|August 2000 Film Music CD Reviews||Film Music Editor: Ian
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************************************************************** EDITORs CHOICE August 2000
Lola Montez. Notre-Dame de Paris. Farandole.
- Suites of music from the films.
Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by Adriano
Marco Polo 8.225070 [63:33]
Crotchet Amazon UK
With these three scores Adriano reaches the third volume of film music by Georges Auric and, for me, it is the best so far in an outstanding series. In fact, this album is going to be a strong candidate when it comes to Film Music on the Web Awards for the year 2000.
The most substantial work is the 28-minute suite from Max Ophüls 1955 film of the life of the famous 19th century femme fatale - Lola Montez (1818-1861). This beautiful woman of Irish extraction had toured Europe as a dancer and acted as a political spy. Her conquests included Franz Liszt, Fréderic Chopin, Prosper Merimée, Alexander Dumas senior and King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Her life ended as a religious recluse but not before she had sunk to appearing as a circus act when her fortunes fell. It is this circus presence that is a strong feature of the film with the cynical ringmaster (Sir Peter Ustinov) exposing her loves and her shame.
The Main Title opens on a dramatic note with military material reminding us of the significance of Lolas spying activities. This soon segues into one of the waltzes that dominate the score. This one is slow and sombre and is associated with Lolas failed and lonely existence as a circus freak and, indeed, the music then soon becomes circus orientated, colourful and vibrant but with a cheap brassy feel heightened by the use of a chorus of five saxophones. In sharp contrast Lolas childhood and youth is a charming picture of youthful games and high spirits, Auric delightfully capturing the essence of a frolicsome little girl but there is pathos too in the material that underlines the disturbed relationship between Lola and her frivolous mother.
The Farewell Waltz is one of Aurics best-loved melodies (composed in the film by Liszt as a farewell present to Lola after their affair) and it is given two separate cues in this suite. The first begins with snare drums marking a strict tempo before the mood relaxes and the melody proceeds as a dreamy solo for piano (a beautiful, sensitive rendering by Stos Zabavnikov). The second cue takes up this dreamy romantic view of the tune and spins out its romantically yearning qualities.
Elsewhere Aurics versatility is shown in a number of vignettes: short tunes and dances, or character pieces, suggestive of the countries where her romantic adventures are set. There is much humour evident: Cossacks, for instance, is a bright, light-hearted confection with the saxophones prominent, leaning towards Satie; while the four square Germanic Minuet seems more suited to the beer garden. There is also a colourful and intoxicating Fandango.
Notre Dame de Paris was the 1956 French Technicolor remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Vilified by the critics, it miscast Anthony Quinn as Quasimodo and Gina Lollobrigida as the gypsy girl Esmerelda. It was not a patch on the two earlier Hollywood productions, particularly William Dieterles excellent version that starred Charles Laughton as the hunchback. The one bright element in the 1956 debacle was Aurics score.
The Main Title music begins imposingly with a peal of big bells supported by massive cymbal and tam-tam crashes that herald majestic awesome music for the huge edifice that is the Parisian church of Notre Dame. More intimate romantic music led by flute follows plus murkier material that is the Destiny theme. The March of the Vagabonds that immediately follows, is swaggeringly defiant and trenchant snare drums and trumpets to the fore. Auric is a master in simultaneously conveying multiple strands of character and plot. In The tryst the assassination attempt there is the lyrical tender music for the romance between Esmerelda and Phoebus counterpointed by the most odious figures for the jealous onlooking Frollo. His jealousy also blights another musically complex episode where Quasimodos unrequited love for Esmerelda is expressed as he offers her flowers while she is apprehensive fearing Frollos malevolence.
Much of the films score comprised songs and dances for Esmerelda by Francesco Lavagnino but Auric was also called upon to write a few additional dance pieces in the ancient style for an ensemble of two harps, two guitars and cello. These also underscored various scenes involving the hustle and bustle of the Beggars of Paris. Five of these dance movements are gathered to form a separate little suite including two lively fandangos and a Jota et Habanera.
Concluding the collection is music from Farandole (1944), an earlier version of Roger Vadims celebrated La Ronde. It was about a circle of illicit love affairs one person loving someone that loved someone else until a complicated circle is closed, the last person involved having an affair with the first.
The music begins somewhat ominously as though self-righteously censoring the lewd activities to follow but soon this mood gives way to the dizzy whirl of the love carousel; frivolous and comedic and ending by cocking a snook at the puritan attitude of its opening. Auric again shows he has a real flair for comedy with coquettish strings, lustful brass and furtive woodwinds etc. - this score is a charming soufflé with Poulenc-like insouciance rubbing shoulders with more romantic reveries.
An outstanding album; heartily recommended.
************************************************************** EDITORs RECOMMENDATION August 2000
Jaws (The Collectors Edition Soundtrack)
Conducted by John Williams
DECCA 467 045-2 [51:20]
Crotchet Amazon US
There are only a few film scores whose titles are like powerful magical incantations. Say Psycho, and everyone hears the shower murder strings. Say Star Wars, and everyone hears the bombastic opening crashing chord. And what do they hear if you say Jaws? Those 2 oh-so-simple notes but thats it. While regarded as one of the greatest scores ever written, Jaws suffers like any music accorded such universal praise in that 95% of the audience couldnt tell you what else makes it so special.
It is a testament to how fantastically iconic that theme has become, and says much about Williams intelligence as a writer. Yet to have the remainder of so remarkable a score overlooked is frankly criminal.
Williams has hardly helped the situation. His concert repertoire delights in presenting an extended arrangement of the theme, and his very specific hands-on approach to compiling an album has meant its been the theme and little else available. Until now. Its taken a milestone birthday, advancements in technology, and the tenacity of a Producer / fan to make an attempt to do this music justice.
The result is an album that makes MCAs original pale embarrassingly. Theres 20 minutes of additional music here. Its sequenced reasonably chronologically. The sound is crisp. And the packaging is exceptional.
As of writing theres no sign of Varese Sarabandes re-recording of the score, but its got a lot to do to eclipse this long-awaited gem.
CENTROPOLIS/HOLLYWOOD/edel HR-62258-2 [72:40]
Inevitably there will be the usual criticisms aimed at this score -- lack of a memorable theme; much self-quotation etc. It has to be said that all this is true but any Williams score is to be welcomed for its sheer professionalism, and the quality of its structure and orchestrations.
For The Patriot, John Williams has written music that is eminently suitable for the film that traces a story that must be indelibly printed on the minds of every American schoolchild and is not entirely lost over on us on this side of the Atlantic. As a 72 minute listening experience though I have to say that it becomes a tad tedious, and over-repetitive.
We are becoming accustomed to having a main theme stated as the opening track and having it repeated as the closing one. For Saving Private Ryan this was very acceptable but not for The Patriot. Frankly this opening cue sounds gauche; the tune is a not too distant relative for that of I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls dressed in alternating country and Celtic styles (slightly reminiscent of Angelas Ashes) with decorative twirls. It sounds vaguely 18th Century but is really more timeless which might have been the composers intention. From this coy, pastoral and serene mood the music proceeds via snare drums and fifes a foreboding of tragedy and conflict.
