Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
December 1999 Film Music CD
COMPETITION - WIN a CD
Return to the December Index with thumbnails Part 1
Alan SILVESTRI Back to the Future - The Trilogy John Debney conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5950
The trilogy, still very successful commercially speaking, had a consistency of style and participant remarkable in Hollywood. All three films were directed by Robert Zemeckis, all starred Michael J Fox (in a role that 'made' him as a big-fee actor), Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson.
The music was provided by a single composer, Alan Silvestri. Silvestri's approach is a soup in which John Williams and Bernard Herrmann meet. The scores are big, rippling and symphonic. All three are featured here in re-recordings done by the Glasgow orchestra with a fluency borne of their many years association with re-recording film scores. John Debney is not just a sympathetic interpreter but one who gives the impression of believing in the music.
One justified criticism is that the scores tend to present a single theme (but MY what a theme it is) and keep coming back to it time after time! The theme is heroic, exuberant, breathy and redolent (if you know them and you should!) of the horn writing in Andrzej Panufnik's Heroic and Tragic Overtures.
Between the various re-appearances of the great theme you get some excellent mood music not short on excitement or flair and often suggestive of time's celestial meccano gone berserk. Kodaly and Copland are also influences.
Apart from slices of the three scores we also get 4:10 of the music used 'inside' the Universal Studios BTTF 'ride'.
Good documentation. Excellent package.
EDITORS RECOMMENDATION December 1999
Max STEINER She OST A BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY Film Music Archives Production FMA/MS104 [72:12]
Max Steiner's considerable score for She (1935) proves, once again, the genius of 'the granddaddy' of the pioneering film composers of Hollywood's Golden Age. This film was produced by Merian C. Cooper who had been at the helm of King Kong (also for RKO) and Steiner's score is not too dissimilar from his Kong music. [In passing it is interesting to compare Steiner's score with that of Dimitri Tiomkin for Lost Horizon another film with eternal youth as its theme but in a more benign context!]
The film itself was another early example of a Hollywood concept film where the special effects and fantasy-like character of the plot took precedence over the stars. Hence the employment of Randolph Scott (hardly of stardom's first league) in the role of the hero - very much like Bill Pullman (a wasted talent if ever there was one - so far!) in the more recent Independence Day.. [Scott, it will be remembered went on to fame as a western hero in a number of films for Warner Bros. and Columbia in the 1950s.] Briefly, the film is about a quest to the Arctic to find the Flame of Life. This is located in a mysterious lost world of Kor where She has achieved immortality in the flames but her jealousy and possessiveness is her undoing when she tries to claim the love of one of the adventurers, Leo Vincey (Randolph Scott).
Steiner's opening Main Title music immediately evokes the flame of life and grandly states She's theme that becomes progressively colder and more remote to suggest not only the 'agelessness' of her character but also her isolation from love. Cleverly the music fades into a clock-ticking motif as the opening scene shows the dying John Vincey awaiting the arrival of his nephew to whom he will relate the legend of the flame of life that prompts the polar expedition. A few evocative cues illustrate the journey before 'Campfire' introduces the sad but contrasted (i.e. contrasted with She's cold romantic theme) warm romantic theme for heroine Tanya. Another impressive cue and thrillingly vivid evocation is 'Avalanche.'
But it is the music for the entrance of She that really lingers in the memory. Quoting Ray Faiola, "Through a wall of volcanic steam, the shrouded figure of Hush-A-Mo-Tep (Helen Gahagan) appears while a wordless choir wails longingly the theme of She. "I am yesterday, I am Today and Tomorrow. I am Sorrow and Longing. I am Hope Unfulfilled. I am She. She who must be obeyed. I am I. " After gong strokes, the music becomes sensual and sinuously wavering; flickering and shimmering awesomely, mysteriously. This is Steiner at his best creating, so concisely, music that perfectly fits mood, scene and drama. In fact the music for this scene has since become something of a cliché, another tribute to Steiner's genius. The following cues take us through She's discovery of Leo (now wounded) and her conviction that he is the reincarnation of the lover, an earlier John Vincey, whom she had killed in a fit of jealous rage, centuries before, to the exciting rescue of Tanya who She had ordered to be sacrificed, and to She's final degeneration in the Flame. All the cues are beautifully wrought and indeed the whole score was once aptly described as Max Steiner's "Opera Without Arias." In the lovely 'Memory Pool/Cremation' cue, She's theme is allowed some warmth as she shows Leo the image of the man she loved centuries before. Again to quote Faiola: "This entire musical sequence is full of pleading, longing developments of She's love theme and the theme of Estrangement, interrupted by whirling cyclones of orchestration to overscore the immolation of John Vincey's corpse." The most substantial cue is "The Hall of the Kings" (12:55) for the sacrificial scene. The use of odd wind and percussion instruments for the priests' procession, wild pagan dances, huge gongs, dizzying string progressions and exciting suspense music add vivid colour. Mention must also be made of the music for the climactic scene where She reverts to a centuries old living mummy through passing through the Flame of life once too often. The music very vividly evokes the flames surging, twisting, licking about her but Steiner also has a great sympathy and pity for her too as she sinks and cries out: "I die, I die. Have pity on my shame "
James V. D'Arc, the curator of the BYU Film Music Archives and his team are to be congratulated on this fine work of reconstruction. Ray Faiola in his notes describes the painstaking job of restoring all the elements of this album from a variety of source materials (acetate and aluminum discs etc.) via multiple transfers to digital audio tape followed by laborious digital editing and assembly by Faiola. Again the presentation is excellent; the CD comes with a lavishly illustrated 32-page booklet with full details about the film and the score plus a track-by-track analysis by Faiola. An interesting essay by Janet Bradford explores the authorship of the score and reveals that orchestrator Berhard Kaun contributed significantly particularly to the early cues. The pictures include drawings and scenes from the film together with a multitude of posters and lobby cards. A bonus cue is a demonstration theme in which violinist Elsa Grosser accompanies Max Steiner (on piano) in an early version of the She/Flame theme. This composition is even weirder and more dissonant than the more accessible theme that Steiner eventually used in the film.
An excellent production and an absolutely essential acquisition for all Max Steiner fans.
Collection: Chinese Film Themes Volume 2 The City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Nic Raine and Mike Townend Silva/GUTS SS21066 [50:54]
Hard on the heels of Volume One, comes this second collection of famous Classic Chinese Film Themes. Some of the more general comments I made about the first disc in my review on Film Music on the Web also apply here. The disc is lavishly packaged with most appealing and evocative artwork, again contains 12 big and bold arrangements of oriental film themes, and again the composers aren't named in the English text. This is apparently the result of the packaging being produced by Silva Screen's partners in this production, Rock Records, with the Far East being the important target market for the release. Where I have been able to discover the composer's names I have done so, for which thanks must go to the Internet Movie Database.
There is some confusion between track titles and the films the music originates from. For example, on the back of the jewel case, track 2 is 'Remember These Days - Main Theme'. Unsurprisingly, I haven't heard of a film of that title, as the booklet notes that this is the theme from the John Woo action thriller A Better Tomorrow.
The album opens with the Main Theme from Once Upon A Time in China, an epic Kung Fu period adventure which Channel Four have panned and scanned into visual incoherence a couple of times in the last two years. This version of the theme (by Romeo Diaz and James Wong I), has terrific percussive dynamism and relentless drive, putting one in mind of the opening of a Paul Verhoven science fiction thriller, Robocop, Total Recall or Starship Troopers. Brisk and invigorating, and with enormous physical impact, it is a shame that there is nothing else in a similar vein on the rest of the album, which is overall in a more romantic mood.
