August 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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A Star Is Born (1954)  
Songs by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin
Musical score by Ray Heindorf
  Available on Sony Music Soundtrax (Columbia / Legacy) CK 65965 ; Running Time: 78:11
Amazon UK   Amazon US

star is born

"Hooray for Hollywood" as someone once said. Oh, hang on, I think it was Hollywood that said it. Never mind, hooray for Hollywood anyway - particularly in the light of this new and much extended issue of an old tinsel town favourite. The original vinyl release of the overture and songs from A Star Is Born proved a very satisfying album, and by the late Sixties was conveniently available in the UK on a budget label. But now the creaking old doors to the Warner Bros vaults have been prised open to liberate not only a welcome extended version Judy Garland’s classic rendition of The Man That Got Away and an alternate take of It’s A New World, but also, and of particular interest to film music aficionados, Ray Heindorf’s dramatic score – based in the main on Harold Arlen’s song tunes. Heindorf’s music alone, including a few choice outtakes, comprises an astounding fifteen tracks new to disc.

This marvellous CD is perhaps the final chapter in the previously ongoing restoration of the 1954 production of A Star Is Born. A full half-hour was cut from the film following its premiere run, and much of this footage was inexcusably lost – although in 1983 a new print was prepared which reinstated three musical numbers which had survived in aging cans, and given that dialogue tracks were discovered for most of the excised sequences, production stills were substituted for any missing visuals. The film lived again to bask in something like its original glory. And now, via this enterprising release from Sony Classics we are treated to a complete overview of the film’s musical heritage. One of the most alluring aspects of musical films is often the way the arranger or musical director has fashioned a dramatic or underlying score from various elements of the featured songs, sometimes subtly trailing a melody even before a song is introduced, and often lingering on a memorable refrain long after the vocals have subsided, or perhaps just moulding the thematic material to enhance dramatic or comic scenes. Here Ray Heindorf proves the point in a score which includes plaintive symphonic renditions of The Man That Got Away and It’s a New World among a series of outstanding orchestral inventions.

A great deal of care has obviously been lavished on this release. The sound quality is excellent, though the glorious stereo spread which distinguishes the musical numbers doesn’t extend to Ray Heindorf’s cues, which appear to have been mastered from a mono mix-down. But this does not detract from the estimable quality of the music. The disc’s artwork is also to be recommended, reproducing the cover of the vinyl album as a frontispiece – and extending this concept to the CD itself which reflects, notwithstanding a couple of obligatory modern legal inclusions, the label of the original LP.

Over the years we have probably become immured to the charm and sheer artistry with which Judy Garland, for the first time in a project of her own design, sings these outstanding songs from Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin. But here the legendary Garland vocals arrive refreshed and revitalised, stunning in the fervour of their delivery and simplicity of statement. If Judy Garland has transcended being an idol to become an icon then this is surely the optimum evidence for that elevation. Is The Man That Got Away one of the very finest of numbers, and does Judy Garland’s heart-rending rendition quintessentially embrace how a torch song should be delivered? That may well be the case.

This is obviously a five star album, importantly restoring a lost treasure in Ray Heindorf’s sterling contributions to A Star Is Born, and by doing so possibly even endearing this release to those who have perhaps resisted Judy Garland’s charm over the decades.

David Wishart

***** 5

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