The Family Farm continues the homely, steadfast mood. There is too a hymn-like quality and a mysticism that reminds one of the music of Vaughan Williams. To Charleston is a nice equestrian evocation. With The Colonial Cause we have another example of Williams immaculately structured and orchestrated music; tense, exciting with much drive and energy, and the usual magnificent writing for brass choirs. Redcoats at the Farm is another impressively stage-managed cue with wide sound perspectives. It begins menacingly on low strings before the entry of brass and drums signalling the advancing foe. The aftermath is very affecting with deep bass drum notes and tolling bell, a tragic picture indeed. Equally horrifyingly evocative are the tracks entitled, The Burning of the Plantation and The Parish Church Aflame. As might be expected the cues covering the call to arms and the battles are all stirring and thrilling. Yorktown and the Return Home is another hymn-like cue with its music very much in the 20th century English string music tradition.
The Patriot score is all very imposing but there is little that is unique or original here; all the John Williams fingerprints, now in danger of becoming clichés, are all on parade. If you were hoping for something that would really move you and lift your spirits, then I guess this will disappoint.
Jeffrey Wheelers rating is kinder :-
More than Copland or Bernstein, Williams is the Maestro of United States patriotism. His many fanfares, from his soon-to-be-on-CD 'Jubilee 350' for the City of Boston to the somewhat jingoistic 'Summon the Heroes' Olympic centennial theme, bear elements of national pride. Comedy has the undervalued "1941." A brook of dramatic scores, from the vastness of "The Rare Breed" to the claustrophobic "Saving Private Ryan," brings sounds shaped by American music. There is his magnificent "The Unfinished Journey," summarizing the past 100 years of American history. Most recently, we hear "The Patriot."
Creative abeyances (a fancy way of saying Williams uncharacteristically pulls several paint-by-numbers measures) and limpid first impressions dent what strives to be a perfect match between Williams' action scores and his artsy-craftsy efforts. The straightforward approach of "The Patriot" is at first uninteresting; it contains bits & pieces from so many past Williams scores that it is a wonder it stays together with any degree of technical prowess. But there are Williams' time-honored intricacies and subtleties working on the inside, trying, and usually succeeding, to negate the faults. His individuality leaves an indelible mark, and the commonplace elements, with the possible exception of the "Unfinished Journey"-like Colonial theme, are not shameless or awkward.
Excellent orchestrations undoubtedly help. Contrasting with dramatic excerpts that call to mind Williams' work on "Born on the Fourth of July," "Rosewood" and "Saving Private Ryan" are serious action cues in the famous John Williams style, including one with a relentless motor theme -- a ruthlessly aggressive ostinato -- and a tension builder yielding a sudden dissonance of 'The British Grenadiers' verses 'Yankee Doodle' before permitting a noble release with a hint of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' Aided by piccolo and drum, the music makes cursory attempt at recreating the period sound, though the real achievement is just being evocative of that time. It must also be said that Williams' brass writing is as lustrous as ever. "The Patriot" offers some stunning licks, and when the trumpets sound heroically there is a sudden urge to enlist! In addition to the masculine Colonial theme are three other major motifs: a tenderly concatenated love theme, best heard in a heartbreaking arrangement for flute, harp, and harpsichord, or soaring from the strings of fiddler Mark O'Conner; a chilling trumpet leitmotif for the horrors of war; and, regrettably, a somewhat corny fanfare that sounds like a marching flock of geese with bronchitis and that never varies. The last is rapidly growing on me, however; please tell me that is a good sign.
The score thankfully follows "Angela's Ashes" with a youthful pace and, in conjunction with last year's "The Phantom Menace," allows Williams to finally assuage memories of the mechanical-hearted "Stepmom." Nothing here will likely depress one to the point of meditating on implements of destruction...
Nothing musically, anyway. The sound mix is relatively soft and sometimes disconnected. This is especially true with track four, where the bold statements of the Colonial theme reach the ears in aural globs. I suggest skipping the first track; the cue plays better as the 'reprise,' and its absence from the beginning lets the album develop without climaxing prematurely. Redundant musical bookends are a senescent habit Williams is welcome to break. Those that want as much chronological order as possible can program the disc as follows: 2, 3, 5, 9, 6, 8, 14, 11, 13, 10, 7, 12, 4, 15, 16, 17... And where are the director's gush notes? The album design cries out for them.
The music is well composed and enjoyable. That is what's core. Williams continues his American tradition perhaps not by treading new ground, but certainly by tending the old. His music bears the satisfaction of a gallant achievement. Where he stumbles, he takes the standard and carries upward.:
Mark Hockley is not sure though:-
If I was to describe this new, much anticipated John Williams score as by the numbers I can imagine it will have some people up in arms (movie related pun intended). But then most of us expect a lot from this particular composer. He is unquestionably one of the most consistent and best respected in his field. And yet The Patriot, while being robust enough, fails to deliver anything more than reliability without that special extra, indefinable something present in so much of his other work.
The Patriot, featuring gentle acoustic guitar and a violin solo by Mark OConnor, introduces the main theme, an innocent, tender piece of Americana. But soon big strings take over and the inevitable patriotic flutes appear to accentuate the bombast in what is a rather appealing secondary theme. This is all quite stirring, without being particularly innovative. But a solid enough start nevertheless.
As one might expect, these two motifs reoccur in various other cues; The Family Farm is darkly dramatic at first, leading into a reprise of the main theme. Ann Recruits the Parishoners is low-key initially, then builds to incorporate both major motifs. Preparing for Battle has the brass out in force, backed by militaristic drum work. This is fairly rousing with the secondary theme getting an extended run through. Ann and Gabriel uses harpsichord and strings and then flute to produce a more reflective recap of the main theme. Yorktown and the Return Home after a forceful opening, gives way to a sense of bitter-sweet triumph and softer, subtle recalling of the key themes.
The scores best moments though feature in the vigorous action cues. Tavingtons Trap has a driving rhythm and fine string and brass work and suddenly Williams is in full flow. This is the kind of strong dramatic action music that we have come to expect from him. Martin VS Tavington is also another notable piece with more useful brass and some interesting shadings.
Now if it had all been like this, all would be well. But sadly, far too many of the remaining tracks are merely adequate and do not linger in the mind. Cues like Facing the British Lines, The Burning of the Plantation and Susan Speaks (despite another brief reprise of the main theme) come and go without really registering. As much as I might not like to say it, overall I was disappointed.
While this score will do the film itself no harm at all, it certainly isnt the composer at either his best or his most original. But then even below par Williams is worthy of attention. Maybe the real problem is that Ive just come to expect too much from him.
Gary S. Dalkin says:
In my review of The Perfect Storm, scored by James Horner, I mention that the music is in a similar idiom to parts of his Legends of the Fall. The Patriot has more than a little in common with The Perfect Storm, not only did the two films open simultaneously in America, together they are the work of the only two German directors currently producing Hollywood blockbusters, Wolfgang Peterson directing The Perfect Storm, Roland Emmerich, The Patriot. Effectively, the two movies set scores by the two most successful film composers in the world against each other. Not only that, but the folk-like violin-led main theme which opens The Patriot calls to mind the main theme of Legends of The Fall. Which is not to say that Williams has appropriated anything, only that the theme exists in exactly the same idiom and sound world.
