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

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Dimitri TIOMKIN High Noon. Cyrano de Bergerac. The Alamo. 55 Days at Peking    Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, Berlin, Rundfunk Choir Berlin conducted by Lawrence Foster    RCA Red Seal 09026 
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The most interesting score here is Cyrano de Bergerac. This was the 1950 United Artists production starring José Ferrer as the big-nosed poet-duelist hero. The four movement suite opens with a splendid Overture that not only has heroic sweep and grandeur and a lively spirit but also 17th century grace. `Roxane' (wittily subtitled 17th century blues) combines romance for the heroine, and hilarious figures (oboe and bassoon mostly) for the cavorting of Cyrano and the handsome but shy and bumbling Christian de Neuvilette. He is desperately in love with Roxane but needs the help of the far more articulate Cyrano to help him romance her. More sinister music comes in `Street Fight' at first of quiet malignant stealth then of open combat, the latter anticipating the main theme of guns of Navarone. `Requiem' is deeply affecting with its sweet violin solo beneath quiet women's voices. Later the music grows to a glorious climax commemorating Cyrano's glorious exploits.

High Noon in Christopher Palmer's arrangement here is a grittier, starker statement than that of Laurie Johnson on the rival Unicorn Kanchana recording. The pace, the rhythms are urgent and compelling. The sound stage is thrillingly exploited but for my taste this version is a tad too bleak.

The most substantial work in this compilation is the 27-minute The Alamo Suite. This gutsy performance has plenty going for it and is a strong rival to the original soundtrack recording reviewed on this site last month. Davy Crockett's music is jaunty and ripely ribald; the battle music across wide and deep perspectives has plenty of attack and is very thrilling with the De Guella lusty and defiant. `The Green Leaves of Summer' and `Tennessee Babe' presented as two intermezzos are both warmly sentimental and in the case of the former beautifully romantic and in the latter elegiac - almost hymn-like. In both cases the Rundfunk Choir sing most sympathetically and their English diction is excellent.

The 1963 Samuel Bronston spectacular, 55 Days at Peking was a rather stodgy epic weighed down by too many romantic interludes. This, for me, was not one of Tiomkin's Best scores. Despite some nice oriental touches, he seems to be treading water using far too many of his trademark phrases as almost make-weight. It is interesting to note that one of the most satisfying cues is the charming `Intermezzo:Children's Corner' that segues into an evocative oriental decoration that is the main love theme. The Overture has no memorable theme it is a mish-mash of urgent running figures and fragments of material one recalls from earlier scores such as Strangers on a Train, all spiced with quasi-oriental percussive figures. The romantic theme introduced in the overture is OK but again not one of Tiomkin's best and it certainly overstays its welcome becoming almost mawkish as when it overlays the source martial music of `Welcome Marines'.

`Attack and explosion' has its moments -- stealth and bombast; I particularly liked Tiomkin's use of bell, and piano in forward percussive mode. The best tracks in this uneven score are those that are most Chinese in inflection, especially the jubilant `Chinese Victory Celebration' and the trudging but jubilant `Hauling the Gun' with exotic percussion and ringing voices that often contrastingly highly pitched.

For Tiomkin fans another confident recommendation.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace


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