The lusty music of Dimitri Tiomkin, with its taut urgent, complex cross-rhythms and shifting time-signatures, distinguished many Hollywood westerns and epics of the 1940s, 50s and 60s and this generously filled 4CD compilation presents an excellent selection of his major scores.
CD 1 is devoted to the western scores – probably his most successful genre. The often-quoted observation is still relevant that as a Russian émigré he was still qualified to write about vast open spaces because all he had to do was to visualise the Russian Steppes. The opening track Night Passage begins in too fast a tempo for my taste but maybe I have got used to Laurie Johnson's memorable 1988 Unicorn Kanchana recording (UKCD 2011) of Tiomkin's western scores. Tension at Table Rock however has all the tension and atmosphere (and tenderness in the gentle lyrical middle section) one could wish for. High Noon's famous song is here without the vocal and is rather too relaxed. The jaunty The War Wagon score with its lyrical, romantic broad tune is a most welcome addition, so too are the trotting/ cantering cross-rhythms of The Wild Wild West Main Theme. One of Tiomkin's best loved western scores was The Gunfight At The O.K. Corral given a blistering performance here, complete with a muscular vocal and gunfire. Always a favourite of mine is the cracking trumpet 'De Guella' solo from Rio Bravo. TV's Rawhide theme fares well and the Red River cattle river-crossing sequence music is really beefy. John Huston's grimly-hued The Unforgiven (1960) with Audrey Hepburn, Burt Lancaster and Audie Murphy has three tracks: the bracing 'Across the Texas Panhandle', the tender 'The Need for Love' and the prancing, humorous 'Horse Ballet'. The Young Land has a perky lyrical main theme that was allotted lyrics and the title of 'Strange are the Ways of Love'.
CD1 ends with a 12-minute suite from Duel in the Sun which eclipses the rival Unicorn Kanchana recording (referred to above) which only spans 3:08 minutes. Quoting the booklet: "The present Entr'acte, reconstructed by Patrick Russ, comprises much of Dimitri Tiomkin's main thematic material for the film – including the prelude music, a flirting with the love theme, a motif for the buggy ride across the prairie, a vulgar and brassy bar room entertainment, a dainty waltz for some frolicsome foals, an expansive melody extolling the rolling Texas plains, and rounding to the impassioned scoring of the lovers' final fatal meeting where they gun each other down in an unholy mingling of desire and hatred."
CD2 opens with music for Tiomkin's scores for 'Epics'. A majestic organ swell is the imposing opening of the 'Title Music/Overture' for The Fall of the Roman Empire. Just as powerful is the stately music with magnificent brass writing for the film's 'Pax Romana' sequence as Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius reviews a procession of representatives from across the Roman Empire. Incidentally there are sturdy performances of these two tracks by the Royal College of Music Orchestra conducted by David Willcocks on Citadel STC 77128. In between, is the sweetly lyrical version of the main theme 'The Fall of Love.' The exotic colourfully evocative 'Overture' to 55 Days at Peking has the same sort of pomp and excitement. Most welcome is music from Tiomkin's memorable score for Land of the Pharaohs – a terrific march for the triumphal return of the Pharaoh Cheops from his conquests, with brilliantly strident, almost vulgar brass writing. In quite another mood, Tiomkin's music for The Magnificent Showman captures all the glamour and excitement of 'Circus World'.
From Tiomkin's scores for Alfred Hitchcock we have the lovely romantic waltz theme and the sheer terror of the attempted murder music from Dial M for Murder. A gripping performance this; the tension mounting as the clock ticks away the minutes to the 'telephone-cued slaying'. Strangers on A Train drew another fabulous score from Tiomkin – that marvellous 'Main Theme' combining menacing power and vulnerability, the scherzo-like music for the character-vignettes as the camera shows the legs of the passengers approaching the train and of course the tense music that cuts between the scenes of Farley Granger's tennis match and the mad Robert Walker intent on planting the incriminating evidence.
