October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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SHERLOCK HOLMES: Classic Themes from 221B Baker Street  
Various composers
  Lanny Meyers conducting unnamed orchestra
  VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5692   [45:24]
This album was released in 1996.

Everyone, I suppose, has their favorite Sherlock Holmes story ... and movie ... and actor. But which Sherlock Holmes film score is your favorite? Fans might spend hours debating the relative merits of John Addison's music in The Seven Percent Solution versus, say, Miklos Rozsa's score to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Still others would hold out for the more traditional approaches offered by 20th Century Fox's Cyril Mockridge or Universal's Frank Skinner. The latter two scored the hugely popular series of Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone with Nigel Bruce as a bumbling Watson, and which ran from 1939 until 1946, mostly at Universal. Rathbone might easily have laid claim to being the world's best-known, and most popular, screen Holmes - until 1984, when Jeremy Brett debuted in Granada Television's Sherlock Holmes series. Now, almost two decades later, is there anyone else you can envision in the role? I thought not. And when you close your eyes and think of A. Conan Doyle's inspired characters -- including Inspector Lestrade and Moriarty -- don't you also hear Patrick Gowers' subtle, slithering violin theme, insinuating danger as it gently yet relentlessly leads you into that Victorian milieu of fog-shrouded London streets?

Yeah, I thought so. Little wonder, then , that conductor/pianist Lanny Meyers opens this 1996 Varese Sarabande album with Gowers' theme, which was used in each of the Granada series' 41 episodes. In all, music from 11 Holmes film or TV shows is featured on this disc, all apparently orchestrated specifically for Meyers' 55-piece orchestra which, though unnamed here, performs quite nicely (although the introductory bass line in Gowers' theme is a bit ponderous.)

Along the way are many small gems to be enjoyed by fans of the elementary detective. I particularly enjoyed how nicely Bruce Broughton captures the musical feel of the character in his score to Young Sherlock Holmes, as well as the softly ominous woodwinds that Mockridge used to delineate 'Moriarty -- Genius of Evil,' an excerpt from the 1939 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It returns on several more tracks, like a motif within the album, as Richard Valley's informative liner notes offer a running commentary on the various plots. One track, 'The Universal Holmes,' is representative of the entire Universal series which the tried and true (as Holmes might have referred to him) Frank Skinner scored. Meyers' arrangement sounds right on, even down to a concluding church bell -- homage, Valley notes, to The Scarlet Claw which opened with a corpse ringing the bell! While the violin, not surprisingly, is predominant in many of the scores, others are more heavily orchestrated, such as James Bernard's 'main title/Legend of the Hound' suite for Hammer Films' The Hound of the Baskervilles. Interestingly, the studio replaced part of that score with music Bernard had written previously for a Dracula film, but Bernard has restored his original music in this arrangement, which he did specifically for Meyers and album producer Bruce Kimmel. The first part is appropriately ominous and atmospheric by turns, and the 'Legend' section contains timpani passages that easily conjure a desperate race across dank moors, though as a whole it sounds fairly perfunctory to me.

Besides a suite from Addison's Seven Percent Solution, the album also offers a wittily suggestive song ('I Never Do Anything Twice') written by Stephen Sondheim for the film but which is heard on screen only in small pieces. It's all here, and great fun -- as is Henry Mancini's end title music from the humorous sendup Without a Clue, which portrayed Watson as the real brains behind the operation.

Another offbeat look at the Holmes legend was offered in 1970 by Billy Wilder in his The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. And there is an interesting story behind how Rozsa came to score that film: Wilder liked to have music playing as he wrote his screenplays, and his choice while working on Private Life was Rozsa's Violin Concerto, Op. 24. By the time he'd finished, the music and story were so intertwined in his own mind that he simply asked the composer to adapt his concerto for the film score. This Rozsa did, creating what may well be his greatest as-yet unrecorded film score. (The concerto itself is available in at least several recordings, I believe, though I might recommend RCA Gold Seal's version with Heifetz performing it along with violin works by Korngold and Waxman -- 7963-2-RG.) The nearly 7-minute suite from the film score offered here offers a tantalizing taste of the music, and Meyers' arrangement for his smaller orchestra is laudable.

Better still, however, is the 6-part suite from Private Life that Rozsa himself conducted on Polydor's Rozsa Conducts Rozsa LP released in 1977. Alas, that album never has been offered on CD, to my knowledge. Hmmm ... Seems rather like a conspiracy, doesn't it? Holmes should investigate.

John Huether



John Huether


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