'Remember These Days' from Ka-Fai Koo's score for A Better Tomorrow summons the essential melancholy at the heart of the best thrillers, and does so in a decidedly European format. There is a touch of John Barry, circa 1968, but equally those who have time for the beguiling melodies of Michel Legrand and Francois Lai should instantly fall in love with this theme. It is the very definition of bittersweet, and like the best of Legrand and Lai, simultaneously uplifting and haunting. Whatever is happening on screen, here is ill-starred romance, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
'Endless Embrace' from The Phantom Lover (composed by Chris Babida) has a nostalgic warmth, but lacks the appeal of the opening tracks, while 'The Orphans of Asia' from A Home too Far has a light, lilting touch, opening with flute over strummed guitar before developing into a pastoral march.
Days of Being Wild has a 1920's dance feel with an attractive Chinese violin melody line, some jaunty pizzicato backing, and is apparently adapted from 'Jungle Drums' by E. Lecuona and John Cacavas (best known for scoring Airport '75 and '77, and episodes of Columbo and Kojak.) A Maiden's Diary is back in Francois Lai territory, complete with Parisian street accordion, and a strong romantic melody that just occasionally threatens to turn into Eric Clapton's 'Wonderful Tonight'. 'Is Anything to Sell?' from Papa, Can You Hear Me Singing? provides a startling moment when it turns into an orchestral rock anthem complete with soaring electric guitar. The Stadium Rock 'heroics' sound out of place in the context of the album, and whether or not they work will be very much a matter of taste. 'Take for Granted' from Jiping Zhao's score for Temptress Moon has a more complex and evocative structure (Zhao is one of the leading Chinese film composers, having scored, among others Farewell My Concubine, The Story of Qiu Ju, Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker, Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorghum) and here provides one of the strongest themes on the album. 'Chang-San's Song', actually an orchestral soft-rock anthem, from Father and Son is one of the less appealing tracks. Dreamer Lovers is a hard movie to pin down, there being at least three different Chinese films which have all been given that English title. Which one this is, I have no idea, but once more we are in attractive bittersweet Legrand / Lai land.
I was quite unable to trace Lu Bin Hua, but after a rather English opening it develops into what sounds like a noodle (rather than spaghetti) western, and as such is quite effective until the enthusiastic-but-not-really-very-good electric guitar player returns. The album ends with 'You Make Me Happy and Sad' from Eat Drink Man Woman. The music is by Mader, who has scored everything from a recent National Lampoon TV movie to the Finish Darkness in Tallinn, as well as the hit Taiwanese food flick which brought director Ang Lee to his Sense and Sensibility and hence the current Ride With the Devil. The tune is yet another big anthem, but it doesn't stay in the memory.
The stereo sound is superb, and the disc even offers the option of Dolby Surround and Pacific Microsonics HDCD (R) playback. However, while the original 57-minute disc offered high quality music from first to last, this shorter album is somewhat patchy. There are some very strong tracks, but others are no sooner heard than forgotten, while the lush romantic feel of Volume One is disappointingly lacking from too much of this follow-up. Meanwhile, the brief electric guitar interludes lack polish, failing to blend with the orchestra as well as they should. My advice is to buy Volume One first - it really is very good indeed - and if you like that, consider buying this. Just apply the law of diminishing returns which pertains to most sequels, and you won't be so disappointed.
Gary S. Dalkin
(I regret I cannot find an on-line supplier for either of the discs in this series. LM)
Alex NORTH Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD 5800
When Alex North first viewed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? he told director Mike Nichols the searing, dialogue-driven interior drama didn't need any music. But Nichols, making his film directorial debut, pushed North to reconsider, and the result was one of the veteran composer's most memorable scores. Rather than underscoring what is readily obvious on the screen and in Edward Albee's biting story of the go-for-the-jugular, no-holds barred relationship between George and Martha (Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor) -- which North might easily have done with a jazz-based score reminiscent, perhaps, of his "Streetcar Named Desire" or "The Sound and Fury" -- North wrote music that instead brought out a hidden, but vitally intrinsic element in the film: George and Martha's deeply dependent love for one another. North accomplishes this with a soft, quasi-baroque score featuring a 9-note main theme that must count among the loveliest he wrote in his40-year career.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf came at a transitional point for North in 1966 -- at the end of his run of traditional spectaculars that had included "Spartacus," "Cleopatra" and "The Agony and the Ecstasy." and just before his more eclectic, almost experimental scores that began with his infamously junked score for "2001: A Space Odyssey." "Virginia Woolf," by contrast, is both intimate and melodic. From the impressionistic strings and winds that open the picture, to the heart-rending offering of the main theme in duos for various strings heard in the closing "Sunday, Tomorrow - All Day," this is a North we don't often hear, and at the height of his powers.
