Whoever, at Silva Screen Records, dreamt up this latest compilation must have had their tongue firmly in cheek to have conceived such a wry title as ‘Epics – The History of the World According toHollywood’. Sadly, as each successive Silva Screen compilation appears, the booklets seem to become skimpier and skimpier. This latest 4 CD box set has only 8 pages of the most basic information – too little for the newcomer or for those with short memories.
From the four CDs I have selected just a few tracks that impressed me - to cover all 56 would be too tedious.
The first CD begins in style with spectacular thunderous, volcanic sound effects before Mario Nascimbene’s booming music for One Million Years BC redolent of the heavy tread of gigantic dinosaurs and the vulnerability of early man. For me the most memorable tracks on CD1 are: Bernstein’s towering The Ten Commandments score representing all the magnificence and piety of so manyHollywoodbiblical scores; I pass over the anachronistic posturing of Vangelis music for Alexander, enough to drive me out of the theatre, to the seldom recorded splendour of Manos Hadjidakis’s The 300 Spartans. Franz Waxman’s equally less-well-known music for Demetrius and the Gladiators although second draw Waxman, is impressive enough to be a welcome addition. Troy (2004) represented something of a return to form by James Horner with its florid fanfares and swagger. But above all I enjoyed John Scott’s sensual, impressionistic music for Anthony and Cleopatra.
From CD2, I was impressed from the Biblical Epics’ section by: Waxman’s seldom recorded lustrous The Silver Chalice Prelude, and John Debney’s music for The Passion of Christ one of the few really impressive scores of recent years with its brash heavy chords, redolent of the brutality of Rome, trying to crush the choral Kyrie. On that same CD there is also Jerome Morross’s splendid Prelude to The War Lord combining nobility and heroism and a strong enduring faith. It is interesting to compare Silva’s versions of Rózsa’s Ben-Hur music with the excellent new Telarc release (CD-80631) of the Three Rózsa Choral Suites – Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis and King of Kings. Kunzel’s Telarc readings are more polished, Kenneth Alwyn’s Silva ‘Charioteers’ are more lusty, the ‘Love Theme’ rather more darkly shaded.
CD3 kicks off with Basil Poledouris’s powerful Flesh and Blood (1985) Prelude a sort of upbeat Holst Mars with some tremendous brass chorales. Continuing the ‘Medieval Europe’ theme on this CD there is the choral and orchestral Main Title music from The Last Valley, one of John Barry’s most impressive scores. Barry’s other very impressive choral and orchestral medieval score for The Lion in Winter is also represented on this CD. Nic Raine makes a good fist of Franz Waxman’s thrilling music for Prince Valiant and Waxman’s exciting crescendo that is ‘The Ride to Dubno’ from Taras Bulba. Raine also conducts with style and muscle, the four ‘Pirates and Swashbucklers’ selections, all firm favourites: Korngold’s The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, Adinsell’s rollicking The Crimson Pirate, and Klaus Badelt’s amusing baroque-style music for Pirates of the Caribbean. From the last section, ‘Kings and Queens’ it is interesting to compare Walton’s music with that of the no-less-exciting and compelling music of Patrick Doyle for the two films of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The CD4 selections that impressed me most were: Jerry Goldsmith’s tempestuous music for First Knight scored for large orchestra and chorus (reminiscent of Goldsmith’s The Omen material); Bronislau Kaper’s salty sweeping Overture for the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty; Nic Raine’s thrilling readings of Alfred Newman’s wonderful Captain from Castille march and Max Steiner’s equally memorable march from The Charge of the Light Brigade; and, of course, Jarre’s wonderfully evocative music for Lawrence of Arabia one of Silva Screen’s earliest successes sounding terrific in this new reissue.
Generally these are good performances in clear bright sound. As usual with these Silva Screen, I suggest that punters check the contents of these 4 CDs carefully for duplications of material already in their collections.
Mark Hockley adds:
There is little to add to Ian’s remarks, except perhaps to voice my own favourites from this impressive, always rewarding collection. For myself, while Alfred Newman’s ‘Main Title’ from The Robe is somewhat unremarkable, his ‘Love Theme’ is a wonderfully elegiac, soulful piece that is timelessly beautiful. In fact, if Newman’s romantic work had been coupled with Franz Waxman’s stirring, bold ‘Main Theme’ from the sequel to The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, the score would, I’m sure, be considered one of the master works. Elsewhere, John Debney’s magnificent music from the truly wonderful The Passion of Christ is a standout and I would be seriously neglectful if I didn’t at least briefly mention the exceptional selection of work by Miklos Rozsa on offer here, most notably the unforgettable Quo Vadis and the Oscar winning Ben Hur. I could go on and on in fact, as there are numerous pleasures to savour and I’ll resist the impulse, save for one last plaudit for Alfred Newman’s The Greatest Story Ever Told, which features a piece notoriously replaced in the film itself. Listen and lament its loss.
This would make a terrific purchase for the novice collector, but is hugely enjoyable even for those who already own many of the original soundtracks. I know I’ll be listening to it for some time to come.