Emmerich's film essentially fuses two elements, being another Brit-bashing Mel Gibson epic along the lines of Braveheart, and also, setting it's tale in the American War of Independence, acting as a thematic prequel to Emmerich's previous repel-the-evil-alien-invaders movie, Independence Day. Apparently Emmerich's regular composer, David (Stargate, ID4) Arnold was originally to write the score, but for whatever reason the task fell to John Williams. And a title theme which, while attractive in its own right, fares unfavourably in comparison with Horner's Legends of the Fall. The melody is evocative, and beautifully played by Mark O'Connor, but, by John Williams standards, curiously unmemorable. The title track then develops into a huge, rousing march complete with lots of heroic snare and military piping. Given that this is a 'war-is-hell' movie, it is a surprise to find Williams embracing the glory he so markedly rejected for that other war-is-hell movie penned by The Patriot's script-writer, Robert Saving Private Ryan Rodat. Whatever, the march is tremendously exciting, particularly in the extended end-title reprise version, and will doubtless become a concert hall standard..
The second track, 'The Family Farm', begins with what must be a sly little in-joke, a drone which tips a nod to the opening track on the Independence Day album '1969 - We Came in Peace'. 'To Charleston', as hinted in the title, evokes the Englishness of 'To Thornfield' from Williams Jane Eyre. The very words 'The Colonial Cause' expose the oxymoronic nature of the movie's title: one can not be a 'Patriot' to something which does not exist; a rebel alliance is not a country. Far from being patriotic to his rightful ruler, His Majesty The King, Gibson's character is a rebel, a state which consciously or otherwise, Williams references in the album's standout set-piece 'Tarvington's Trap'. The British villain Tarvington's is clearly musically cast in the Darth Vader role, a the piece beginning as close cousin of the 'Imperial March' from The Empire Strikes Back before exploding into a ferocious scherzo in the classic Williams mould. As in the Star Wars saga, it is obvious that we are supposed to be on the side of the rebellion. Still, this is the best battle music on the album, the more formless, presumably, 'Mickey Mouse' approach to 'Redcoats at the Farm and the Death of -' rather lazily ending with a disconcerting echo of a percussive fade from Jurassic Park. 'Preparing for Battle' is bold and brassy, and might even be suitable music for preparing to go out to sea and fight a great white shark, which is to say that it's enjoyable, but there is a sense in which Williams is treading water. Rather more of the action music later on seems also to draw on The Empire Strikes Back idiom, together with hints of the autumnal Nixon and most curiously a recurring trumpet figure echoing Nino Rota's mournful The Godfather - try 'Martin vs. Tavington'. There is also a lot of wistful Americana underscore, no more or less interesting than Saving Private Ryan, though containing more warmth in cues such as 'Yorktown and the Return Home'. Elsewhere sequences such as the opening of 'The Burning of the Plantation' are simply generic brooding suspense music and while doubtless effective in the film are tedious on disc. In fairness, the cue does build to a peak of powerfully intense emotion.
The result is very much a mixed bag, with some terrific music, some routine or even dull music, and for Williams a surprisingly unassimilated collection of sources showing: I haven't even bothered to mention Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Amistad. So, on disc at least a surprisingly disappointing offering from the world's finest living film composer. The sound is, of course, superb, with some fantastically deep and powerful percussion and a strong stereo image which is especially effective during the battle music. This is one case where I suspect a shorter album (assuming the right tracks had been chosen) might have made a stronger initial impact and received more praise. As it is, it simply takes more work to get to the gems, and doubtless the other tracks will grow. By year's end I imagine what now seems a little underwhelming will be reassessed as one of the year's best scores.
Gary S. Dalkin
Varese Sarabande VSD- 5264 [43:41]
[This is an established release it was issued in 1990]
Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon US
The Fury was an oddly dark, occasionally over-the-edge film that was self-indulgent even by the standards of its often self-indulgent director, Brian dePalma, who spent much of his early career making homages to Alfred Hitchcock. One of the films many excellent parts was the score by John Williams, who has described it as his own homage, of sorts, to Bernard Herrmann. This is particularly true of its main theme, a relentless, 7-note motif that, introduced on clarinet, pushes and pulls the viewer into the murky goings-on of this story about a young girls psychokinetic abilities and the corrupt powers who try to groom her for their own purposes. But while Herrmanns muse is clearly evident in this theme, the rest of the score is all Williams. The Fury was made in 1978, and thus was among Williams first scores after his Star Wars success. (The London Symphony was again his orchestra of choice.) Not surprisingly, there are traces of that blockbuster score here -- this is clearly the work of the master behind Jaws and Star Wars. Equally to be expected are a number of foreshadowings of such scores as E.T. and even Jurassic Park. One need only listen to the CDs second track -- For Gillian -- to hear a wealth of Williams both past and future. The cue opens with tripping strings followed closely by similarly played horns playing a sweet, light-hearted melody suggestive of E.T.
Throughout the film, Williams utilizes strings and horn combinations to good effect in building suspense or simply complementing the clear and present dangers faced by the likes of Kirk Douglas, Amy Irving and Carrie Snodgress as they play out dePalmas and author/screenwriter John Farris convoluted story that includes three truly over-the-top scenes: the first, in which Douglas tries to engineer Irvings escape from the clutches of the evil John Cassavetes -- only to have Snodgress wind up killed in a car accident after which the distraught Douglas shoots a passing jogger in frustration; the second, in which a carousel loaded with Arab tourists -- there was still an oil crisis in the late 70s, remember -- goes awry, flinging its human cargo hither and yon; and third, the films closing scene, in which Irving uses her unique telekinetic gift to explode Cassavetes head -- literally. (I swear, Im not making any of this up!)
Although he might taken a far different approach in scoring The Fury, Williams opted to hang right in there with dePalma, matching the punch of the visuals while at the same time underscoring the characters and their relationships so that we actually can care about them. (As Kevin Mulhall notes, " Williams arouses sympathy for the characters and helps increase the dramatic tension." The cue Search for Robin, for example, opens with a delicate theme played almost reflectively in the winds before becoming a flowing string statement that culminates in typical Williams bravado.)
So rich is the material in this score that Williams chose to compose an additional cue -- the 4 1/2-minute Epilogue, not heard in the film -- in which he expands on his main theme with an extended string treatment that stands on its own as a serious piece of music. (To my knowledge, Williams never conducted it with the Boston Pops, as Id hoped he would when, in 1980, he took over that post. It would have fit that venue perfectly.)
This Varese Sarabande release offers the original soundtrack recording from the initial LP, with two noteworthy improvements. One is the inclusion of the cue Williams originally wrote for the carousel scene, which is quite different from the one heard in the film. The latter version, offered on LP as well as this CD, utilizes electronics to mimic the main theme as the carousel begin to twirl out of control. It also concludes with a heart-pounding, rhythmic crash of chords that we were to hear again 15 years later as the victorious T-rex roars its final challenge in Jurassic Park.
