May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/monthly listings/May/


Dimitri TIOMKIN The Guns of Navarone. The Fall of the Roman Empire. A President's Country. Rhapsody of Steel. Wild is the Wind  The Royal College of Music Orchestra conducted by Sir David Willcocks (David King - organ)   CITADEL STC77128 [56:56]

The first thing to realise is that this is a re-release of the 1985 Unicorn-Kanchana album - `The Film Music of Dimitri Tiomkin' DKP(CD) 9047. Despite the stunning sound and the doubtless enthusiasm of a student RCM orchestra, the essential Tiomkin idiom too often escapes them. How much this is due to the bizarre choice of conductor David Willcocks, more at home in Kings College Chapel, Cambridge or conducting choirs in Bach and Handel etc one cannot say. Like the curate's egg this album is good in parts. My hunch is that Christopher Palmer who arranged and orchestrated Rhapsody of Steel persuaded Unicorn-Kanchana to record this album (and the `Western Film Music of Dimitri Tiomkin' much better performed by Laurie Johnson and The London Studio Symphony Orchestra) when he was producing the wonderful series of Delius recordings with Eric Fenby? Possibly it was thought that the RCM orchestra would provide an economic solution and Willcocks may well have viewed the project as good publicity and good exercise for the RCM students?

The positive side first. The inclusion of the music for the documentary, Rhapsody of Steel is a real bonus. This score has all the hallmarks of Tiomkin's dynamic music, with an abundance of excitement, and wit and glitter, and vivid evocation. The film and score cover the history of the development of steel stretching from the Iron Age through the discovery of steel in India and its appropriation by the sword-makers of Damascus to the birth of the steel age in the 19th century with all its consequent dramatic power. The second part of the composition follows the multifarious uses of steel in a busy urban community. The music is a playful set of variations on `I Feel Wonderful'. As Palmer says, "a big jazzy chrominum-plated climax builds in which all the sights and sounds of the metropolis seem to converge (taxi horns among them). Its eupeptic spirit is similar to that of the rowdier parts of An American inParis - `A Russian in New York'? The concluding fugato has a heroic lyricism as we look outwards to the use of steel in space exploration.

A President's Country was a score for another documentary score designed to show off the south west of Texas, homeland of President Johnson. The score was a compendium of themes and songs from Tiomkin's great western scores: Red River, Duel in the Sun, Giant, Rawhide, High Noon, and The Alamo. The RCM deliver a vibrant reading with their tongue firmly in their cheeks and they really relish the wayward arrangement of the Rawhide theme.

Christopher Palmer's `Pop ballad' arrangement of Wild is the Wind (made famous as a single by Johnny Mathis) is a good example of Tiomkin's romantic lyricism -- at best, probably, in Friendly Persuasion. This performance is rather heavy-handed.

The 10½-minute suite from The Guns of Navarone begins well with the evocative Prologue underscoring views of the Greek islands and James Robertson Justice's narration. But when the tempo picks up after initial martial strains, and the famous big theme emerges the tempo suddenly drops back again too much and the excitement sags. Listen to Charles Gerhardt on the rival RCA recording to hear how exciting this music can really sound.

The same applies to the Overture of The Fall of the Roman Empire. The urgency and grandeur that is heard on the soundtrack is missing. Granted the sound is impressive but much more bite is necessary. `Pax Romana' the splendid ceremonial music underscoring the extended scene in which tribute is made to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guiness) from representatives of his far-flung empire fares better.

An album of highs and lows, but one that should be in every Tiomkin-lover's collection.


Ian Lace



Ian Lace


Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers :

Concert and Show tickets 

Musicians accessories
Click here to visit


Return to Index