'Drama and High Adventure' music includes Tiomkin's lusty Giant score for the wide Texan open spaces and the love theme for that film plus the insolent jaunty theme for the James Dean character Jett Rink. The High and the Mighty, an airline soap style drama inspired Tiomkin to write another big imposing tune, a melody that was far better than the film and which enjoyed some popularity when it was given lyrics. Wild is the Wind drew another gorgeous ballad tune.
CD2 ends with a 9½-minute suite from Tiomkin's highly popular score for the war-time high adventure film, The Guns of Navarone. The suite includes the tremendously exciting Navarone theme, the more mellow melody 'Yassu' a musical tribute to the Greek islanders whose resistance to the Nazi invaders is suitably recognised, and the victorious strains of 'The British Grenadiers' and 'Rule Britannia'.
CD3 continues the 'Drama and High Adventure' scores and begins with Tiomkin's exhilarating pastiche of 17th century baroque music styles for Cyrano de Bergerac, commencing with a stately march. Then more unfamiliar territory, Tiomkin's abrasive music for The Well. This uncompromisingly dark, even brutal score was for a drama about a little black girl who falls into a forgotten well and the consequent racial tensions which arise. The music has a final thread of nobility that suggests a happy resolution. Next heart-ease with that favourite fond Friendly Persuasion theme; and then, as antidote to all that sweetness, the sleazy, jazzy saxophone-led music for Town Without Pity, about four American soldiers accused of rape and set in immediate post-World War II Germany. Tiomkin's warmly sentimental waltz theme was a highlight of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. Another unusual and valuable track, and to the best of my knowledge, never before recorded, is Tiomkin's inspired music for Tarzan And The Mermaids (1948). This exotic music has a striking grandeur as befits the Mexican locations; there is glittering river music and thrilling material that speaks of jungle high adventure. Turning to science fiction, Tiomkin's eerie, edgy score for The Thing From Another World included theremin, flurrying flutes (very suggestive of Arctic winds), dual pianos and harps, multiple saxophones a large percussion section, but no strings. The City of Prague Symphony Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus brilliantly capture the shrill, chill of this 1951 horror.
Concluding CD 3 is another extended suite. This time, some 25 minutes of Tiomkin's music for The Alamo. Beginning with the 'Overture/Prologue' the suite includes the popular memorable melody, 'The Green Leaves of Summer', and the raucus 'Here's to the Ladies'. The second track is devoted to the cheery raunchy 'Davy Crockett theme', then there is the lovely sentimental a cappella choral lullaby 'Tennessee Babe.' Bugle calls summon 'The Battle of the Alamo' with Tiomkin's music exploding across the sound stage in a 9-minute tour-de-force. Choral and orchestral versions of 'The Green Leaves of Summer' and the 'Finale' – a hymn to the heroes of The Alamo concludes the disc.
I will pass more quickly over CD4, the bonus disc, because the contents are too familiar for me to make any in-depth comment. I think it is well-known now that Silva record the orchestra and choir separately (in Prague and London) and then patch them together in 'post-production'. Normally this works reasonably well but Tiomkin's tortuous scores with their complex fluctuating time signatures and intricate cross-rhythms must pose difficulties, not least for the voices. I mention this for the choir sounds quite uncomfortable in places, notably sounding flattish in 'Thee I Love' from Friendly Persuasion. The High and Mighty lyrics are cringe-worthy - no wonder they were cruelly parodied - and the choir is nearly defeated by Tiomkin's difficult writing. The Night Passage song is again taken at too brisk a pace so that its sentiment and beauty is diminished. I referred above to the Unicorn Kanchana recording of Tiomkin's western scores; this featured much more polished vocals for the Rio Bravo tracks. But I have singled out the worst tracks for criticism; for the most part the remainder range from the perfectly satisfactory to the good like the brash gutsy 'This Then Is Texas' from Giant, the Rawhide song to the jolly muscularity of 'The Ballad of the War Wagon' and the splendid songs from The Wild Wild West.
A big feast for lovers of Dimitri Tiomkin's muscular western, epic and thriller scores and tenderly romantic songs. Recommended.