The other improvement is Mulhalls informative liner notes. (The original LP by Arista had none.) Although I think Mulhall overstates his case when he calls The Fury "arguably Williams best film music recording," I certainly agree that it deserves far more consideration in the Williams oeuvre than it has thus far received, despite the fact this CD has been around for a while.
If youre a fan of John Williams, you need this one.
M:i-2 Mission Impossible 2
HOLLYWOOD/edel 0109692HWR [45.54]
Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon US
I always sympathise with composers writing for action films. In so many instances they must feel frustrated that their creations are often inaudible below all the clatter of the soundtrack and the limitations of the genre in only admitting the required tension and torso-flexing thuds and thumps. (When I saw the film I was hardly aware of Zimmers music beyond feeling some bass thunderings) It takes great imagination and ingenuity to come up with something different or, indeed, original. They must therefore grasp any passing straw; any opportunity offered by characterisation, humour or location etc to bring some life and colour into their scores. It feels as though Hans Zimmer is clinging to the straw of one or two early scenes set in Seville in this sub-James Bond action thriller (sorry Mr Cruise but thats what it appears to be). These scenes clearly provided providing the vibrant colour and rhythms of Spain that Australia, where most of the film is located, conspicuously lacks? Not that I am complaining for these Spanish cues far outshine many of the more dreary synth action tracks. I hasten to add that one or two of these do exhibit some imagination, even though they are once again show Mr Zimmers peculiar borrowings, like the Carl Orff orientated Bare Island. But, at least, it does have strength and a forceful forward impetus.
As Hans Zimmer explained in his interview with me, he had been working on three scores in rapid succession (perhaps overlapping his projects), i.e. The Gladiator, El Dorado and Mission Impossible 2. Zimmer uses a smaller ensemble with about a dozen performers including Lisa Gerrard doing her Arabian intoning thing again after some Rodrigo inspired Spanish material, I wonder if this was some extraneous Gladiator stuff? The Rodrigo influence is more pronounced in the track curiously labelled, Hans Zimmer featuring Heitor Pereira "Nyah [Film Version] Other Spanish numbers have the obligatory heel tapping and clapping, all very exciting. In one outstanding track, The Heist, this Flamenco material segues into a subtle statement of Lalo Schifrins original Mission Impossible theme, leading into a classy catchy jazz/synth treatment. The main treatment of Schifrins theme will make purists shudder though, for once more it is subjected to a very upbeat heavy rock treatment. In the final track after all the excitement, and the villain has bitten the dust, there is more relaxed and romantic Spanish material for Nyah and Ethan.
Overall a very atmospheric score, well assembled. The musicians blended well together in the Spanish music. I liked Zap Mamo a "Ika-Iko", especially with its rumba/samba rhythms. The more shadowy material, heavily synth, was often very dynamic. The heavily percussive Mano a Mano alternating with more poignant material was very thrilling with some fantastic drumming. Very interesting rhythmic shifts and patterns throughout. For the movie ****; as a listening experience
The Perfect Storm
SONY SK 89282 [79:14]
Crotchet Amazon UK Amazon US
Yes, we are holding over our coverage of this latest Horner score because (a) we Film Music on the Web reviewers in the UK have only just received our review copies from Sony and Jeffrey Wheelers review prompted some irate correspondence from James Horner fans. His review is reproduced again below.
Now I am not a Horner basher. I cheer when I notice a new score from him hoping for the quality of The Rocketeer or Legends of the Fall or Willow but I have to agree with Jeffrey Wheeler in that The Perfect Storm is anything but Horners perfect Score. I would also make a plea to Sony that every note of their A-list film composers scores is not sacrosanct and that 79 minutes of music of this quality is tedious in the extreme some sort of control over producers to bring in an album of about 60 minutes might do composers like Horner more of a service. An example -- the opening cue Coming Home from the Sea which is some nine minutes long. Although introducing too many clichés at the outset, it has enough interest to want you to battle forth through the other 70 minutes; yet at about 5 minutes in there is some very ugly rock/heavy metal material that is intrusive and incongruous. I cannot imagine this one-minute horror satisfying anyone, neither those who worship this type of music, nor the classicist who will abhor the intrusion.
I waited in vain for a theme to make me sit up. Time after time one is either let down by a sense of Ive heard that before or by the banality of anything that is remotely new. Once again, one finds oneself playing the game of where has he nicked that bit from? Britten, Copland, Stravinsky and Tiomkin to name but a few as well as much self-quotation. I cannot even agree with Jeffrey that there are many moments of excellence, there are too few. For a man of Horners knowledge and experience, The Perfect Storms craftsmanship disappoints both in harmony and orchestration. His usual high standards and imagination and innovation are slipping. I keenly looked forward to the big wave music but I was disappointed; the climaxes do not hang together as well as they should and surely the terror of a 120-mph gale and 10-storey high wave should create a much bigger musical impact. We should have been absolutely gob-smacked. To be fair, he creates a moment where you feel the lashing and shrieking of the gale but the odd on-board? noises he creates to counterpoint this howling are incongruous. All they do is jar and dilute the effect (I guess this is a bad sound balancing judgement). For effective storm music Horner might like to refer to Frank Bridge (The Sea) or Kurt Atterberg (West Coast Pictures Symphony No. 3). Then again perhaps not, Horners borrowings might put one off those excellent works.
Tedious and disappointing
Jeffrey Wheeler said:-
The opening track begins with uncreative music, full of roomy clichés and lacking any protean application, but almost two minutes in there is the musical symbolism of impending danger, a dark roll of low strings, timpani, cymbal and brass -- gathering storm clouds and thunder that made me remember how great Horner can be. That first magnificent moment is hardly new compositionally (raise your hand if you've heard Hovhaness' Symphony No. 2), it is even old symbolically (Beethoven's Symphony No. 6; and you can put your hand down now), but like the whole of what is contentiously Horner's best score, "Brainstorm," it slices through complaints of undue referrals with at least the illusion of individuality. Horner's craftsmanship shines, if not his artistry. The moment raises hope.
You know the expression "Hope floats." Well, "The Perfect Storm" ultimately sinks it.
I spent many of my younger days 'bashing' Horner, using terms that were at best brutally accurate and at worst indicative of teenage stupidity. Usually there were combinations of both. However, the basic dilemma remains for us to argue: James Horner is habitually not at his best.
Few listeners will be startled by the general lack of innovation. Some could thank Horner for compiling enough of "Apollo 13" and "Mighty Joe Young" that they can sell them for more shelf space. I would keep Mark Mancina's exceptional "Twister" score, though, as the quality of Horner's electric guitar use is questionable... Of course, all composers repeat themselves and others, but there is repetition that enhances, that is redundant, that plagiarizes, and there is that which doesn't bear repeating.
