March 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /March01/

Jerome MOROSS The Cardinal - The Classic Film Music of Jerome Moross
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Bateman
HDCD * Dolby Surround
Silva Screen SILKD 6030 * [CD1: 42:30 * CD2: 42:11 - Total * 84:41]
 Amazon US

Sometimes it is possible to become a movie legend for just one film, and Jerome Moross did so with his music for The Big Country (1958), a score which, while certainly anticipated by the Americana of Aaron Copland, defined for Hollywood the sound of the American West. Silva Screen have already delivered a fabulous re-recording of The Big Country (FILMCD 030) and here present music from 6 further films scored by the composer.

Jerome Moross was not a prolific writer for the screen. He wrote the music for just 15 feature films, plus 4 TV series, between 1948-69, working on roughly the same number of releases as an orchestrator (often uncredited) and/or musical arranger from 1940-47, and a further handful after he began composing for the cinema until he retired from the movies completely. Moross was in the same German class at school in New York as Bernard Herrmann, "he was a year older than me of course, but we became very good friends. Benny was a great influence on me. By the time I met him I was already developed in composing. He was writing too, but he knew so much more than I did." In 1939 Moross married Hazel Abrams, and the following year they had a daughter, Susanna.

The money Moross was making from his music in New York wasn't enough to support a young family, but Herrmann had gone to Hollywood with Orson Welles and immediately found great success with Citizen Kane (1940). Moross followed, though he always considered New York his home, preferring to stay there and work on concert and theatre music, saying "I only went to Los Angeles when I had a film to do or when I needed the money." He thus scored only a relative handful of movies, less even than Korngold, leaving a small legacy beside such figures as Herrmann, Alfred Newman or Miklós Rózsa, and excepting The Big Country even serious film music fans tend to know little of his work.

The Jayhawkers! (1959) is a western dating from the year after The Big Country, represented on this double-CD by a 16 minute suite which offers eight selections in three tracks. The 'Main Titles' are essential a variation of The Big Country main theme, so much so that they do not inspire confidence Moross had any further tricks up his musical sleeve. Likewise, 'The Lynching' has much in common with 'The Welcoming' from The Big Country. So it goes on, with big-hearted folk-like melodies and tender lyrical passages capturing all the romance, exhilaration and excitement of frontier adventure. It's stirring stuff, but one can't help think you've heard it all before. This is more of the same, and there's yet more to come.

The Proud Rebel was a 1958 western directed by Michael (Casablanca) Curtiz. Moross wrote the score, on the strength of which producer Samuel Goldwyn Jnr. recommended Moross to William Wyler for The Big Country. The Proud Rebel is a more sober western than the later films, set in the aftermath of the American Civil War and with both star (Alan Ladd) and story evoking memories of Shane (1953). Silva present the score as a suite in 10 parts spread over five tracks. After an opening replete with military drumming Moross introduces a pastoral melody which essentially prefigures the romantic Americana of The Big Country. Thereafter we are treated to a succession of affirmative cues which - just take a listen to 'The Wagon' or 'The Farm' - could have come straight out of the more famous picture. 'Fight in the Alley' has a splendidly propulsive drive - Moross wrote a considerable amount of ballet music - and one might think of Copland's Billy the Kid as a model. It is all very attractive, but combine The Proud Rebel with The Jayhawkers! and you have something akin to The Big Country Part II. If you want more of the same, but just a little bit different, here it is.

Fortunately the remainder of the music is very different. Such was the scale of the Cinerama production Seven Wonders of the World (1956) different parts of the film were assigned to different composers, with Moross scoring some scenes while Sol Kaplan, Emil Newman and David Raksin composed other sections. Two selections from Moross' score are featured, 'The Holy Land' and 'The Mediterranean'. The former begins with an unmistakably Judaic melody of understated dignity, then developed through several sections including a march and traditional dance. 'The Mediterranean' is gorgeously scored sea music which could easily have accompanied Hornblower's adventures.

On another tack entirely are suites from the composer's first two film scores, the tough film noirs Close-Up (1948) and The Captive City (1952). Close-Up starts in classic 1940's Hollywood piano concerto form, progressing to include elements of orchestral jazz and Latin American rhythms in music which well deserves to be rescued from the obscurity of a forgotten B picture. The Captive City is more romantically heroic, music for a documentary-drama, another now forgotten release despite being directed by Robert Wise right after The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). With a strong personality of its own, this is crime music in the urban tradition, shot through with an optimistic Americana which assures one that organised crime or not, all will be well in smalltownsville.

Which leaves the best till last. The latter half of the second disc, 23 minutes and 18 seconds worth, is devoted to a suite from the 1963 Otto Preminger epic, The Cardinal. The film follows the life of a young American-Irish priest from his ordination at the start of the Great War, to his becoming a cardinal at the beginning of WWII. With a 175 minute running time, panavision cinematography and lavish locations in Europe and America, one might expect an extensive score, but the film has relatively little music, much of which is contained in this suite arranged by Christopher Palmer. What there is begins with a majestic prologue incorporating the ringing of the bell of St. Peter's Rome - and yes, Silva have used the real thing - building a ravishing main theme which is perhaps an ancestor of the 'barn building' sequence from Maurice Jarre's Witness. Further cues develops an attractive scherzo, an orchestral quickstep and an appropriately Viennese waltz. It is a fine score, and I just wish the film had required rather more of it.

This is a 2CD set with excellent recorded sound (including HDCD and surround options) and the quality of performance we now expect from Silva Screen and the City of Prague Philharmonic. Giving the seal of authority is the presence of Moross' daughter Susanna as executive producer. Although this is a 2 disc set the running time is just 84 minutes, the reason being that the material was recorded with the intention of issue as a single disc. When the timings were totalled it was found there was just a little too much music to fit onto one CD, and reluctant to cut anything it was decided to issue a double-set. Given Silva Screen's competitive pricing (the set will presumably sell for the price of a single CD) I doubt anyone will be complain.

If you like what you have heard of the music of Jerome Moross so far, and don't mind that half of this album does sound rather like The Big Country, you should be delighted with this issue. The title suite may be the standout, but everything here is well worth a place in the collection.

Gary S. Dalkin

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