The score was nominated for an Academy Award, as was the music that same year for The Sand Pebbles by a young Jerry Goldsmith (both lost -- to John Barry's "Born Free"). The professional and personal friendship that developed between North and Goldsmith was to last another 25 years, until North's death in 1991. For Goldsmith, re-recording some of his friend and mentor's greatest works has been a personal goal first realized with the release earlier this decade of the original, never-before heard, "2001" score and, more recently, four other North works -- Viva Zapata, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Agony and the Ecstasy and this. All are labors of love, and we are indebted to Goldsmith, as well as Varese Sarabande.
That said, a caveat remains to be noted -- simply, this latest "Virginia Woolf" lacks the warmth with which North infused the original, and which is notably lacking in the solid, but sterile, reading Goldsmith elicits from London's National Philharmonic. Listen, too, to how differently each utilizes the harpsichord in the Act II prologue music: North's makes a bold statement, while Goldsmith restricts his to mere furtive comments. Still, it's good to have the score on CD, and Goldsmith gives us more of North's music than was contained on the original LP.
Alfred NEWMAN How the West Was Won OST RHINO / Turner Classic R2 72458 (2 CDs: 69:31 / 66:26)
As well known as Alfred Newman was for his landmark film scores, his fame inside Hollywood was due also to his accomplishments in adapting and conducting other composers' works, frequently in film versions of popular Broadway musicals. Those talents were perhaps nowhere better combined than in How the West Was Won, a star-studded 1963 saga that Newman and associate Ken Darby turned into a virtual compendium of Americana music, songs and folktunes -- not to mention Newman's own original music.
How the West Was Won opens with a bold choral overture that seamlessly blends both original and adapted songs. One of the former, "Promised Land," later functions as a secondary theme within the three-part, main-title music -- arguably the most robust, heart-pounding theme that ever introduced a Western flick. (I still recall its visceral impact on me as a young teenager, sitting in the darkened Warners Cinerama Theater on Hollywood Boulevard one Saturday afternoon.) How disappointing it was, then, to discover that the original soundtrack LP contained only an edited version of the main title -- excluding the "Promised Land" theme which, when heard in accompaniment with Newman's main theme, constitutes a virtual second, this time orchestral, overture.
Among the many reasons to be thankful for this double-CD Rhino release of the full 110-minute soundtrack (plus another 23 minutes of outtakes and supplemental material) is the opportunity to hear the complete main title music, plus several other versions -- for example, as Jimmy Stewart does battle with the river pirates and, much later, as Robert Preston leads a wagon train across the prairie. But so rich is this score that Newman utilizes his main theme only sparingly. His other melodic creations include a sly, martial theme in low-register woodwinds for the nefarious river pirates; a jaunty theme for the card-sharp portrayed by Gregory Peck that opens with flutes and piccolos punctuated with bells and celesta; and a noble, searching theme ("Climb a Higher Mountain") featuring ascending strings and horns that speak for the higher ambitions of Zeb (George Peppard). Another high point of the score is "Cheyennes!" in which Newman uses broadly spaced chords in the contrabasses to introduce a frightening Indian attack on the wagon train.
