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June 2001Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /June01/



In Session  
  Varese Sarabande
  VSD-6225   [Disc One: 71:10 / Disc Two: 71:16]

In session

In the Seventies there was a series of film score re-recordings that went a long way toward the resurrection of the symphonic form in contemporary movie making. They came courtesy of producer Charles Gerhardt on the RCA Victor label, and to this day remain the definitive recordings of several film works. More than a decade later when Robert Townson began working with the Varese Sarabande label, the industry had already reached the climate we enjoy/endure today where absolutely anything goes in film music. The symphonic form was (and is) far from out of fashion. Instead it's one voice among many overlapping ones. Although Townson will never be regarded as some sort of musical archaeologist who rediscovered something for film, his years and output really do deserved to be compared with Gerhardt's achievement.

This double album is the 500th he's produced. Now just stop a moment to consider how many discs that is. That's as much stock as many high street stores have in their soundtrack sections. If you're a collector, cast an eye over your library and spot how many Varese spines there are. And all that does is give a headcount on the product. Now consider how much listening time that is and try calculating how much repeat listening, editing, and mixing time that is. Lastly, of those red and white CD spines you've espied, do a quick mental add-up of how many are amongst your favourite scores. Hopefully by now, the man's achievement is starting to sink in.

The proof of the pudding is nicely illustrated by 36 tracks across these 2 discs. Nearly two dozen come from complete score re-recordings; albums that feature music never before available (and certainly not in such high quality an audio format). There are a few that come from purpose-compiled theme compilations Townson's overseen. For instance, "Conquest" from Alfred Newman's Captain from Castile and "Ride of the Cossacks" from Franz Waxman's Taras Bulba featured on the Blood and Thunder compilation. On top of that is a treasure thought completely lost - namely Alex North's rejected score to 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as brand new work Townson commissioned for the Star Wars franchise entitled Shadows of the Empire from composer Joel McNeely.

A quick scan through the credits shows McNeely to have been one of the essential factors on Townson's re-recorded output since he conducted 14 of the pieces here. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra also comes out pretty favourably in the tally of things. To them we can thank Varese for terrific presentations of Bernard Herrmann's Citizen Kane, The Trouble With Harry, Vertigo, Psycho, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, and Marnie. There's also Franz Waxman's Rebecca, John Williams's Jaws, and John Barry's Somewhere In Time.

The other name to appear repeatedly is Jerry Goldsmith, who either conducts his own work (Tora! Tora! Tora! Patton, Star Trek: The Motion Picture), or Alex North's (2001, A Streetcar Named Desire, Viva Zapata!, The Agony and The Ecstasy, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).

What's amazing to consider about this collection is that all these are just re-recordings Townson's overseen. Proportionately they make up a tiny percentage of the original recordings he's been responsible for seeing the light of day (and there really is a lot no one else would have put out!).

All in all, this collection should be treasured as a celebration or sampler of an astounding career. Beyond that, it's all superb music too!

Paul Tonks


Ian Lace adds:-

Paul has said it all. All thanks to Robert Townson he deserves a medal. His absorbing and revealing notes about the trials and tribulations as well as the rewards and accolades

make this a must buy on their own. Some might be disappointed about choice of tracks but all in all this is a souvenir album to treasure. Mr Townson deserves a medal and every encouragement to go on to making a 1000th Varèse Sarabande recording.

Ian Lace


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