|August 2000 Film Music CD Reviews||Film Music Editor: Ian
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Antonio Victorino DALMEIDA
Capitães de Abril (April Captains)
CAM 498096-2 [47:10]
A winner at Cannes recently, Capitães De Abril (April Captains) is the true story of the first twenty-four hours of 1974s Carnation Revolution in Portugal. Composer DAlmeida (himself Portuguese) has enlisted a whole range of instrumentation to bring this inventive score to fruition.
Divided into two suites, the first performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic and the second by the Orchestra di Roma (with solo pianist Alfonso Malao featured on both), the CD opens with Capitaines davril, a rather old-fashioned main theme that has a Continental 1960s feel. But despite this being the central motif, the most interesting aspects of the work are provided by the imaginative dramatic suspense music that dominates the entire score. Pieces such as O despertar dos soldados, Gente fina e foroz, As horas decisivas and Temas da angústia all show real quality and ingenuity.
With his off-beat orchestration, utilising a varied palette, DAlmeida never allows these cues to become predictable. All kinds of quirky, dissonant musical devices are employed and while the music is not exactly melodic, it remains fascinating. If the lack of distinctive melodic passages finally makes the score somewhat remote, this is still nonetheless a technically accomplished work.
Other pieces fare less well however; Temas da ansiedade with its mock waltz and the jazzy, laid-back piano and sax of Música do bar for instance. And Suite 2 is far less rewarding, as theres nothing here that moves the score on in any new directions. Its very much more of the same, although with less inherent quality than before.
The CD concludes with Capitaines davril featuring Ricardo Rocha on Portuguese guitar and DAlmeida himself on piano in a subdued version of the main theme. All very exotic and refined without being particularly effective. Then with lyrics provided by Pedro A. Magalhães, the main theme is given still another interpretation on As brumas do Futuro sung by Madredeus, whose pleasant female vocal brings things to a close.
While not for everyone, there is enough originality on show, particularly in the dramatic suspense cues, to possibly make this one worth checking out.
************************************************************** EDITORs RECOMMENDATION August 2000
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Ivan the Terrible*. Alexander Nevsky
*Irina Arkhipova (mezzo-soprano); Anatoly Mokrenko (baritone); Boris Morgunov (narrator), Ambrosian Chorus and Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Ricardo Muti
Anna Reynolds (mezzo-soprano) London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by André Previn.
(with Sergei Rachmaninovs The Bells).
Sheila Armstrong (soprano); Robert Tear (tenor); John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)
London Symphony Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn
EMI double forte 2 CDs 5 73353 2 [152:23]
Crotchet Amazon UK
This is a very clever idea to package Prokofievs two major film scores together in this budget presentation and I urge all adventurous lovers of film music who are unfamiliar with this music to invest in this 2CD album. However I would add one caveat. Budget prices often mean sacrifices; and the sweeping marketing policy of EMI to pare down the notes for their mid-price/budget albums is a grave mistake as far as this reissue is concerned for no librettos are given. This might not be so serious with Alexander Nevsky but it is a grave omission as far as Ivan the Terrible is concerned, which occupies the whole of CD1 in this set, because there is a considerable narrative spoken in Russian. Clearly without a translation one is listening very much blind and this film is rarely screened or transmitted. Given some of the 26 numbers/movements have reasonably descriptive titles like: The Gunners or The Storming of Kazan but what are we to make of others like The Swan, and Ocean?
Lest I deter prospective purchasers, I hasten to add that this music can be very much enjoyed for its own sake (see review that follows).
[Suggestion to EMI: Print the words and include a little form with the CD inviting purchasers to apply for them at a reasonable price like £3]
Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Sergei Eisensteins classic film of Alexander Nevsky dates from 1938 and, incredibly, Prokofiev composed the music at breakneck speed in a matter of days (presumably the very complex orchestrations took longer?). The story is based on the Russian defence of Novgorod in 1242, in which the invading Knights of the Teutonic Order were held at bay most spectacularly during a battle on the frozen waters of Lake Chud.