Interesting, then, how his soundtracks can be well acquainted, yet peculiarly inconsistent. There are more excellent moments than the one I fondly mentioned above awaiting brave adventurers, but "The Perfect Storm" basically panders to shallow musical standards. Let us start with the main theme. James Horner is the master of the complaining melody. It starts flatly in the middle range, moves up the scale to state a truly obnoxious phrase, returns to the tonal center, and then repeats its "I want! I want! I want!" styled refrain. It is a juvenile motif overused by track five (a patchwork cue virtually guaranteed to have those knowledgeable of classical music screaming, by the way), yet the orchestration shimmers! Shortly thereafter Horner introduces a secondary theme where it is the orchestration that dries and shrivels. He strips it down to the string section, accented horribly by arpeggios awkwardly played on piano. The action/tension music is uniformly exciting but ludicrously derivative... to the point of abstraction. Quiet moments and a handful of symphonic lightening bolts are what provide the core interest. Thus between a stormy sense of deja vu and the infrequency of themes meeting variations, the successes within the recording attract attention to just how washed-up it is overall.
Oh, and John Mellencamp sings the theme song.
Gary S. Dalkin adds:-
There's something strange going on this summer. The blockbusters are out in force as usual and one after another they actually are, or promise to be, good if not excellent films. Gladiator, Chicken Run, Mission: Impossible 2, The Patriot, X-Men. Where, one wants to know, is the complete and utter rubbish? Add to this catalogue of unexpectedly welcome celluloid, Wolfgang Peterson's The Perfect Storm, by all accounts a return to quality film-making following the supremely silly Airforce One. The Perfect Storm and The Patriot (directed by Roland Emmerich) opened simultaneously in America, pitting the only two German directors to currently be making Hollywood blockbusters directly against each other, not only that, but pitting the two most currently successful film composers against each other. The Patriot is scored by John Williams (see my review elsewhere on FMOTW), while The Perfect Storm has music by James Horner, which coming after Titanic seems like the perfect typecasting.
Clearly Mr Horner thinks so, adopting a 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach to this latest true story of deadly peril on the Atlantic. This being a James Horner album, there are certain things to expect. A running time longer than some movies, in this case a remarkable 79:10. No one could ever accuse James Horner of skimping on the quantity, whatever one thinks of the quality. Long cues: there are only 10 tracks, giving an average running length of close to 8 minutes. This is really unusual in the often bitty world of film soundtrack albums, the long cues lending a welcome symphonic feel to the disc. An appallingly clichéd and populist end-title song designed to sell lots of singles. The song here, 'Yours Forever', is as bad as usual, but at least the arrangement and performance (by John Mellencamp) are more tolerable than the offering which ruined the last few minutes of Titanic.
As for the score itself, James Horner has forsaken the inappropriate 'Oirish musical affectations of Titanic. Even so, a yearning folksiness remains in the principle melody, which although not as memorable, is along the lines of his main theme from Legends of the Fall. While the quieter moments often feel like variations on tender moments from both the aforementioned scores. If, like me, you actually like Titanic, despite a nagging feeling that the score shouldn't really work, and regard Legends of the Fall as Horner's very best work, then you may find you enjoy The Perfect Storm rather more than some reviews have suggested it should be enjoyed. That said, other than the addition of an electric guitar and the deletion of Horner's trademark shakuhachi, this album does sound very familiar. Some of the big, full storm ahead music, featuring the percussion imitating the pulse of the ship's engine could almost come straight out of Titanic. The end result, an enjoyable if repetitive album which offers nothing new. Time I think for Mr Horner to move on.
Gary S. Dalkin
DECCA 467 270-2 [40:25]
Crotchet Amazon US
The X-Men continues the summer blockbusters with what looks like another surprisingly good film, coming as it does from Bryan Singer, director of The Usual Suspects and the tremendously under-rated Apt Pupil. It is a film which has taken all the pundits by surprise, being supposedly too dark for more than cult success, yet opening in America with a staggering $57m over it's first three days. Michael Kamen's musical score is certainly dark, showing very little sign of commercial friendliness. It sounds like pure film music, in that it may brilliantly enhance the dark drama on-screen, but makes for a tough listen.
The album opens with 'Death Camp', a sober piano arpeggio recalling John Ottman's score for The Usual Suspects, before giving way to intense string textures which call to mind Barber's Adagio for Strings. However, the track quickly builds to a corrosively powerful orchestral peak in a territory someplace between Jerry Goldsmith's The Boys From Brazil and John Williams The Fury, the former of course dealing with fascism and genetic experimentation, the latter with super-powered mutants. Both applicable references for this adaptation of Marvel's long-running comic-book saga. The tracks which follow - there are 12 in total - mix savagely ironclad action, occasionally augmented with brutal technoesque electronics, and minimal, stark atmospheres. Wordless sampled female voices are used in a restrained fashion, while a track such as 'Mutant School' offers a fatalistic enchanted glitter akin to Ottman's fine Incognito score. As matters progress, through touches of neo-classical string writing in 'Magneto's Lair' to the tortured violin writing and apparent serial techniques of 'Museum Fight' (thing of Goldsmith's Coma) perseverance is rewarded. This is a score which goes 'bang' and 'crash', but it does so in a controlled, precise way which is dramatically powerful. You will search in vein for a memorable tune, it is the perfect album for clearing the house of guests who have overstayed their welcome, though the finale, 'Logan and Rogue' does offer some shadow-inflected romance.
An album which many will find hard to love, and which many will dismiss out of hand as unlistenable, for those able to appreciate classy thriller / horror scores there are pleasures here. It does not appear on the evidence of the album to be a great score, or even an outstanding one, but it has every chance of being most effective in the film, and that when all is said and done is the primary purpose of movie music.
Gary S. Dalkin
Marc Bridle adds:-
Michael Kamen has written some notable scores - among them the action movie soundtracks for Die Hard and Die Hard 2 (the most memorable music not being Kamen's action-bound rollercoaster at all, but Sibelius' Finlandia), and the romantic drama, Mr Holland's Opus, for which Kamen wrote the Richard Dreyfuss composer's oh-so-American symphony. X-MEN does not necessarily depart from the substance of these previous big hitters, but it sounds to me amongst his most derivative film scores.
The music opens wonderfully for the Death Camp scene - Hitchcockian piano threads lead to a memorable theme on lower strings which is as dark as anything Shostakovich wrote. From 2'07 to 2'28 the music is genuinely catastrophic, unsparing in the picture it draws of unrelieved horror. As it moves on, however, through the Ambush (with its eery harmonics) the sense of invention falls off and the music sounds as if it has sprung from the pages of Independence Day (2'49 to 3'22 - track 2). The haunting opening to the Magneto's Lair (on what sounds like violin strings being played beyond the instrument's bridge) leads onto another of those dark-rimmed passages on cellos and basses. Train (track 6) begins on a fugato which gathers momentum and develops into a schizoid, Psycho-like melody on strings but doesn't go any further.
The Museum Fight (track 9) finds Kamen somewhere near his best. Lower strings are carefully used as a dynamic contrast to the high tessitura writing for the violins and there is an added dissonance to his writing here which belies a considerable debt to Stravinsky. The Final Showdown is again derivative of the conclusion to Independence Day - which is a bit of a pity. The final track takes us full circle by ending on the same solo piano which opens the film.
