfortingly of the solid dependability of the American heartland, the wonder and immensity of the university and of positive hope - it also subtly reminds you of the earlier screen sci-fi epics such as Star Trek, Close Encounters..., and John Williams's beautiful "Fortress of Solitude" cue from Superman. This is an inspired score rich in polytonal and harmonic invention, with brilliant orchestrations due in no small measure to William Ross. There is always something to interest the ear. Acoustic and electronic instruments are imaginatively and tastefully mingled to create an evocation of the radio telescopes and instrumentation sweeping the vastness of space seeking evidence of other life forms. Long sustained horn notes; broken isolated piano chords over long held electronic chords, and very soft feminine choruses intoning wordlessly are anchored by the weight of pp percussion and double basses to give a vivid Holstian picture. In the exciting cue "Good To Go" there is all the drama and tension as Foster prepares to go to meet the aliens in the vehicle for which they had sent the designs. The music really makes you feel the touch of metal on metal as the machine's rings encircle each other with increasing velocity, then as the starship's floor changes substance, and Ellie is released into its centre you are flung, with her through infinity. When she reaches her destination, Silvestri carries off his most problematic assignment in the whole score with great taste and sensitivity to support Ellie's "vision" and give it integrity. The innocence of the "No words" cue beautifully expresses Ellie's child-like sense of wonder written only too plainly on her face (wisely Zemeckis holds back here hiding it so that it is a vision we can only guess at in its detail). The following cue "Small Moves" is very moving and consolatory gentle. It underscores the scene immediately following when the alien appears in a reassuring aparitition as Ellie's dead father to tell her that there are many other intelligences out there and that her journey is the first small step towards the stars for mankind. Silvestri follows sharply evocative music of sea gently lapping on the shores of the "Paradise" island with consolatory and radiantly beatific music.

My only small carp is that I would like to have heard a more rounded sound portrait of Ellie to take in her early cynicism and her refusal to embrace any religious beliefs - this is a strong-minded, deep-thinking lady. Nevertheless this is an album which will make many repeated visits to my CD tray.

Ian Lace

Maurice JARRE. A tribute to Sir David Lean (Scores for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, and A Passage to India) Maurice Jarre conducting The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Milan 25777-2 [48:44]                                       


This album has been available for some time now but it is included because it bundles together in one convenient package (at an attractive price) the four important scores Jare produced for David Lean's epics. It is also interesting because the recording was made at a live, tribute to Lean concert at London's Barbican Centre in 1992. It therefore has much spontaneity and excitement. The sound is first class and as well as the scores listed above in the header, there is a special "Remembrance" overture and a short piece, "Offering" which Jarre wrote for Lean's wedding. The Royal Philharmonic are in sparkling form and the Zhivago and Lawrence suites come over with great impact although Ryan's Daughter might have been a little more passionate. A splendid memento of a remarkable collaboration.

Ian Lace

Paul BUCKMASTER Most Wanted  OST MILAN 35829 -2 [38:57]                                   


This is another all action movie score but its orchestration and general structural accomplishment places it in a category above the average. Full of atmosphere, this is a powerful, sinister, often quite chillingly eerie score which serves its screenplay well. Unfortunately, it is let down by its presentation. Unbelievably the cue details are only printed on the CD itself so that when it disappears into the CD tray you are left totally disorientated. As usual the meagre four-page booklet gives no helpful discussion about the relevancy of the music to the film only lots of acknowledgements which I am sure are of interest to those involved in film production but to few others. When will OST CD booklets get real to customer needs?

Ian Lace

CINEMA CLASSICS 1998. Various NAXOS 8.551182 [73:56]                                 


Titanic: Johann Strauss II - The Blue Danube. Brassed Off: Rossini - William Tell Ovt. The Devil's Own: Johann Strauss II - Frühlingsstimmen Face/Off: Mozart - Pamina's Aria (The Magic Flute). The Fifth Element: Donizetti - Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor. Jurassic Park II: The Lost World: Beethoven - Páthetique Sonata. One Night Stand: J.S. Bach - Air. The Peacemaker: Chopin - Nocturne in F minor. G.I. Jane: Puccini - O mio babbino caro (Gianni Scicchi). Paradise Road: Chopin - March from Piano Sonata No. 2. L.A. Confidential: Mendelsssohn - Hebrides Ovt.

The main function of this site is to cover original film music. However, when we receive such compilations as these we will list their contents in the belief that readers might appreciate such a service to remind them of the music's use in the film or to identify it - perhaps as a potential introduction to other works by the same composer. In a number of cases - Titanic, for instance, - excerpts from the classics will be used in additional to original music specially composed for the film. This album clearly comprises excerpts from Naxos's own considerable classical music catalogue and many of their CDS have won critics' approval.

No star rating applied.

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