In 1939 Prokofiev reassembled his Alexander Nevsky music in the form of a cantata expressly for concert performance. As such it has proved extremely popular and is often performed. It is this cantata which is presented here. This 1971 André Previn recording made in the splendid acoustic of Londons Kingsway Hall is magnificent and stunningly thrilling.
The opening movement is entitled Russia under the Mongolian Yolk and it is a vivid example of Prokofievs very individual style. The mood is suitably mournful and oppressive, and an extraordinary combination of (I think) bass clarinet and tuba produces a forbidding tone that seems to speak at the same time of those that crush and the crushed.
The following Song of Alexander Nevsky begins with despairing voices until the tempo picks up and the mood turns to one of defiance. The next movement is another vivid evocation The Crusaders in Pskov. You can visualise the heavily armoured Teutonic Knights with their dauntingly huge helmets. The crushing music, with heavy drums and cymbal crashes, speaks of their cruelty and barbarism. In response, the voices of the people turn from submission to revolt but the movement ends with a welcome moment of tenderness from the violins. Arise, Ye Russian People is a fine noble tune with voices supported by colourful orchestrations that include bells and xylophone.
But the most significant movement, and the most memorable, is the celebrated 14-minute The Battle on the Ice. It begins with a wintry scene: the chill is palpable with icy trumpets and shivering cellos. Swirling strings invite you to picture frosty beards of mist swirling over the surface of the Lake. Then you hear the Knights approaching from a distance. First, at a slow canter. Listen their pace quickens, now they are charging. Prokofiev sounds the chink of spurs, the clatter of armour and the creaking, snapping breaking of ice as the Knights are confounded. This whole episode is a marvellous crescendo utterly thrilling with the voices adding power and dramatic tension. Combat, chaos, victory and exultation!
The mood of final minutes of the movement is echoed in the subsequent movement, The Field of the Dead. First we hear a beautiful limpid melody with liquid strings gently eddying, abbing and flowing; its as if we have been transported to the Elysian Fields. Then comes a poignant elegy with an affecting solo sung by mezzo-soprano Anna Reynolds. The cantata ends with the resounding celebratory Alexanders Entry into Pskov to the sound of many bells.
Ivan the Terrible (1942 1944 and 1945-1946)
Following the success of Alexander Nevsky, Eisenstein was keen to employ Prokofiev on his 1942 blockbuster epic, Ivan the Terrible. The film was based on the life of Tsar Ivan IV of Russia whose reign (1547-84) was marked by a great progress in terms of political reform but at a price. Those who dissented were dealt with severely, as in 1570 when he had thousands of people slaughtered in Novgorod (on very flimsy evidence) believing they were not among his keenest supporters. The film was made in two parts; part two began shooting in 1946. Part One had been awarded a Stalin Prize but the follow-up was denied a public showing on Stalins express orders. It is believed Stalin strongly identified himself with Ivan, and had no desire to be reminded of the atrocities that characterised the latter half of his reign. And so Ivan the Terrible did not receive a complete screening until 1958, five years after Stalins and Prokofievs deaths, and ten after Eisensteins
Concert-goers had to wait for their first taste of this huge score until Alexander Stasevich reassembled Prokofievs incidental music in the form of an oratorio in 1961.
Ricardo Mutis recording is -- to use that overworked phrase -- absolutely stunning, it reaches out at you and grasps you and holds you from first to last (narration frustrations, see above, notwithstanding). The work is divided into 26 sections, most averaging 2½ minutes but with a central section of two major dramatic episodes: The Storming of Kazan (9:47); and Ivans Appeal to the Boyars (8:06). These two numbers (as do others) display a keen sense of the theatrical. The shorter preceding cue The Gunners, is noble and patriotic and forceful with brisk staccato combative material against tolling bells but there is also typical Slav melancholy and nostalgia. The Storming of Kazan opens with trudging tuba figures, snare drumings and bass drum booms as though a heavy canon was being trundled into position. Then trombones snarl before the voices of the besieged(?) people are heard in hymn-like tones, the music, for a while, turning pastoral/mystical. But soon battle commences with raging trumpets, bass drum thuds crashing gongs and cymbals and the music becomes increasingly frantic tremendously exciting stuff! Ivans Appeal that follows mixes tension with tenderness. Impassioned strings mix with consolatory choruses.
