August 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE August 2003

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The Valley of Gwangi:  
The Film Music of Jerome Moross
  The City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Paul Bateman
  Available on Silva Screen FILMCD 161  
Running time: 77.53
Crotchet   Amazon UK

valley of gwangi

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Suite
  • Five Finger Exercise – Romanza from the concert suite Music For the Flicks
  • Wagon Train - Theme
  • The War Lord - Suite
  • The Sharkfighters - Overture
  • Rachel, Rachel – Americana Miniature
  • The Mountain Road - Overture
  • The Valley of Gwangi – Suite

To quote Silva Screen this album is "Re-issued due to demand from Soundtrack fans." It is the "World Premiere Digital Recording of music from The War Lord • The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn The Sharkfighters • The Mountain Road • Rachel Rachel Five Finger Exercise • Wagon Rain and a 20-minute suite from The Valley Of Gwangi. Deluxe CD Booklet. Over 75 Minutes of Music. Acclaimed Performance and Recordings with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Bateman." The disc is therefore a forerunner of Silva’s 2CD set of music by the same composer, conductor and orchestra, The Cardinal, which contained music from The Jayhawkers, Seven Wonders of the World, Close-up, The Captive City, The Proud Rebel and The Cardinal, and was reviewed here on FMOTW. It also makes an interesting comparison with, and companion to, Film Score Monthly’s complete issue of the soundtrack to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, coincidentally issued this month and also reviewed here this month.

While the FSM disc is wonderful for serious Moross devotees and completists, the 14 minute suite here encapsulates the essence of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn well for more general fans seeking a wider survey of the composer’s music. The full score is enjoyable, but it is also somewhat repetitive, Bateman here portraying Moross’ lyrical Americana with considerably more economy and with far better sound. Which is not to say the 1960 stereo sound of the FSM disc is not excellent in its own right, only that it needs to be taken in consideration with the limitations of recording technology of its day. Here Bateman has the advantage of modern digital recording, and the disc has been remastered in Dolby Surround and is HDCD compatible for those with the appropriate decoding technology.

More inward looking but in the same tradition is the "Americana Miniature" derived from the composer’s score for Paul Newman’s low-key directorial debut, Rachel, Rachel. The suite combines four cues into six minutes of tellingly lovely yet melancholy music which makes for an interesting comparison to the sort of small scale Americana scores Jerry Goldsmith (A Patch of Blue, Lilies of the Field, The Flim-Flam Man) was writing in the same mid-‘60’s period. Moross’ work may be less dependent on ingeniously off-beat sounds, but it is all the more lovely for it. "Romanza" meanwhile is a yearning romantic piece derived from the composer’s score for The Five Finger Exercise, as reworked for his concert suite Music For The Flicks. As the excellent and very detailed booklet notes by the composer’s daughter Susanna Moross Tarjan suggest, the tune is in the tradition of "Laura" and Unchained Melody", and to these ears points the way to the later 1940’s detective nostalgia of David Shire’s Farewell My Lovely. It is worth the price of the disc alone.

The theme from the once hugely popular Wagon Train is more prime Western Americana, while The War Lord finds Moross accompanying Charlton Heston through one of his less successful historical adventures, his score being necessarily robust yet tender. The "Prelude and Main Title" has a regal grandeur introducing a central theme with the elegance and formality of Georges Delerue at his eloquent best. "What of the Future?" is delicately introspective, setting the scene for the balletic yet pungent "Vengeance and Death" and the elegiac "finale".

The Sharkfighters is very different fare, a Latin flavoured score filled with the appropriate percussion for a routine Victor Mature adventure set in Cuba. Again the music is intensely balletic in character, filled with strong melodies and imaginative touches of orchestration. The Mountain Road is equally macho – the film was a war drama starring James Stewart - yet has a magisterial quality which combines Moross’ very personal form of Americana with a hint of the mountain landscapes of Alan Hovhanness.

The Valley of Gwangi is one of the lesser Ray Harryhausen stop-motion adventures, an odd mix of Western and dinosaur adventure, about which the best thing is Moross’ gloriously bold and robust score. Here is 18 minutes of prime monster music in a nine part suite presented over three tracks. The string writing is urgent and intense, the brass combative and pungent, the whole driven along by pulsating rhythms and tersely constructed back and forth motifs which sometimes sound as if Bernard Herrmann had taken a trip out West. Really a brass showcase, The Valley of Gwangi is a sterling example of a truly first-rate score gracing a really rather forgettable film. Happily this enthusiastic and taut performance brings the music to life where it can really soar, free from the constraints of the original cinematic images. A fitting finale to a fine and very generously filled disc.

If there is a flaw, its only that for this reissue the fuzzily printed text in the booklet really should have been reset; its far from easy on the eye. Oddly the stills and posters appear about as crisp and sharp as can be, so why not the words? For the general film music fan this is the disc to go for. Moross fanatics will already have it and should seek out the FSM Huckleberry Finn album asap.

Gary Dalkin

****(*) 41/2

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