June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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The High and the Mighty: A Century of Flight  
Music composed by Dimitri Tiomkin, Ron Goodwin, & Various Artists
Performed by London Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Richard Kaufman
Produced by Paul Stilwell and Robert Townsend
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6704)
Running Time: 66:17

This album is a fantastic celebration of mankind’s remarkable conquest of aviation in the medium of cinema. It also marks Varese Sarabande’s dazzling return to the world of re-recordings after the completion of their highly acclaimed Classic Film Music series.

On a first glance this a typical film music compilation of both classic and contemporary movie themes associated with flight and the fantastic. Some titles are actual cues, and others are concert arrangements that include several cues joined in a suite like fashion. The themes have been heard before, but the dynamic tour de force performance of the musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of ace conductor Richard Kaufman makes this album a must have.

These are all new digital recordings performed in wonderful close-miked technique that is leap years ahead of the previous Varese classic re-recordings sound. The sound is warmer and avoids the concert hall acoustics for which early Varese re-recordings were endlessly criticized for. (Just compare the  ‘Flying Over Africa’ cue from Out of Africa (1985) with the Varese’s own complete re-recording of the full score and you will notice the difference.)

The performances deliver a certain energy and due reverence for the subject and it shows. A thunderous performance of themes from Dimitri Tiomkin’s The High and The Mighty (1954) is a good start for the album. Here Tiomkin’s stirring themes work their evocative charm. Two cues from Williams Walton’s Spitfire (1942, aka The First and the Few) are featured but, and the energetic performance of the ‘Fugue’ is easily the highlight of the album. Swirling strings and busy arpeggios contrasted with ascending and descending notes give a unique character to the winged fighter. A faithful performance of John Williams classic ‘Flying’ cue from  E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is done with finesse but somewhat lacking the dexterity that Williams has already perfected in his various re-recordings on Sony Classical and Philips label cds.

Those Magnificent Men In their Flying Machines (1965) and The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) lighten the program a little. ‘Main Title’ from the thrilling 633 Squadron (1964) gives the ensemble cast of brass and percussion a workout. It’s a powerful performance and the LSO shines. Pseudo romantic themes from Bruce Broughton’s The Boy Who Could Fly (1986) and aerial romanticism in Out of Africa follow – both breath-taking compositions. The Oscar award winning Africa cue omits the choral section, the orchestra-only rendition of the music almost hymnal in feel.

One of the most enjoyable suites is Elmer Bernstein’s Airplane! (1980). The film parodies the earlier plane and airport scenes from many other films, and the composer joins the fun with a basketful of musical parodies. From the rhythmic ostinati percussion to the over-the-top choral parts, everything is done in ship shape fashion.

Representing space flight is Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek-The Motion Picture (1979). Alexander Courage’s opening fanfare from the TV series is presented in a much faster tempo before segueing to Goldsmith’s music in a new arrangement of the end title music. (I do wish they’d used the cue ‘The Enterprise’ from the same score instead though.)  Another thrilling theme is the march from Craig Safan’s The Last Starfighter (1984), the stout aggressive performance recalling the charms of the 1980s score. A brief suite from Lee Holderige’s The Tuskegee Airmen (1995) is also represented. The album concludes with an especially commissioned composition from composer Brian Shyer, ‘A Century Of Flight’. A beautiful cue that captures the exhilaration and serenity of flight in swirling strings and crashing brass.

The program covers a wide array of genres and composers from different eras. The cues are compiled in such a way that they offer a gratifying and cohesive listening experience, making this album a must have.  Beautiful artwork by frequent Varese collaborator Matthew Joseph Peak adorns both front and back covers. Detailed liner notes on each film and composer make for an enjoyable read.

I certainly hope there will be more cds of this sort from Varese. There were many titles that were left out from the series, some of the obligatory choices such as The Blue Max, Superman, The Aviator, Space Camp, Supergirl, Empire of The Sun, Explorers, The Terminal and Air Force One would have been nice. But lets hope there will be a second volume to lead the series on a new frontier again.

Amer Zahid

Rating: 4

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