Another spectacular number is I will be Tsar! with huge cymbal crashes and choruses of big bells. This huge, theatrical set piece rivals the Coronation Scene from Mussorgskys Coronation Scene from Boris Gudunov! March of the Young Ivan is another spectacular but here the choral and orchestral music after a heroic quick march, takes a decidedly unpleasant turn, all snide, wheedling and barbaric, revealing the less attractive side of Ivans character. This is just another example of Prokofievs skill in vivid portrait painting using just a splash of quirky colouring. Calmer material (but working up to a thunderous climax) comes in the number entitled Ocean with Irina Arkhipova and choir intoning above impressionistic orchestral tissues. Celebration Song is more restrained than its title might suggest, this is one of the warmest and most compassionate numbers in the work.
Rachmaninov The Bells
Rachmaninovs Choral Symphony, The Bells, could equally have been recommended listening when the composer was featured recently in If Only They Had Scored For Films, on Film Music on the Web, for this work is another powerful and vivid set of evocations.
Rachmaninov himself, in describing this work, remarked how the sound of bells dominated life in Russia. He had settled with his family in flat in the Piazza di Spagna in Rome in 1913 where he composed The Bells (and his 2nd Piano Sonata). The Bells, based on the verses by Edgar Allan Poe, is scored for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus and large orchestra, and it evokes the life-cycle of birth, marriage, terror and death. These in turn are related to different sorts of bells: silver, golden, brass and iron.
The opening movement, The Silver Sleigh Bells celebrates youth, joy and romance with choir and tenor Robert Tear singing of a scenario with lovers dreaming under the stars. The following Mellow Wedding Bells has soprano Sheila Armstrong and the choir singing tenderly of love consummated. But the music also has a mournful edge as though Rachmaninov, rather than Poe, was warning us of the responsibilities and ties of marriage and that it is the first step on the downward path to death and oblivion. Clamour, terror and despair characterise the break-neck Presto The Loud Alarum Bells. In Previns hands this movement has irresistible drive and pungency. The bleak monotonous declamations of the final movement The Mournful Iron Bells that features that fine baritone John Shirley Quirk, is evidence again of Rachmaninovs fatal spirit. (Seated at Tchaikovskys desk, perhaps he was very conscious of the latters Pathetique Symphony?)
This is another classic Previn performance with soloists choirs and the LSO in excellent form.
Once more, inclusion of the words of the work would have helped.
Performances and sound
If Only They Had Written (More!) for Films Arnold Bax (1883-1953).
Symphony No. 3 The Happy Forest
David Lloyd Jones conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
NAXOS 8.553608 [53:33]
Symphony No. 5 The Tale the Pine-Trees Knew
David Lloyd-Jones conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
NAXOS 8.554509 [57:51]
Symphony No. 4 Tintagel
Bryden Thomson conducting the Ulster Orchestra
CHANDOS CHAN 8312 [57:05]
Tone Poems: The Garden of Fand; November Woods; The Happy Forest; Summer Music.
Bryden Thomson conducting the Ulster Orchestra
CHANDOS CHAN 8307 [65:32]
I am bending the rules slightly to accommodate Sir Arnold Bax as one who "If Only They Had Written for Films" because he wrote so little for the medium (Malta GC ; Oliver Twist ; and Journey into History ). By this time he was in his sixties and had retired to live in a room above a pub in Storrington, in West Sussex a county in southern England. One wonders what wonderful scores he might have written if he had been commissioned in the 1920s and 1930s when he was in his prime but then, of course, original scores were just beginning to be required as the "talkies" developed through the 1930s. Imagine, for instance, all the drama and ferocity of the 1st and 2nd Symphonies channelled into scoring a film about the Irish Uprising or about Michael Collins!