There were times when Kamen almost came close in this score to equalling his achievement in his unsurpassed music to Stephen King's The Dead Zone (a much under-rated film). In the end, it is only partly a triumph, and he does not always succeed in mixing classical and rock idioms. They often seem juxtaposed very uncomfortably. One feels he used all of his creative energy for the extraordinary opening track. Elsewhere, the inspiration is very under-developed.
VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6154 [57:30]
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Having enjoyed Randy Edelmans score for Six Days, Seven Nights last year, I looked forward to this score eagerly. It blends, with considerable success, traditional western and oriental styles. Ralph Ferraros orchestrations help considerably, the British contract orchestra (the album was recorded at Abbey Road studios) is excellent and the mix with the traditional arts ensemble and rhythm section recorded separately elsewhere in London is seamless.
Edelman has a great sense of humour and his work is well suited to comedy. He uses a whole array of colourful instruments like didgeridoos, Jews harps, saloon pianos, and harmonicas, to great atmospheric and comic effect. He unashamedly parodies Morosss The Big Country score over a number of tracks including From East to West and Becoming a Cowboy in Carson City. Almost everywhere you get an oriental (over)viewpoint of the traditional western dramatic situation, confrontation with Indians, bar-room brawls etc. There are many enjoyable tracks including Bonding in Jail a breezy country piece for guitars spread across the sound stage before a note of sentimentality on the clarinet; the menacing bass drum in the wickedly lampooning A Classic Gunfight offset by oriental sneers (a nice comic orchestral touch), and another lovely parody, Home on the Rangoon"! Grandeur, romance and drama are all there in good measure too.
An amusing album, well up to the Edelman tradition.
VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6152 [57:18]
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This is an adaptation of another horsy story from the author of The Black Stallion (Jeanne Rosenberg). Set in the early 1900s the films premise has the horse (Lucky!) comment on universal maltreatments via voiceover from Lukas Haas. An analogy is drawn between mans cruelty to animals and the outbreak of WWI.
This potent scenario, with lush cinematography has elicited a vibrantly charged score from Italian composer Piovani. If you fall in love with the uplifting theme introduced in the "Main Title", youll be pleased to know its the basis for much of the rest of the score. The long-line melody is broken into sections and undergoes intelligent development at every turn. One coda to the central theme sounds decidely Morricone-esque a compliment to a fellow Countryman. Without doubt its loveliest variation as a whole is on flute, with "Hoofbeats" earning itself the respect of this reviewer as one of the finest melodic compositions heard in a while.
After slight diversions blending the overall style into the feel of a cheeky brass band ("Mine Band") and an occasionally stiff Britannia-ruling upper lip, 2 sourced cues add something completely unexpected. "Dance of the Hunters Fire" and "The Hunt" both performed by Mickey Hart and Planet Drum are a sort of highly infectious Jungle drumming. Each feels at once integral to the surrounding score, yet stands alone by the surprising change of pace.
Vareses album is a perfectly rounded hour long. The only quibble being the atypically sparse packaging which has writing so small as to be ridiculous!
The Big Kahuna
VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6140 [33:32]
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The title track The Big Kahuna is a bouncy, jazzy, rhythmically attractive piece (harmonica and strings working well together), although the simplistic melody line does little to enhance it. And its these blues and jazz rhythmic elements that are the mainstay of the entire score. This would be all very well if the selections werent so hit and miss, but where the catchy bass-lines of Cheeseballs and Shrimp and Industrial Lubricants are enjoyable, unfortunately the more up tempo tracks like Measured by Dogs and the rock and roll of Happy Jesus and El Kahuna Grande are far less agreeable.
Luckily, to offset all of this swinging high jinx there are a number of more thoughtful pieces including Philed with Fuller and Salterello, which add some much needed depth to the score. But the real standout track is without question Gods in the Closet with its acoustic guitars backed by strings in a very affecting, rather beautifully melodic theme. This comes as a complete surprise and its really good enough to have built the entire score around.
Two original tunes also feature; a solid rendition of the Mancini/Mercer composition Charade (from the film of the same name) performed by Si Zentner and the lively Binga Banga Bongo played by Terry Snyder and the All Stars. Theres also the song Hey Pachucho! performed by Royal Crown Revue for those in the mood.
As Christopher Young is one of my favourite of what I will loosely call the younger composers (as in not Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams!), I expect a lot from him, but this new score is rather a mixed bag. The emphasis is mainly on a blend of swinging, lounge music and soft rock, so if thats your kind of thing then you probably wont be disappointed. But for myself I prefer this composer in full orchestral dramatic flow.
Certainly not the best of Mr. Young, but worth a listen if only for the charming Gods in the Closet.
************************************************************** EDITORs RECOMMENDATION August 2000
SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 337 [40:68]
This album is delightful. If you forget the rather lame bits of non-risible dialogue and concentrate on the music there is much to enjoy. John Debney convinces that he is very much at home in the field of easy listening/light music and pastiche. And before anybody infers that I use the word pastiche in any derogatory sense I hasten to assure them that the contrary is the case for Debney writes with much charm and wit. His sources range from baroque music (fittingly for the upper crust English family background) through the light music idioms of Robert Farnon and Leroy Anderson to the jazz/swing music of Billy May and Nelson Riddle and Henry Mancini etc. In fact the opening Almost Like Being in Love might have been recorded by Old Blue Eyes himself, listening to the voice of Sinatra-soundalike, Rick Riso with this May/Riddkle-like backing. Debney also writes some strikingly tuneful original music that is merry and bright or contemplative and romantic, eg. The Kiss, Rumba and Romanceand Goodbyes. If you liked John Williams music for Sabrina then you will love this CD. It will be visiting my CD player again and cheer me on long car drives.
Band of Angels; Death of a Scoundrel* (plus short excerpts from: Four Wives; Charge of the Light Brigade; The Searchers and A Stolen Life)
Warner Bros Orchestra; RKO Studio Orchestra* conducted by Max Steiner
Label X LXCD 3 MONO [68:43]
Although I could not agree with the writer of this albums booklet notes who asserts that Max Steiners score for Band of Angels (1957) was one of the composers most memorable scores, I do agree that it has been unjustly ignored. There is plenty of good material in it but insufficient to justify 38 minutes devoted to it, for tedium sets in after a time on some tracks notably The Slave Market at eight minutes duration.
The film Band of Angels starred Clark Gable and Yvonne de Carlo (the Catherine Zeta Jones of the 1950s). Ms de Carlo played a Kentucky Belle who, on the death of her father, not only discovers she is penniless but worse, that she has the wrong coloured blood coursing through her veins! As a result she is sold into slavery, bought by a New Orleans millionaire (Gable) and becomes his mistress. Warners spent a pile on the misguided production directed with a wooden spoon by Raoul Walsh hoping that it would become a second Gone With the Wind. In the event it turned out to be a burlesque of almost every pre-Civil War story ever filmed complete with rambling deep south mansions, spiritual intoning black slaves, exotic mulattos, powerful cotton barons from New Orleans and sadistic slave traders etc. The supporting cast included Torin Thatcher as a sea captain and Efrem Zimbalist Jnr as a Union officer.
