June 2006 Film Music CD Reviews

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

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True Grit: Elmer Bernstein conducts his classic scores for the films of John Wayne  
Music composed, produced, orchestrated, and conducted by Elmer Bernstein
Performed by Utah Symphony Orchestra
  Available on Varese Sarabande (VSD-6726)
Running Time: 77:58
Amazon UK   Amazon US

See also:

  • The Magnificent Seven
  • The Commancheros
  • The Big Jake
  • Not to be confused with a the very recent re-recording of Elmer Bernstein’s seminal western epic True Grit released on Tadlow Music [Ed: to be reviewed in our next update], this is in fact a straight re-issue of two albums from the 1980s, conducted by Mr. Bernstein himself in spectacular digital sound with the Utah Symphony Orchestra featuring his classic music for the later westerns of John Wayne. The original releases long being out of print, Varese Sarabande brings them to a new generation of collectors with the two thirty-five minute albums combined and remastered on a single disc.

    Though the career of Elmer Bernstein embraced all genres – from the sensitive drama of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Age of Innocence to comedies like Airplane and Ghostbusters – the genre that typifies him the most is probably the western. Known to most collectors, his score for The Magnificent Seven was the equivalent of John Williams’ Star Wars for the western genre. But there is a rich vein of western scores that followed this initial triumph, many of them for the films of John Wayne – True Grit, The Commancheros, The Shootist, The Big Jake, and Cahill – all of them as exciting and rambunctious as the score for the seminal John Sturges film. Many of the re-recordings collected on this new release stand as the definitive performances of these scores. If you're looking for a introduction to the work of one of best film composers, or simply a collection of classic Western music, you'll find it here, superbly performed and recorded. This is classic film music. They just don’t write ’em like this anymore!

    Here in tribute to John Wayne, Bernstein has himself assembled music from five of his scores for John Wayne westerns, including The Duke’s final motion picture- The Shootist.  It's fun to hear how well the composer handled the type-casting situation he was encountered with - these western themes all have a distinct Bernstein sound, yet they are all different and with their own merits. The album begins with a rip roaring classic western music from The Commancheros. While not far from The Magnificent Seven, Bernstein’s music is quite different in its musical vocabulary and more refined. The rest of the score surges with Bernstein's indelible rhythms and lyrical touch, from reflective moments to cascading Indian attacks. There’s a strong Mexicana flavor to the music, and there are catchy themes aplenty: some rigorous and exciting action music; some rambunctious lighthearted music; some sweeping romance.

    The same is translated in grander scale for True Grit -a real John Wayne mega-hit of its time. There are two major themes, both catchy, both memorable. The driving, sweeping, Coplandesque piece played on trumpet which also crops up frequently will bring a smile to the face of any genre fan, perhaps its best arrangement is in the cue ‘Pony Mine and Papas Things’. For The Shootist, Bernstein introduces a staccato-based fanfare, intense and grim. Gone are the panoramic views of the western hills and galloping scherzos. Sadly the film’s story featured a central character dying of cancer foreshadowed Wayne’s own death from cancer.

    Short suites from Cahill: United States Marshal and Big Jake round out the album. Production values on this release are top notch. The detailed notes by Jerry McCulley and various interview quotes with Bernstein (reminiscing on his days with Wayne) are a wonderful read. Sound quality is amazing and very much in vein with closed-miked techniques. Make no mistake about it, this is pure vintage western music. It’s Bernstein himself who has the real “Grit” here. This one begs for repeat on auto play for a number of times. Excellent!

    Amer Zahid

    Rating: 4.5

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