May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
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Dimitri TIOMKIN The Western Film Music of Dimitri Tiomkin   Laurie Johnson conducting the London Studio Symphony Orchestra and John McCarthy Singers    Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD2011 [46:15]

This is an earnest effort at recording, and thus preserving, a handful of works by Tiomkin who was for many years Hollywood's foremost Western film composer. The excerpts included are, in some cases judicious and valuable (High Noon, Night Passage, Red River) and in others somewhat questionable (Duel in the Sun, Giant) as I will explain later.

My personal favorite among these is Red River, represented here by five cues, each well (if simply) conceived by Tiomkin and quite well realized here by Laurie Johnson and something called the London Studio Symphony Orchestra along with the John McCarthy Singers. The score opens with a powerful horn statement, raising the curtain on director Howard Hawks' massive saga of a Texas cattle drive. The main title is based primarily on a simple tune `Settle Down' (credited in the film to Tiomkin with no mention of a lyricist) which has the comfortable feel of a standard cowboy ditty. Tiomkin uses this theme effectively but somewhat sparingly throughout the movie, relying more heavily on the cattle theme, a robust melody for horns and brass that accompanies the `Red River Crossing' cue and numerous other scenes involving the giant herd of Texas steers. The music implies both muscle and motion, and marks a more mature Western voice than previously displayed by Tiomkin.

The Red River portion concludes with `The Challenge,' in which Tiomkin's trademark strident chords become a march-like rhythm matching what, for me, is a signature scene in Western films: John Wayne striding relentlessly through the herd of meandering steers, intent on a deadly showdown with Montgomery Clift.

Speaking of showdowns, none is more famous in Western film lore than the one Gary Cooper awaits in High Noon. For this film, Tiomkin broke all the conventions: his main titles open quietly, a single strummed guitar, followed by a ballad that continues throughout the film, telling the story in a laconic, fateful voice (supplied by Tex Ritter in the film, baritone Bob Saker here. There are several versions of how High Noon was elevated from a grade-B oater to a classic drama. In one, director Fred Zinnemann dropped the project as soon as filming was completed, and editor Elmo Williams stepped in to restructure the film in actual time, thus creating the tension that made it a hit. Tiomkin's ballad-based score completed the package. The second version is told by Tiomkin: The film was previewed in a suburb east of Los Angeles to disastrous results, leading the studio to yank it from release. But then Tiomkin released the ballad as a single (with Frankie Lane replacing Ritter, because a different recording company was involved) and the song became an immediate hit, thus resurrecting the film's commercial viability.

Whatever the case, High Noon remains a remarkable achievement today in no small part due to its score, the highlights of which are the cues `The Clock' and `Showdown.' In the first, Tiomkin's strings throb to the swinging of the clock pendulum as it nears high noon, while against this ostinato is played one element of the ballad theme, that which previously carried the lyric "Oh, to be torn `twixt love and duty."

For `Showdown,' Tiomkin displays this entire theme in various full and partial forms, bending it every which way to complement the dramatic action. This is film scoring of the first order and it justifiably received the Academy Award in 1952 (one of only three Oscar nominations Tiomkin received for his Western scores). Johnson's handling also is first-rate -- no small achievement as noted elsewhere in my review of Tiomkin's Fall of the Roman Empire.

I also liked the main-title version of `Follow the River,' the song Tiomkin and High-Noon lyricist Ned Washington wrote for Night Passage in 1957. The theme is soft and flowing and well-performed by the John McCarthy Singers.

I'm much less interested in Duel in the Sun, although this 1945 David O. Selznick production is a landmark for Tiomkin if only because it's his first Western score. (Officially, The Westerner in 1940 was his first, but Alfred Newman reportedly was brought in to rewrite most of that music.) And there is at least one great story told of a confrontation between Tiomkin and the ever-meddling Selznick who, the story goes, interrupted a scoring session to complain about Tiomkin's love theme. "That's not how I make love," Selznick declared. "Look, Selznick," screamed the exasperated Tiomkin, `this is how I make love!"

Author Tony Thomas has noted that Selznick listed four specific emotions he wanted in the score: jealousy, flirtation, sentiment and orgiastic. To Tiomkin's credit, much of this can be heard in the `Love-Death' cue contained on this recording, which follows the `Trek to the Sun,' an impressionistic bit of writing that utilizes a wordless male chorus to help depict the arid desert. The score then literally rages through a gamut of emotion, as the lovers (Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones) shoot each other and then die in each other's arms. No wonder Duel in the Sun was dubbed by critics "Lust in the Dust."

My reservations about the inclusion of Giant in this recording stem not from the score or this particular performance of the `Prelude,' both of which are fine -- it's vigorous, broad-shouldered music that speaks directly to what Texas is: big, broad and powerful. But why include music from a score that's readily available already (particularly on LP, as Giant was back in 1981, when this recording initially was made.) The real value of this recording is that it offers music not recorded elsewhere. Rather than Giant, why not The Sundowners, Last Train from Gun Hill, or even The War Wagon, Tiomkin's final Western score?

"The Western Film World of Dimitri Tiomkin" concludes with three cues from Rio Bravo, a 1959 re-teaming of Hawks and Wayne which has attained cult status for the well-developed relationships of its many characters. (Incidentally, both Hawks and Wayne intended the film as an answer to High Noon, which both detested, but that's another story.) Tiomkin's music is pleasantly laconic as befits the story, and the cue `De Guella' is interesting in part because he used it just a year later, albeit more dramatically, to open The Alamo. It's used largely as source music, as I recall, in Rio Bravo, although Johnson's setting with guitars is nicely done.

Overall, I'm quite impressed with what Johnson has achieved here. This isn't the best re-recording of Tiomkin's works available - that distinction rests with Elmer Bernstein, whose FilmMusic Collection recordings of Land of the Pharoahs and Gunfight at O.K. Corral and The High and Mighty are unsurpassed. Charles Gerhardt's recording for the

RCA Classic series is nearly as good. But Johnson has captured much of the feel, the tempo and the rhythm that make Tiomkin so unique.


John Huether

Ian Lace is more enthusiastic:-

In general, I share John Huether's opinion about this album but I must declare my admiration for it. It is certainly one of the jewels of my entire record collection. I have lost count of the number of times I have played it, captivated by the sheer exuberance of the Red River music; the drama and bite of this High Noon; and the warm sentimentality of `Follow the River' from Night Passage. Then there is the stunning trumpet and guitar and marimba playing of the De Guella from Rio Bravo. I cannot agree with John about Tiomkin's music for Duel in the Sun. I always remember the wonderful thrilling music that underscores the very imposing gathering of Lionel Barrymore's vast following in response to his summons to challenge of the encroaching railroad. This is one of the most spectacular scenes in western `filmography' and Tiomkin responds triumphantly. There is a hint of this music in this suite's Prelude.

Yes, I'm prejudiced. I just have to give this marvellous album


Ian Lace



John Huether

Ian Lace


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