Steiners Prelude is written in his grand, sweeping Late Romantic style. There is the big romantic tune and material suggestive of the rich comfortable living of the deep south aristocracy surrounded by submissive slaves with equally cosy I know my place material on banjo and sentimental cellos. But there are also dramatic undercurrents too epitomised by a wild, strongly rhythmic dance that menaces.
For Starwood there is more feminine music commencing with material that seems to suggest a heroine dressed in flowing crinolines and big hat carrying a parasol to shield her from the sun as she rides stately in her carriage. When the tempo changes you can visualise her exchanging it for an evening at the ball. In The Slave Market Steiner toughens this theme and gives it a swagger that one would associate with Gable. The rest of the track includes material that quite clearly alludes to the vicious slave trader and the sea captain and there is a distinct French flavour to the music appropriate to the films New Orleans location. Amantha is much darker full of menace; with swirling strings and biting brass and canting/galloping rhythms. The big romantic tune in Pointe du Loup is rudely interrupted by a call to arms by bugles and drums.
One of the strongest tracks is Burning if the Cotton Crops in which Steiners heavily accented rhythms and harmonies give an intensely dramatic and very realistic picture of the scene. Hamish Bond has tragic overtones and the concluding Reunion brings the big romantic tune to a full flowering.
Much more impressive is the other rarely heard Steiner score on this disc for the tough melodrama Death of a Scoundrel (RKO, 1956). Quoting from Octopus book, The RKO Story, " two hours worth of rakes progress, complete with betrayal, thievery, multiple seduction, suicide, murder and the added fillip of watching George Sanders cavort with his actual ex-wife (Zsa Zsa Gabor) and stab his real-life brother (Tom Conway) in the back." The film also starred Yvonne de Carlo. Sanders played the ruthless Clementi Sabourin, killed by one of the business associates he has trodden on, on his way up the ladder. The Opening Theme is one of the most darkly powerful that Max Steiner ever wrote. The music is convoluted and there are agonised cries from the horns as though they emanate from some wild beast. This music then softens into a typical bitter sweet romantic melody, followed by a little jazz-inflected music to indicate the New York setting, plus material featuring the cimbalom suggestive of Sabourins middle-European background (he had betrayed his brother to the secret police). Mother, mother pursues this middle-European association further with the cimbalom prominent in a string based mournful folk tune. Waltz is another cimbalom led folk tune. Stephanie (played by Nancy Gates) is a warm romantic melody for the young actress Sabourin promotes but cannot seduce.
Charles Gerhardt recorded the Forward the Light Brigade cue (from The Charge of the Light Brigade) in his tribute to Steiner in Now Voyager in RCAs Classic Film Score series. It was one of the highlights of that album and here conducted by the composer it sounds even better, crisper and thrilling even if it lacks Gerhardts stereo image. This is one of those occasions where you wish that they would repeat the stirring middle section rather than the more prosaic strict-tempo march that begins and ends the composition.
The Symphonie Moderne from Four Wives was also recorded by Gerhardt on the same album described in the preceding paragraph but this time I do prefer the added vibrancy of this Gershwinesque composition on the stereo recording
From The Searchers there is Indian Idyll a lovely work that has a Delian delicacy with its steady but gentle rhythmic ostinato for harp and little bells. The final excerpt is from the Bette Davis vehicle, A Stolen Life, the Petit Valse - witty and full of character.
Recommended to all Steiner enthusiasts
The Big Country
The Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Tony Bremner
SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 724 [54:57]. (Reissue: recording made in 1988 Remastered in HNCD and Surround Sound with a newly recorded Main Title performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine.)
Jerome Moross seems destined to be remembered for this score alone such was the huge impact it made at the time but, of course he wrote many other memorable scores, The Cardinal for instance and SILVA promise us an album soon that will redress this balance.
This recording was one of the first that SILVA SCREEN issued way back in the late 1980s. The recording then was a vast improvement on the original LP which sounded thin and as if it had been engineered in an echo chamber.
I well remember being blown out of my seat by the sheer impact of the epic sweeping Main Title when I saw this film on its release in 1958. This score has it all the thunderous charge and tension of The Raid and Capture and The War Party Gathers; the humour of Old Thunder and the romance of Courtin Time plus the dances from Major Terrills party.
A welcome return of a major classic western score; one that new students of film music should really get to know.
Richard COCCIANTE & Luc PLAMONDON
Notre Dame de Paris (Classical Version)
I Fiamminghi conducted by Rudolf Werthen
VARÈSE SARABANDE CST 8083.2 [40:21]
Coincidentally arriving at the same time as the new Marco Polo Georges Auric film music compilation, that includes the 1956 film score of Notre-Dame de Paris (reviewed on this site this month), here is the classical version of the hit musical that is the latest incarnation of Victor Hugos epic story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I Fiamminghi, founded by its present artistic director, Rudolf Werthen, is a Flemish multi-sized ensemble varying according to the music they perform. According to the booklet blurb, "Werthen consciously distances himself from score interpretations based upon tradition. With an appropriate feeli9ng for style and emotional empathy, and his command of the original performance techniques, Rudolf Werthen adds a new and refreshing dimension to familiar scores."
Werthen begins his all-orchestral version with The age of cathedrals which in theory should be a sweeping majestic statement but the awe is muted with the accent more on the lyricism associated with one of the musicals number. More imposing and astringent is the dramatic The refugees that has biting and desperate string figures and pungent bass drums. The chords become increasingly whip-like and speak of cruelty and despair. The Bohemian song, with its shimmering harp figures and melancholy song for cellos and violas, develops ardently as a vibrant Spanish rhythm dance coloured by trumpets and castanets. Torn Apart, belying its title, is another upbeat bracing number, strongly accented, in the Spanish style. In contrast Belle is more relaxed and sentimental; it is romantic and lyrical. The Pagan Ave Maria is another misnomer; hardly wild it has a rather sentimental romantic tune weaving over an Ave Maria-like ostinato figuration. So far so good and I was tempted to award this album near top points and an Editors recommendation but the remaining numbers in this 11 cue album frankly disappoint. They are predominantly tediously gloomy and based on simple musical cells that have too much repetition without enough variety of harmony or orchestration.
Very good in parts, tedious in others
Collection: Ben-Hur The Essential Miklós Rózsa
SILVA SCREEN 2 CDs FILMXCD 334 [104:52]
Music from: Ben-Hur; Providence; Julius Caesar; El Cid; Sodom and Gomorrah; Spellbound; The Thief of Baghdad; King of Kings, All the Brothers Were Valiant; The Golden Voyage of Sinbad; Quo Vadis
With the exception of music from Julius Caesar, this is another re-assembly of previous Silva Screen releases but this time offered in Surround Sound and HDCD for extended dynamic range. I will therefore not offer repeated reviews of these performances except to say that most of them are good, some very good while others, like The Thief of Baghdad do not impress so much. (The Love of the Princess seems interminably slow). Paul Batemans new reading of the imposing Julius Caesar music underlines Shakespeares tragedy in the sombre yet majestic funeral march Caesar Now Be Still heard at the end of the film as Mark Anthony delivers the final eulogy for not only Brutus but Caesar and Cassius. I must also add a mention of one score that is little known but does not fail to haunt the listener the beautiful Valse Crespesculaire (Twilight Waltz) for piano and orchestra from Providence.