I am featuring Bax because a new recording on the budget label Naxos has just been released following their release of probably Baxs most accessible Symphony No. 3 last year (Naxos is committed to releasing all seven Bax Symphonies conducted by David Lloyd-Jones). All Bax symphonies are highly dramatic and emotional and redolent of the wild landscapes and seascapes, and myths and legends of Ireland and the north west of Scotland. The 3rd Symphony is all of this with as one observer commented, "one of the greatest climaxes in modern music" culminating in a huge anvil stroke. The Epilogue is one of the most memorable episodes in British music, a rare haunting and mystical experience which the composer described in these words, " I suddenly became aware that I was listening to strange sounds, the like of which I had never heard before. They can only be described as a kind of mingling of rippling water and tiny bells tinkled. [Click here for a review of the new recording of the 5th Symphony.]
Probably Baxs most famous work is his tone poem Tintagel. This is a turbulent picture of the waters crashing against the cliffs beneath the Arthurian Tintagel Castle. But it also reflects the turbulence of the composers emotions for he was in a crisis of love having left his wife and escaped to Cornwall with his mistress, the beautiful pianist Harriet Cohen. Tintagel can be heard on a Chandos CD that also includes Baxs 4th Symphony which, like Tintagel, celebrates the high point of a love affair that again finds a subconscious expression through the imagery of Atlantic breakers. The 4th Symphony is a portrait of the sea in many moods mostly as seen at Morar in Western Highlands of Scotland.
Sea mythology is the inspiration of The Garden of Fand one of four highly evocative tone poems on another Chandos album with the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Bryden Thomson. Here again, in Fand, the Atlantic Ocean is featured. A small boat is tossed by a huge wave onto the miraculous island of Fand where the sailors indulge in wild revelry until the rising sea suddenly engulfs the island. At the heart of the piece is one of Baxs most ravishing tunes as Fand sings her song of immortal love that enchains the hearts of her listeners forever. (One wonders what brilliance Bax might have brought to the scoring of A Perfect Storm!) Of the other tone poems I would just mention November Woods written at the height of his passion for Harriet Cohen. This music is a brilliant evocation of howling winds and lashing rain beating through the trees. Bax was inspired as he sheltered in some woods on his way to a romantic tryst with Harriet; and as with Tintagel, the music is also an expression of the passion and torment of their situation.
Next Month Ottorino Respighi
Collection: Alice Faye Youll Never Know A Tribute
ASV CD AJA 5303 [69:10]
Crotchet Amazon US
Alice Faye (1912-1998) starred in many 20th Century Fox musicals of the 1930s/40s until a series of disputes with Darryl Zanuck, who promoted the career of Betty Grable, virtually ended her screen career in the mid-1940s. She was a popular star, described as "beautiful, warm, honest, talented " "Shortly after her almost meteoric first screen successes, she distanced herself from the tinsel of Hollywood in favour of motherhood."
Before Faye became a firm favourite with cinema-goers, she had been a singer with Rudy Vallees band and indeed she is heard singing with Vallee on the first two tracks of this 25-song album in recordings (no record labels mentioned in the notes) dating back to 1933. Her voice had a limited range and the songs on this album are frankly variable both in their quality and delivery. Many of the songs have been long forgotten and only a few will be familiar to todays listeners, such as: Ive Got My Love to Keep Me Warm; Ill See You in My Dreams; and Youll Never know. It is interesting to note that the best of Alice Faye began to emerge in the late 1930s and it is mainly the soundtrack recordings where she is performing in a role before the cameras that her full expressive potential is realised. Im thinking of particularly of My Man from Rose of Washington Square. (Although her 1937 commercial recording of Theres a Lull in My Life is equally impressively heartfelt).
I was disappointed that no mention and no numbers were included from Alices biggest starring vehicles [besides Rose of Washington Square (1939), and Hello, Frisco Hello (1943)] namely: In Old Chicago (1938), Hollywood Cavalcade (1939) and, especially! - Alexanders Ragtime Band (1938)!
Alice Faye was married first to singer Tony Martin (1937-1940) and from 1941 until he died in 1995, the comedy vocalist and bandleader Phil Woodman Spare that Tree Harris, best known for providing the voice for Baloo the bear in Disneys animated The Jungle book.
