Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers:
December 2005 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings/ December/

EDITOR'S CHOICE December 2005


The Guns of Navarone  
Music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin
Conducted by Nic Raine
The City of Prague Philharmonic & Crouch End Festival Chorus
(album also includes a suite from The Sundowners conducted by James Fitzpatrick)
  Available on Tadlow Music 001
Running Time: 79:12
Amazon US

Coming towards the end of a film career spanning 40 years and almost 200 films, the score for The Guns of Navarone (1961) stands as one of composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s finest achievements. And that’s from a catalogue including Lost Horizon, It’s A Wonderful Life, Duel in The Sun, Red River, Portrait of Jennie, High Noon, Giant, The Alamo, 55 Days At Peking and The Fall of the Roman Empire, to name just a few handful of the classics Tiomkin scored.

Released just two months after The Secret Ways, The Guns of Navarone arrived in cinemas in June 1961, the second film to be adapted from a novel by Alistair MacLean. Many more would follow, including the blockbusting adventure epics Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra (both 1968). The story of a secret British espionage mission to sabotage two giant German guns on the Greek island of Navarone, the film fitted into both the vogue of war epics – screenwriter/producer Carl Foreman has written the hit David Lean The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) (which also featured a group of saboteurs on a mission to destroy a key military structure) – and the then embryonic espionage genre, soon to be exemplified by the James Bond movies, and to which genre MacLean himself would greatly contribute.

As David Wishart’s excellent and extensive booklet notes point out, Tiomkin was far from a random choice for musical duties, having previously scored numerous films which Foreman had scripted, including Know Your Enemy (1945), Champion (1949), Home of the Brave (1949), The Men (1950), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) and High Noon (1952). The decade-long break in the collaboration between composer and writer was almost entirely the result of Foreman’s blacklisting for supposed communist sympathies.

This current album, designated a Special Limited Collector’s Edition, is pegged at 3000 copies and marks the first release from Tadlow Music, a spin-off from Silva Screen. Indeed, in all other respects than being a limited edition and having more detailed booklet notes than usual this could be a Silva Screen album. It is produced by the regular Silva Screen team, and even offers the usual Silva Screen bonus of HDCD and Dolby Surround encoding. That said, I don’t have the technology available to test the album using HDCD, and found that I preferred the regular stereo presentation to using Dolby Surround. However, it must be noted that the regular stereo sound is superlative. The recording uses a wide stereo spread and a relatively dry studio acoustic in the attempt to avoid the “classical” sound many film music fans object to, creating instead the impression of a “typical vintage film soundstage with the sound and dynamics of a modern digital recording.” The result is a fantastically detailed and bold recording, with the music in the more powerful action orientated sequences having a simply overwhelming sound. Yet clarity and instrumental detail is never sacrificed for a moment. This is a stunning recording, though doubtless there will be plenty of pedantic nit-pickers finding fault and detailing at insane length how every single note should have been recorded.

Divided into 17 tracks, the album contains Tiomkin’s complete score for The Guns of Navarone (plus some bonus material). Much of this music is heard here by the public for the first time, as considerable parts of the score were not used in the finished film, particularly most of the 10 minute sequence titled here ‘Sea Scene and Storm’ and much of the love music titled ‘Anna’. Although some music barely heard in the film did make it to the original soundtrack LP much other music was omitted for reasons of playing time. Thus this is the first time the complete score has been available for general appreciation. And what a strong work it is, lavishly scored for an expanded orchestra including six percussionists, two grand pianos, extra brass and woodwinds, mandolins and guitars (acoustic and electric).

Great care has been taken to stick to the original tempos, with the one exception of the exit music song version of ‘The Legend of Navarone’, which is taken a little more slowly than in the film to bring out the full nuances of the scoring.

As to be expected from both the composer and the subject matter, this is rousing, exciting action adventure music filled with heroics, romance, suspense and daring-do. There is a strong (British) patriotic flavour enhanced by occasional quotations of ‘Rule Britannia’, and Greek colours evoked by the mandolin and guitar. Yet dominating all is Tiomkin’s thrilling march main theme, surely the most memorable melody the composer ever penned. It remains alongside such tunes as 633 Squadron, The Longest Day and The Great Escape as one of the great war movie tunes.

Highlights are too many to detail, the whole score being filled with an exhilarating sense of adventure. Tiomkin makes the most of his wide orchestral palette, with some very pungent brass writing and real character coming from tuned percussion and the twin pianos, featured in almost concerto style during the more aggressive action passages. To the conflict and suspense ‘Anna’ is a welcome romantic interlude, while ‘Yassu’ (a Greek word meaning ‘yes’ or ‘greetings’) made for attractive Greek flavoured intermission music, and was reprised as post credits music, the place on the disc the music occupies here. (There is a bonus vocal version of the piece, and the melody is also interwoven into the closing song ‘The Legend of Navarone’, a rich finale which happily avoids the sentimentality which marred some of the composer’s hit movie songs. The choir is full voiced and enthusiastic, and every word can clearly be heard. The orchestral performances are first-rate.

A very fine score which presumably all Tiomkin fans will have snapped up already, the disc also contains a 10 minute suite from the composer’s 1960 score for The Sundowners. Here Silva Screen’s James Fitzpatrick makes his conducting debut, and clearly is having a great time. Listeners will too with a disc which I can not recommend too highly. Indeed, Tiomkin is a composer who far more often than not leaves me utterly cold, but I would go so far as to say, if you are only to have on album by the composer in your collection there is no doubt that this is the one it should be.

Gary Dalkin


Ian Lace adds:-

Gary has really said it all. A wonderful disc and a must for all dedicated admirers of the work of Dimitri Tiomkin.

Ian Lace


Return to Reviews Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: