December 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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EDITOR'S CHOICE December 2006


True Grit  
Music composed by Elmer Bernstein
Performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, with Steve Lockwood (harmonica), Marek Zvolanek (solo trumpet) and Lucie Svehlova (solo violin)
Conducted by James Fitzpatrick (except ‘The Comancheros’, conducted by Nic Raine)
Orchestrations by Christopher Palmer, Leo Shuken, Jack Hayes and others
Produced by James Fitzpatrick
With bonus material including Music from the John Wayne films The Comancheros, The Sons of Katie Elder, Cahill: United States Marshall, Big Jake, and The Shootist.
  Available on Tadlow Music (Tadlow-002)
Running Time: 66:00

See also:

  • The Guns of Navarone
  • True Grit: Elmer Bernstein conducts his music for the films of John Wayne
  • Some twenty-one minutes  - almost a third of this splendid, generous album - are devoted to bonus tracks covering five extra, John Wayne-Elmer Bernstein,western movie scores.

    I mean to cast no aspersion on the great ‘Duke’s’ western ‘oaters’ when I observe that many of the plots tread just as familiar and similar territory as his horses covered. And I mean no disparagement when I suggest that Bernstein’s scores, also habitually revisit the same soundscapes: the bucolic, sentimental, Mexicana and those equestrian rhythms. I hastily add, however, that the master adds wonderful colourful harmonies and orchestrations that always catch the ear.

    Take those equestrian rhythms.  I rather think Elmer Bernstein must have spent many hours studying the movement of horses, the trotting, cantering, galloping; the intricate variable cross rhythms of those hooves are captured so frequently in all his western scores. You hear them through the True Grit score; in the second track, for instance, ‘A Dastardly Deed’ where unusually bass piano chords are used most evocatively (and you smile as Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn falls from his horse in an alcoholic haze in the track ‘Ruffled Rooster’). Then in the quirky, yet tense, The Shootist ‘Opening Sequence’ you are immediately arrested by jingling spurs, irregular trotting rhythms and witty neighing interjections. And, interestingly, in the final bonus track Bernstein, cunningly and ironically suggests that the emerging motor technology seen in Big Jake, is no match for the good old four-legged friend of the cowboy.

    Of course Elmer Bernstein will be forever remembered for the thrilling score he penned for The Magnificent Seven. Its swagger is sustained through all these scores together with, in many instances (especially in The Sons of Katie Elde ) of those appealing Mexican rhythms and syncopations.

    The opening track of the True Grit score synthesises all these elements opening with the main theme pronounced in a relaxed manner - amiable ambling material with a jazz –inflected solo trumpet, soon joined by other trumpets in with pastoral evocations broadening later to suggest broad western vistas. Mattie’s feisty yet essentially feminine character is finely drawn and I was fascinated to note almost Vaughan-Williams like material in ‘Bouncing into Danger’/’Over Bald Mountain’ and elsewhere.

    Highly recommended to all Elmer Bernstein admirers

    Ian Lace

    Rating: 4.5

    Michael McLennan adds:-

    I was never familiar with much of this score beyond the main theme, but to hear Bernstein’s bucolic western style brought to life in such a clean recording is truly a treat. The action material of ‘Preparation Dugout / Dugout Stakeout / Shots Galore’ in particular stood out to me – it was unmistakeably Bernstein, epic and rambunctious, but also unmistakably recent. And for a moment I thought I’d heard a fragment of the as-yet-unreleased score Bernstein wrote for Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. (We can hope!)

    What with Film Score Monthly’s recent release of the ‘Elmer Bernstein Collection’, together with a new recording of Kings of the Sun (with much of the same team that worked on this release, including Fitzpatrick), it truly is a great time for Bernstein collectors.

    Sensational. Kudos to James Fitzpatrick.

    Michael McLennan


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