Not the best in ASVs Living Era series but nonetheless a nice slice of 30s/40s nostalgia.
Richard RODGERS and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II
Original Broadway Casts:-
CAROUSEL and SOUTH PACIFIC
Ezio Pinza; John Raitt; Juanita Hall; Mary Martin and Jan Clayton.
ASV CD AJA 5344 [77:43]
This is a very attractive and generous bargain two original Broadway cast recordings for the price of one!
Carousel was the personal favourite of its composer, Richard Rogers. Its easy to see why, all those wonderful songs and that extraordinary almost-operatic 7½ minute Soliloquy in which Billy the anti-hero Billy Bigelow imagines his unborn child first as a robust, mischievous boy and then as a sweetly feminine little girl, prompting him to scheme (ultimately causing to his death) to get money to give her a better lifestyle.
The two leads, Jan Clayton as Julie and John Raitt as Billy Bigelow sound very like Shirley Jones and Gordon Macrae who starred in the underrated 1956 20th Century Fox film (with Barbara Ruick outstanding as the slightly scatty but affectionate Carrie). Everybody remembers those haunting songs: the sweet sentimental When I Marry Mister Snow (sung by Carrie as played by Jean Darling and not by Julie as indicated in the liner notes); the romantic duet for the leads "If I Loved You; the exuberant June is Bustin Out All Over; the hauntingly lovely When the children Are Asleep; the wistful Whats the Use of Wondrin? (again mistakenly attributed to Carrie, when it is sung by Julie); and that fine elegiac consolatory song, ruined by its adoption by the soccer crowds, Youll Never Walk Alone.
The 1958 film of South Pacific wasnt a patch on the original Broadway production with a distinctly underwhelming Mitzi Gaynor and an even more underwhelming Rossano Brazzi, both completely overshadowed by Broadways Mary Martin and Ezzio Pinza. Again, this show brimmed with memorable songs: the exuberant A Cock-Eyed Optimist; Im in Love With a Wonderful Guy, and There is Nothing like A Dame; the sardonic Im Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair; the dreamy Bali HaI and, of course the two love songs, Some Enchanted Evening and Younger than Springtime.
A real treat
Collection: Bailemos Tango (A Century of the Tango on the Dance Floor)
RHINO R2 79840 [54:19]
This is a fascinating collection of 19 tangos from the 1910s to the present taking in a abundance of styles so that ones interest never flags. Many have vocal accompaniments. The lavish 16 page booklet with many historical monochrome photographs of the artists gives in depth notes of all the numbers and the history and traditions of the tango. All the pieces were recorded in Buenos Aires.
I will mention just a few of the most impressive numbers from this sparkling colourful collection. The flamboyant rhythm changes of Luz Verde (Green Light), a 1920s style milonga with the ragtime sounds of the piano. Fueye in the 1930s tango style with a freer jazz approach. El Apache Argentino (The Argentinian Apache) with its sensual clarinet and picaresque melody. The infectious tune of El Niño Jacinto (The Boy Jacinto), in the 1910s style of the milonga candobmé. Carlos Gardel (the Frank Sinatra of the tango cancion) singing in the equally catchy 1920s style Yira, Yira (Spin, Spin). From the 1960s is Desde el Alma (From the Soul) strangely a tango in waltz style. Then in contemporary style is the unmistakable voice of Astor Piazzolla in Los Sueños. Finally, I must mention another very catchy number a sort of pizzicato for tango orchestra, El Amanecer (Dawn).
Strongly recommended to all tango enthusiasts.
The Sixth Sense starring Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, and Haley Joel Osment as Cole. (This DVD includes many special features including a contribution from James NEWTON HOWARD who composed the score.)
HOLLYWOOD Pictures Home Video Z1 34646 [103 mins]
Blackstar Amazon UK Amazon US
"I see dead people. They dont know theyre dead. They only see what they want to see
Do you ever feel the prickly things in the back of your neck? Thats them!"
