June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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The Ten Commandments  
Music composed, produced, and conducted by Randy Edelman
Performed by Unnamed soloists and Synthesists
  Available on Varčse Sarabande (VSD-6714)
Running Time: 49:56
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • Shanghai Noon
  • XXX
  • Since time immemorial, composers of all persuasions have been inspired by biblical stories to write some truly memorable and exciting music.  Make a list of the great composers, chances are, they’ll be indebted to the Bible for some of their most famous works… Mahler, Bach, Randy Edelman… yes, all the greats.  Film composers are certainly included – one thinks of classic film scores such as Alfred Newman’s The Robe, Miklós Rózsa’s Ben-Hur and Elmer Bernstein’s The Ten Commandments – scores which would appear on many people’s lists of favourites.  The Ten Commandments has now been turned into a television miniseries – instead of Cecil B. DeMille, it gets Robert Dornhelm (who previously directed the TV remake of Spartacus – he must have a thing for thankless tasks) and instead of Bernstein, in comes Edelman.

    Randy Edelman was an extremely busy composer during the 1990s, working on numerous high-profile films, with his very slight, synth-heavy music proving reasonably popular with audiences of films like Dragonheart and Gettysburg, but he rather seems to have gone out of fashion in recent times, with his only score of the past couple of years being the unremarkable Son of the Mask.  He seems a strange choice to pick for The Ten Commandments, with nothing standing out in his back catalogue to mark him as an obvious candidate – indeed, his music is usually so simplistic in construction and, dare I say, bland, it is a struggle to see what attracted the miniseries’ producers to him – and, sad to say, those doubts are borne out when listening to the CD album from Varčse Sarabande.

    The most striking feature is the reliance on dreadful synthesisers to replace the orchestra for large swathes of the album – there are certainly real instruments here, but sadly on frequent occasions it is a synthetic string section carrying the melody – and more sadly still, it sounds like a synthetic string section performed on a keyboard almost as old as Moses himself.  (Edelman must never have heard the less well-known Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not use a cheap keyboard to try to recreate the sounds of an orchestra.)  I appreciate that this may well have been necessary because of budgetary constraints, but it’s rare (and more than a little dispiriting) to hear such cheap-sounding synthetic orchestra-replacement in a 2006 score, even for television.

    There are certainly some pretty melodies here, which appeal on some sort of base level – Edelman has certainly always been a capable tunesmith – but the music only really works when the composer strips it down to the bare minimum, a violin solo here or a wordless female vocal there – these moments are genuinely touching, but sadly few and far between.  In the action music, Edelman attempts to recreate the sound of popular scores like The Passion of the Christ and Gladiator, with the synthesised drumbeats and duduk, but even these don’t work particularly well.  The more impassioned parts of the score – such as ‘The Promised Land’, which is trying desperately to sound reverential and indeed inspirational – would probably sound quite good if only they were performed by an orchestra instead of a keyboard.

    Sadly, Edelman’s The Ten Commandments suffers by comparison with virtually everything – Bernstein’s exceptional score for the old movie, other composers’ efforts on biblical movies over the years, and even modern-day takes on similar subjects.  There’s a core of nice material here, and if only the synths had been replaced by an orchestra it would sound ten times better, but all things considered, it’s a disappointment.

    James Southall

    Rating: 2

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