Collection : REEL LIFE:
The Private Music of Film Composers, Vol. 1
David RAKSIN; Bruce BROUGHTON; Michael KAMEN; Rachel
PORTMAN, Howard SHORE, Bob JAMES.
ARABESQE Z6741 (69:17)
This album perhaps more appropriately should be reviewed on the classical
music side of this Web site, but the six composers featured here are of
particular interest to fans of film music. Though their efforts are not limited
to composing for films, that is where Raksin, Kamen, Shore, Portman and Broughton
are best known. (I would not say quite the same for James, whose work is
the first heard on this recording, but the point is made.) As such, this
is something of a "concept" album -- but what a concept! Many of us are familiar
with the concert works of such film notables as Bernard Herrmann, Miklos
Rozsa or Franz Waxman, but the vast repertoire of non-film works by otherwise
well-known film composers remains largely unrecorded and thus unknown to
their many admirers.
And this immediate note to those fans: The compositions featured on this
disc are not large orchestral works such as film scores usually offer. Reel
Life features eight compositions written for chamber orchestra, each enjoying
its premiere recording by the eight-member Music Amici. While far from avant
garde, none of the works offers the motific immediacy -- much less the dramatic
bombast -- that make film music so readily enjoyable.
Nevertheless, there are gems herein, made all the more interesting because
they display a side of these composers we might otherwise not see. Still,
like a film score, several of the pieces are at least slightly programmatic,
such as Kamen's 'Cut Sleeves,' which depicts an ancient Chinese legend of
an emperor who slit his bed dress so as not to disturb his young lover when
forced to leave their bed to attend to state matters. Kamen uses the oboe
to introduce his theme, adroitly joining it with flute, cello and harp to
weave this musical tale -- which, by the way, was Kamen's first professional
composition as a non-rock musician. At more than 11 minutes, it's the longest
single piece on Reel Life, apart from a five-movement work by Broughton.
The piece is marked by a sharply lyric fluidity, particularly in its first
My favorite piece -- and perhaps the most immediately accessible on this
disc -- is the first of two by Portman: her 6-minute 'Rhapsody' which she
wrote for a friend's wedding in 1994. Softly pastoral in its tone, 'Rhapsody'
opens with piano voicing a sense of yearning which is then picked up by violin
and clarinet in succession, each building on the same sense of yearning which
evolves, as the trio join, into one of fulfillment. (What a wonderful wedding
gift -- and how sad that we had to wait this long to hear it!)
Portman's second work, 'For Julian,' is a memorial in solo piano for her
young friend, Julian Wastall, a composer whose work for film and TV may be
better known to British readers of this Web site than to me. Portman's
contemplative piano effortlessly combines a feeling of both questioning and
acceptance, leaving the listener with a sense of loss at its ending.
Raksin's contribution to Reel Life, 'A Song After Sundown' (the title is
a takeoff on a work by Delius) actually was used in a film - the 1962 Too
Late Blues, albeit as a vocal in a larger jazz arrangement. Heard here in
chamber form by Music Amici, its bluesy nature remains unmistakable. By itself,
this may be worth the price of the CD.
Like Portman, Shore s represented by two pieces -- 'Hughie' and 'Piano Four'
-- each is among the more abstract works on this recording. The former is
a musical portrait of the title character of a Eugene O'Neil play, the latter
described by the composer as "a brief statement for the end of the Millennium."
Easily the most ambitious work is provided by Broughton, with his 21-minute,
5-section 'A Primer for Malachi.' Written for the impending birth of the
composer's grandson, the piece moves without interruption through various
stages of life under the following headings: Flowing, Faster, Rhapsodically,
Very Quick, Very Calm. The first opens with flute, cello and clarinet encircling
each other in a vain search for unity, The pace picks up in part two, led
by a piano as each instrument begins to speak with more self-confidence,
if not the still sought-after coherence of maturity. Broughton tosses thematic
ideas out seemingly at random here, experimenting, rejecting, and again
revisiting various concepts. Throughout this and the next section, Broughton
continues his search for musical cohesion and order, not unlike a young man
struggling to find his way in life. This begins to assert itself in part
four, followed by a more tranquil maturity, finally, in the aptly titled
Reel Life opens with 'Odyssey,' a piano-flute duet by jazz keyboardist James,
whose primary Hollywood connection is the catchy title theme to the U.S.
TV series Taxi. The piece opens explosively with both instruments boldly
declaring themselves and then just as quickly turning tentative, as if suddenly
self-conscious in each other's presence. The piano eventually steps forward,
followed by flute as the two begin a spirited dance, each taking turns at
I can't praise too highly the overall effort by Music Amici and its director,
violinist Marti Sweet. Reel Life is a product of the efforts of Michael Whalen,
Marvin Reiss, Jonathan Schultz and Charles Yassky, the latter also performing
on the violin. The sound is crisp and intimate, as a chamber work necessarily
must be. Bravos all around. I hope volume II isn't far behind.