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

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Dimitri TIOMKIN Lost Horizon. The Guns of Navarone. The Big Sky. The Fourposter. Friendly Persuasion. Search for Paradise.   Charles Gerhardt conducting the Ntaional Philharmonic Orchestra.   RCA Victor GD81669

This Classic 1976 recording was later reissued on CD.Note: Although this recording is not available at the moment, persisitent searching of record stores and second hand dealers is strongly recommended and could be fruitful

This is one of the best of RCA's 1970s Classic Film Scores series with Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the members of which were specially selected from amongst the finest players of London's orchestras. The series was engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson and recorded in the marvellous acoustic of London's Kingsway Hall. Dimitri Tiomkin, himself, was in attendance, and took an active interest in the recording sessions for this album.

The major item is the 23-minute suite from the 1937 Frank Capra classic for Columbia, Lost Horizon, from James Hilton's celebrated novel about an idyllic civilisation, a paradise, hidden in a remote Tibetan valley. It was Tiomkin's first major film score. Hollywood. Max Steiner, on loan to Columbia, conducted the score for the film.

The suite opens in great epic sweep with a Prologue that includes a few bars of the love theme and that wonderful, extraordinary music representing Shangri-La which has an affinity with Oriental or medieval monody to give a timeless but infinitely serene quality. But then the music erupts into turbulence for `Riot in Baskul' and the `Mob Scene at the Refuelling Station'. Wild exotic choral and orchestral music recalls Borodin, in PrinceIgor mode, as the hijacked plane lands in the middle of nowhere to be refuelled by a swarm of bearded and turbaned tribesman.

After the plane crashes on the vast Tibetan plateau, Chang's caravan escorts the plane's passenger's over storm-swept mountain country to dour, nasal woodwinds. The music marches slowly and wearily working to a huge crescendo that suddenly evaporates. Only distant chiming bells and voices are heard as the travellers come in sight of the Celestial City, "a cloistered Eden where people live to unheard-of ages". The following tracks are concerned with the peace and serenity of life in the beautiful surroundings Shangri-La. A lovely nocturne, that embraces the love theme, is followed by evocative sequences: the (horse) `Riding Sequence', `The Waterfall' and `Chinese Children's Scherzo'.

But the high point of the score is reached with the `Bell Sequence' and `Funeral Cortege of the High Lama'. The long winding Shangri-La theme is projected against a kaleidoscopically changing background of harmony and orchestral-choral colour. The huge percussion section (reasembling the Javanese gamelan or percussion orchestra) includes: xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, five glockenspiels, three sets of tubular bells, two sets of the very large Parsifal chimes, a set of tuned cymbals, four tuned Tibetan gongs, three tamtams of different sizes and a Tibetan instrument known as the rata drum.

The brief 2½-minute Prelude to The Guns of Navarone is worth the price of this album alone. This performance, of one of the most thrilling pieces of music ever penned by Tiomkin, has all the bite and attack that is missing from the rival Citadel (formerly on Unicorn-Kanchana) recording also reviewed this month.

Beginning and ending quietly The Big Sky is an unusual western score. Howard Hawkes's 1952 film (Tiomkin also scored Hawkes Red River and Rio Bravo), was set along the Missouri River, in the 1830s, a somewhat earlier period than the majority of western adventures. It concerned the lives of the early settlers, trappers and Indians. Tiomkin's music is often idyllic, a vivid sound painting of the beautiful wooded and mountainous countryside. The `Indian' figures are treated with the utmost sympathy and subtlety. `Forest at Night' is "an atmospheric nocturne with cloudy, impressionistic textures and solo trumpet and horn each merging momentarily from the gloom-coloured shadows; the rhythmic mutter of tom-toms is heard and the night grows into a love theme" -- one of Tiomkin's most haunting love themes.

People who have contributed to our debate on Tiomkin have remarked about the difficulty of Tiomkin's scores. The sparkling, quicksilver high-spirited Overture to TheFourposter is a perfect example. This little piece may sound carefree but its cross-rhythms, rapidly fluctuating tempi and extraordinary instrumental demands such as high violin harmonics are a great challenge to both orchestra and conductor. This track, the whole album indeed the whole RCA Classic Film Score series is a tribute to the remarkable, skills and dedication of Charles Gerhardt.

The 1956 film, Friendly Persuasion was set in an Indiana Quaker community at the time of the Civil War. Starring Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, it was, for the most part, an idyllic western. The big hit from the film was the title song (aka `Thee I Love'). Jess (Cooper), in his love of music, has purchased an organ, scandalising his wife Eliza (McGuire) who rushes off in a huff to the barn where Jess follows her. Magically, in this celebrated scene, Tiomkin holds back only allowing fragments of his beautiful melody to float as Jess quietly coaxes Eliza round, the music cleverly pointing their conversation with many changes of mood. At length the big romantic theme is allowed through as domestic harmony is re-established.

The album alas ends in something of a downbeat with the, in my opinion, bordering-on-the-banal, Choral Finale for the Cinerama production, Search for Paradise.

Notwithstanding the short final item, this is a compulsory purchase for Tiomkin fans


Ian Lace




Ian Lace


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