This double album serves as a valuable introduction to the music of Miklós Rózsa. I suggest that later, students move on to the series of albums of Rózsa
film music conducted by the composer himself. I refer to the recordings of the biblical epics, Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis on Decca and Cloud Nine (together with El Cid and King of Kings). And more especially to the series of recordings of his film music that he made for Polydor (alas only issued on LP and long since deleted although we keep hearing persistent rumours that they are about to be reissued).
One must not take the appellation "essential" in the title too seriously for whole genres of Rozsas film music are not included in this album. No film noire scores like Double Indemnity (unless one can admit Spellbound into this category), and no science fiction scores, for instance, like The Power (although Silva Screen assure me that they have the score and fully intend to record this late but superb score when they can).
Recommended as an introduction to Rózsa
PROMETHEUS PCR 506 [43:37]
Set in the 1920s, this fictionalised adventure in the life of writer Dashiell Hammett benefits from an evocative, strongly atmospheric score. And as you might imagine the music is very influenced by the twenties era itself, employing a kind of sultry blues feel that conjures up images of smoke-filled gin joints and dark back alleys.
The Main Titles is a piano led blues piece with lead clarinet that has an alluring quality, but more satisfying still is Hammetts Dream which develops the theme and adds a discordant, disturbing twist which is typically Barry and all the better for it.
Chinatown Incident limits the actual ethnic elements to some subtle percussion and instead creates a much fuller orchestral sound with strings predominant. Wild Pipa on the other hand fully embraces the Chinese influences in the story with authentic traditional playing, although I have to be frank and say its pretty hard to sit through.
The intense, strikingly rhythmic strings of The Opium Den/Escape From Fongs make a strong impression though, as does Barrys familiar brooding piano and strings in The Wrap Up/Finale (almost inevitably this has moments very reminiscent of his Bond movies).
There are a number of suspenseful variations on the main theme in tracks such as Waterfront Rendezvous and You Cant Forget Her/Dont be a Chump/Let Her Go!, the latter benefiting from a sense of underlying menace and concluding on a big and bold dramatic note. The End Credits features a much lower-key version that is not quite as rewarding.
A source music suite is also included with a mixture of musical styles from jazz to Dixie. These cues are used as purely background ambience, but are hardly memorable in their own right. But then they werent really supposed to be. To be honest, Im not particularly enthusiastic about this notion of supplying source music with a score, even if (as is the case here) it was actually written by the composer himself. But I expect completists would disagree.
There are certainly some fine moments to be savoured here, but really the main weakness is that there really isnt enough original music to sustain the soundtrack (if you discount the source material). Of course every Barry collector wont mind that too much. But for new fans of film music this may not seem quite as worthwhile.
************************************************************** EDITORs RECOMMENDATION August 2000
Battle of the Bulge
Music from the film Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Werner Andreas Albert.
cpo 999 696-2 [78:43]
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The 1960's. A decade with ironclad behemoths stalked the silver screen. Real epics. Not like today's Super-35 pseudo-epics, but the real epics with overtures and intermissions and shot in Ultra-Panavision 70, offering a truly widescreen aspect ratio of 2.75-1. Battle of the Bulge (1965) was one such film. Overall its reputation hasn't stood the test of time as well as The Longest Day or The Great Escape, the two best-known war epics which immediately preceded it. But who knows? For decades the film has only been seen (or half-seen) on television, and it is simply not possible to judge the full merits of such superb spectaculars this way. What has undoubtedly stood the test of the intervening 35 years is the music score by Benjamin Frankel.
Frankel is not as well known a composer as he should be. However, a fine introduction to his life and music can be found in the Benjamin Frankel pages on Classical Music on the Web, starting at: http://www.musicweb.uk.net/frankel/. Suffice to say that Frankel made an early career as a jazz musician and arranger, before moving into film work in the 1930's. In total he scored over a hundred film, TV and theatre productions, including such cinema classics as The Man in the White Suit, The Importance of Being Ernest and The Night of the Iguana. From 1958 onwards Frankel concentrated on his concert music, writing eight symphonies among many other works, retiring from film composition following Battle of the Bulge. Little of his film music has ever been issued in album form, and now, following a complete symphony cycle on CPO which has seen Frankel acclaimed as one of the great composers of the post-war period, CPO have embarked on a series of CDs of Frankel soundtrack re-recordings. This current disc is actually the very first re-recording of any complete score by Benjamin Frankel. For this we have to thank in large measure Dimitri Kennaway, Frankel's stepson and an indefatigable champion of the composer's music. In various ways, not least in the actual preparation of the scores and sometimes in the reconstruction of missing parts, Mr Kennaway has been instrumental in bringing this music to us.
I interviewed Dimitri Kennaway recently, (to read the interview follow the link) and he explained that while a series of albums were planned, they started with Frankel's last score because Battle of the Bulge is still a film with a wide following, to say nothing of having the sort of 'big' score that has a good chance of appealing to both film music collectors and those who have bought the previous CPO symphony recordings. It is a big score, this CD running virtually 79 minutes and essentially containing all the music from the film: a few short cues, which were slight variations on material included on the album, were omitted because it wasn't possible to fit any more music onto the disc. However, there is twice as much music here as on the original soundtrack LP, and a lot of it is to all intents and purposes new because in the film it was mixed so low as to be nearly subliminal inaudible.
Those familiar with the film may initially to shocked to find the overture missing. Worry not, it is here, but where it really belongs, in correct film sequence as track 11, 'The Armaments Train'. What became the overture was actually written for this particular sequence, which in the finished film plays without music.
There are 18 tracks in all, with music ranging from exciting set-pieces such as 'The German Tanks Emerge and Break Through' to more reflective moments, 'Christmas at Ambleve', even incorporating traditional carols. There is the guilty pleasure of such source music as the 'Panzerlied', here including the essential rhythmic snap of marching feet, the sound of which was omitted from the original soundtrack. There is a huge amount of music to assimilate, from the savagery and desperate terror of 'Massacre at Malmedy' to the final triumph of 'The Panzermen Abandon their Tanks: Victory and Postlude'. This is not simply one of those very long scores which repeats the same couple of ideas over and over until the CD is full, but instead is packed with a wide variety of material worthy of much more detailed analysis than a simple review. Reflecting this, Dimitri Kennaway provides not only excellent accompanying notes but also illustrates the booklet with several significant musical examples. Of course none of this would mean a thing if the sound and performances were below-par. Fortunately the sound is as vivid and dynamic as one could hope for, and the performances, by players who are by now utterly familiar with and sympathetic to Frankel's musical world, simply superb. This is not just a feast of great film music, but a very significant album which will hopefully lead to the classical audience exploring more film music, and the soundtrack audience uncovering the riches of Frankel's symphonic output. Certainly album of the month, and undoubtedly one of the best re-recordings of the year.
Gary S. Dalkin
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