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

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Collection: Movie Memories - A Golden Age revisited   Richard Kaufman conducts the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra    VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6124 [69:40]

I don't think it would be unkind to describe this as a beginners guide to the wonderful world of film music, featuring as it does most of the key composers since the advent of the talkies. However, in saying that it must also be mentioned that if this was truly the intended goal, there are several glaring admissions. Bernard Herrmann is the first name that springs to mind.

Anyway, setting these concerns aside, the CD opens with Max Steiner's `Tara's Theme' from Gone with the Wind. Without question this is one of the most famous film themes ever written and almost defies analysis. It has simply become part of our collective consciousness and certainly gets a solid interpretation here.

The phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith is also represented with a short suite comprising of the main title from Poltergeist, a surprisingly sweet-tempered melody given the film's supernatural subject matter and the theme from Papillon, a waltz with a Parisian flavour that works extremely well too. Relatively brief but enjoyable.

Alex North's `Love Theme' from Spartacus is tinged with an undercurrent of melancholy, which fits perfectly with the story of the heroic but ultimately doomed freedom fighter. Lush strings are used to good effect in this pleasing melody from a very memorable film. The same cannot be said though for Murder on the Orient Express by Richard Rodney Bennett. Opening with brooding woodwind and brass before transforming into a stately waltz, this is generally considered to be a clever musical device in the film itself, but I can't say I'm particularly fond of it as a listening experience.

A suite from The Magnificent Seven presents us with one of the all-time great, stirring themes of cinema. Few can fail to be inspired by Elmer Bernstein's rousing brass and string led motifs. This piece incorporates most of the key thematic elements from the score and makes a very good show of it too! Another western, although less showy perhaps, was High Noon which gave us Dimitri Tiomkin's illustrious theme song `Do Not Forsake Me Oh my Darling. This gets a pleasant enough interpretation that is perfectly adequate, although I found it to be one of the lesser tracks.

Henry Mancini contributes a trio of themes from firstly Charade, with its rather catchy main title segueing into the lavish romanticism of Two for the Road. This is actually something of a surprise, as it's not quite as well known as the selections that bookend it. Even so, it's a rather fine piece. Predictably it all concludes with the celebrated `Moon River' from Breakfast at Tiffanys in an entirely satisfying version with a grandiose finale. My only complaint would be that I would have preferred more of the first two.

Max Steiner's second contribution is the hugely popular Casablanca. Opening with the familiar Warner Brothers fanfare, this is usurped by a startling Arabian style dramatic action cue. But sadly this proves to be short-lived as some traditional Americana flag waving gives way to more (although much lower-key) middle-eastern string work. Inevitably `Play it Again Sam' features throughout, but is far less interesting than the Steiner bridges and colourings that support it. This is followed by `Unchained Melody' from Ghost, given an instrumental reworking here. It may come as a surprise to some that this was actually written by none other than Alex North (originally for the 1955 feature Unchained). I actually found this more enjoyable than the notorious song itself. Bringing the schmaltz content down to a tolerable level without Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore at the pottery wheel, allowed me to enjoy this far more than I expected.

The `Overture' from Victor Young's Around the World in 80 Days moves along briskly with its subtle rhythmic backing. It's interesting that this piece reflects a style of film music that has become rather outdated now, but it's pleasant enough in an undemanding way, while Kenneth J. Alford's `The Colonel Bogey March' from The Bridge on the River Kwa, is yet another of the very famous pieces represented. Despite this, I can't say it's particularly compelling to sit and listen to and personally I would much rather have heard a suite of cues from Malcolm Arnold's original score.

John Barry's wonderfully individual sound gets a fine treatment with his slow-burn theme from Out of Africa. Rich, romantic and yet never sickly-sweet, there always seems to be a fundamental poignancy to his music. What a pity that Barry seems to have gone out of fashion as far as film producers are concerned. Another romantic, although not in the same league as Barry in my estimation, is Maurice Jarre, here represented by Doctor Zhviago. The `Prelude' is actually more interesting than the overly dominant `Lara's Theme' that unsurprisingly gets most of the attention. I found myself far more intrigued by the lesser known, rather pretty theme used sparingly in the opening.

Enter John Williams with Raiders of the Lost Ark and his thrilling use of brass and snare drum. The main title march soon has you galvanised and all set to go adventuring with Indy and the gang! As a counterpoint to this high energy, the track then segues into the nicely contrasting `Love Theme', before returning for one final triumphant fanfare. Hard to resist.

Last, but certainly very far from least, is the remarkable harmonica led Once Upon a Time in the West by Ennio Morricone. This is a simply stunning piece of film music with its seductive build up featuring wailing harmonica played against a beautifully melodic motif. Developing gradually until the melody is heard in all its glory with choir backing, this is admittedly quite different from the film version. Utilising only orchestral instrumentation rather than Morricone's more baroque approach, I felt this was actually a plus as it delivers something fresh and is far preferable to a straight copy that ultimately will never quite live up to the original.

The playing and the orchestrations are all of a very high standard and the interesting and entertaining liner notes with brief background on each of the scores are very welcome. The only real question mark would be the likely market for this particular compilation. The choices are not really progressive enough to attract too many serious collectors, but nonetheless this is a sound introduction to film music, spanning the better part of fifty years of legendary cinema.


Mark Hockley


Mark Hockley


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