June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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Charlie Chaplin The Essential Film Music Collection  
Music composed by Charlie Chaplin and Carl Davis
Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring The Wihan Quartet
Orchestrated and conducted by Carl Davis
Produced by James Fitzpatrick
  Available on Silva Screen (SILCD1198)
Running Times: 74:48, 76:51
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Without any doubt Charles Chaplin was an icon in the history of Hollywood and not just about acting, directing, and forming studios such as United Artists.  The man could compose music and did for both silent and sound films, many of which are included on the first CD of this Silva set.  The second CD is composed for a series of silent films Charlie did for the Mutual Film Company in 1916-1917 by Carl Davis the conductor of both CD's.  Reading between the lines of the liner notes gives you the funny feeling that this has become an long-term passion for Carl and some of it has come to a conclusion with this CD, but we are really not finished yet with what he has in store for us.  I suspect the same goes for producer James Fitzpatrick too.

The first CD begins with (Part 1) of The Reel Chaplin, a symphonic adventure of (6) of his films arranged and orchestrated into a compilation including Woman of Paris and the Oscar winning Limelight.  The style of much of his music is, as Chaplin put it so aptly, "elegant and romantic". The sections of the suite are bridged very well so the songs flow from one to another.  The tempo is slow and steady and while the adjective schmaltzy comes to mind, don't consider that a negative because of the kind of music that we are dealing with. Above all, keep in mind the word elegant.  It’s the kind of thing you’d hear being performed at a Summer Pops concert.

The last selection on the CD 1 is also titled The Reel Chaplin, which includes a cool sounding rag, and his highly popular song "Smile".  James Fitzpatrick the producer of the compilation explained to me that The Reel Chaplin could be performed as one long suite, or as it is done on the CD.  He felt, what better way to begin and end the CD and I tend to agree with him.  And in between the two there is nearly an hour of all manner of music from Mr. Chaplin.  There is a waltz, a tango, a march, the strains of a wonderful mandolin in ‘Mandolin Serenade’ performed by none other than the mastering expert Gareth Williams.  But always keep in mind the word elegant.  Even the ‘Green Lantern Rag’ is performed in a slightly restrained fashion, never taking away from the film. (As Chaplin put it - far better than I could- "it must be never more than the voice of that camera.")  Overall the melodies are quite satisfying, easy to digest and listen to or just to have the stereo on in the background.

The second CD is a completely different experience!  As explained earlier, this is a true passion of Mr. Davis as he began this project for the love of it in 1992!  As all of these films were in the 23-25 length of time frame the CD contains 12 miniature suites with an average length of 6 minutes.  In other words, more than enough time for you to get an idea of the overall kind of story and character being portrayed.  This to me sounds a lot more like the kind of music that represents a Charlie Chaplin film!  Yes it is still restrained (and keep in mind the word elegant), not slapstick, nor comedy, or anything a lesser dramatist would think up.  The overall size of the orchestra is not only considerably smaller, only 16 pieces average size, and many of the string performances are by the acclaimed Wihan Quartet.  While there are no liner notes on who performs what, you can hear bass, trombone, trumpet, flute, clarinet, piano and percussion.  The trombone has a really nice sound and he seems to enjoy playing this music!  My hope someday will be to see this collection of films along with the complete score Carl did for each of these pictures, as it would add so much to the overall experience.

While there is no mention in the liner notes, this recording was done in May 2005.  Listening to this recording, you will hear a warmer than normal sound.  This older style of music greatly benefits from the vintage valve compression rom from the 1950s.  Another technique used by Gareth Williams in the mastering was to convert it from digital to analogue to achieve a warmer sound, completely the opposite of what is usually done.  This is a good recording and Carl Davis, Gareth Williams, and James Fitzpatrick are to be commended for their hard work.  Recommended.

[Note: Anyone who has read my reviews in the past will know that photography is many times a sore point to me and alas this release is no exception.  While the color poster, Chaplin conducting ‘Mandolin Serenade’ is fine, why not remove the stool on the left side of the photograph of Charles playing?  Very distracting in an otherwise well lit good black and white photo.  There is a nice shot of Chaplin and Meredith Willson at the podium with an ashtray that could have been easily removed from the shot.  Again distracting.  However, having said that the litho style on the cover with the red carnation is good.]

Thomas Kiefner

Rating: 3.5

Michael McLennan adds:-

While I doubt I could listen to both CDs in a row, this is certainly an important collection of recordings for the collector seriously interested in the history of film and film music. To that end I would have appreciated a bit more detail in the notes on each film, and the role of music in it. Which is not to say that the existing notes aren’t good – they are – simply that for the sake of a general sense of Chaplin’s career we lose sight of what each film’s about and how the excellent music relates to that. But this is a minor quibble – otherwise another ‘essential’ in Silva’s collection.

Michael McLennan


Track Listing:

Disc/Cassette 2:
1.   The Reel Chaplin - A Symphonic Adventure (Part 1) (12:45)
2.   The Kid (08:45)
3.   Pay Day (04:21)
4.   The Gold Rush (04:22)
5.   The Circus (06:15)
6.   City Lights (05:15)
7.   Modern Times (03:51)
8.   The Great Dictator (05:39)
9.   Monsieur Verdoux - Paris Boulevard (02:15)
10.   Monsieur Verdoux - Bitter Tango (02:51)
11.   A King in New York - Mandolin Serenade (03:47)
12.   A King in New York - Weeping Willow (01:48)
13.   A Countess from Hong Kong (06:40)
14.   The Reel Chaplin - A Symphonic Adventure (Part 2) (06:07)

Disc/Cassette 2:
1.   The Floorwalker (03:31)
2.   The Fireman (04:53)
3.   The Vagabond (05:42)
4.   One A.M. (06:27)
5.   The Count (03:37)
6.   The Pawnshop (08:27)
7.   Behind the Screen (06:29)
8.   The Rink (07:47)
9.   Easy Street (06:52)
10.   The Cure (07:29)
11.   The Immigrant (08:56)
12.   The Adventurer (06:34)

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