Inspired, intelligent, imaginative, thought-provoking, The Sixth Sense is all of these and is deserving of its huge box office success. All its elements come together perfectly. All the actors turn in brilliant performances: Bruce Willis proving he can deliver a deeply sensitive performance, as well as balding brawn, in his role of child psychiatrist Malcolm Crowe; Toni Collette outstanding as Coles long-suffering mother, and brilliant in her final roadside accident scene with her little son, when she learns the truth about Coles apparitions and is reassured of her mothers love; Olivia Williams in the difficult role of Malcolms wife; and, especially, the young Haley Joel Osment as the haunted 8 year-old child Cole a truly astonishing tour-de-force from one so young.
This DVD is rich in absorbing extra features. In comparison, the majority of DVD programme fillers are so much clatter and dross. But these are meaningful and intelligent. Story boards and their final film realisations are shown. Also included are scenes that had to be deleted for the sake of pacing and coherence but seen after the film, help to enrich the viewing experience; the directors philosophy is explained, cast details and theatre and TV trailers included. But perhaps the most meaningful feature as far as devotees of film music are concerned is the contribution of composer James Newton Howard. He has called the film a "religious experience". He shares the feelings of so many who have observed that this film is about the universal themes of loss, and living with and learning to cope with grief as well as the eternal question of what happens to our souls, as Newton Howard puts it, "when we leave this planet."
The films producers wanted Newton Howards music to have the ability to make us "feel the other world". In his contribution the composer says that there was a lot of discussion about what The Sixth Sense was about, what it meant and what were the various dimensions and levels, and experiences of The Sixth Sense -- its frightening side and its beneficent aspect. "The positive aspect is of course what transforms all these people in the end. The emotional responses of how it impacts on other people, especially the kids life and specifically his mother. There was a lot of stuff to contend with and a lot of information was imparted to me in the most imaginative and intelligent way by the writer/director, M. Knight Shyamalan." For instance, he told James to imagine he was in a room with an invisible animal and that he did not know where it was but that it could pounce at any moment."
His feature proceeds to demonstrate how Newton Howard scored two of the scariest scenes from the film: the early scene in which the deranged Vincent, a former patient of Malcolms breaks into the psychiatrists home and shoots him; and the scene in the bedroom of the poisoned girl where her ghost pushes the box containing the videotaped incriminating evidence towards a startled Cole. In another impressive segment, Newton Howard tells how he composed the music that underscored the scene in which Cole confesses his secret to Malcolm with the words quoted at the head of this review. He relates how a chorus of many, many voices was recorded at very low levels so that the listener is only aware of a slight hum but that is suggestive of thousands of anguished souls.
A truly outstanding release that can be seen over and over to appreciate all its treasures It should be in every film and film music students enthusiasts collection.
The Arthaus Musik DVD Video Sampler
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 005 [60:19]
For those new to DVD and to classical music on video this is an intriguing sampler of a collection of Arthaus DVDs which have recently been launched on the market, some of which have been reviewed on our sister site Classical Music on the Web.
This sampler includes ten selections of mostly well-known and well-loved classical ballet opera and concert music plus a medley of briefer excerpts in an 18 minute bonus track. These excerpts include: Bizets Carmen in the Royal Opera House production, the San Farncisco Operas production of Puccinis La Bohème with Pavarotti and Freni, plus excerpts from Swan Lake and Mozarts Requiem conducted by Claudio Abbado. All of these are staged in their classical productions or sung in beautiful Baroque surroundings. However, those who raise their eyebrows when confronted with modern settings or tinkerings with operas or ballets, will be daunted when they see the eccentric cavortings of the dancers in Tchaikovskys Sleeping Beauty. Its as though they have escaped from some mental institution; and when they see Tristan and Islode throwing a sofas cushions around the stage, well Among the other excerpts is a pungent snippet from La Divina a portrait of Maria Callas.
Picture quality, from an aesthetic as well as a clarity point of view, is variable. The opera excerpts vary considerably from static and awful to very good. The ballet sequences are better and the concert sequences in their opulent baroque surroundings best of all.
At budget price, this is a good investment for one can decide what to buy and what to avoid! No rating applicable. Ian Lace
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