Yet brilliant as Newman's original work is in How the West Was Won, his and Darby's adaptations rate equal praise. The sheer wealth of material here makes this CD worth having. What stands out in scene after scene is how well Newman makes this material work dramatically to support the film. Listen, for example, to the hushed male voices singing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" as Zeb skips excitedly down the road to join the Union Army in expectation of great adventure. Newman and Darby turn the song of celebration into a dirge, offering it as a shattering counterpoint to the scene's visuals. Other authentic songs from the period made good use of by Newman and Darby include "Shenandoah," "Banks of the Sacramento," "Erie Canal" and "Home in the Meadow." That last is a key, continuing theme in the film, based on "Greensleeves" but with new lyrics by Sammy Cahn and performed by Debbie Reynolds, who acquits herself quite nicely in one of the film's larger roles, calling for her to sing two other songs, both with lyrics by Johnny Mercer including the suggestively clever "What Was Your Name in the States?"
How the West Was Won was nominated for eight Oscars in 1963, including Newman and Darby's score (Newman had long before begun sharing screen credit with his associate, a gesture the latter found both touching and humbling.) Although they didn't win -- John Addison's "Tom Jones" did, besting a field that also included Alex North's "Cleopatra" Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther" and Dimitri Tiomkin's "55 Days at Peking" -- the film did receive three awards, including best sound recording. For that, head MGM sound supervisor Frank Milton credited Newman and Darby, whose innovative placement of the recording microphones low over each section of the orchestra helped produce the crisp, powerful sound that so marked the score then and which remains impressive in this release, from those original tapes.
Alfred Newman would live just seven more years after completing this monumental score. Those final years would include more film music highlights to add to his legendary list of accomplishments, including his ninth Oscar (with Darby) for the adaptation of Camelot, as well as a posthumous nomination for Airport, his final score. They also would include perhaps Newman's greatest professional tragedy, the evisceration of his score to The Greatest Story Ever Told by director George Stevens. But he always cherished his experience on How the West Was Won, which he once described to Darby as "the most enjoyable professional experience of my life."
Combine Book and CD Review
ALLY McBEAL - the official guide By Tim Appelo HarperCollins Publishers; ISBN: 0060988134 208 pages UK price £12:99 (USA $18.95)
Amazon UK £10.35
Amazon USA $15.16
Ally McBeal is without doubt the freshest, most deliciously politically incorrect show to have ever crossed the Atlantic. Already gathering a stack of awards, it is deservedly popular on both sides of "the pond." The bane of feminists, it flaunts its collection of eccentric characters, outrageous madcap humour, cartoon-like fantasies, and its sentimental melodramas. [Where else but in the offices of Cage/Fish would there be a Unisex restroom where the characters dance, sit on each others laps, discuss their innermost romantic yearnings, loose frogs down toilets (with heated seats), and where toilet lids operate by remote control.] But Ally McBeal also raises some important universal concerns that must have made volatile conversation around countless dinner-tables. And there are always thoughtful issues behind the cases that come to trial each week.
Tim Appelo visits the show, interviews David E. Kelley, the show's creator and writer, talks about all the characters and the actors playing them, and interviews most of them. His questions are interesting, humorous and probing. We come away with a much better appreciation of how well the show is put together and the tight knit but beautifully planned ensemble acting within a context where all the characters change and grow. We have a more rounded portrait of Calista Flockhart, for instance -- she comes across as a gifted and hard-working actress -- much more informing than the usual anorexic/love-starved trivial garbage that is usually written about her in the popular press. I was disappointed that there was no interview with Peter MacNicol (marvellous as the weirdly eccentric John "The Biscuit" Cage) nor with Portia de Rossi (the ice maiden ,Nelle Porter).
The book also contains synopses of all the episodes of Series One and Series Two. (I understand a third series is already being seen in the USA?) There are pages devoted to the sayings of Ally (like: "Men are like gum. After you chew awhile, they loose their flavour.") and Richard ("Bygones") Fish (like: "Tell me...what kind of lie works here?" or "Love. You can't bank on it"). Needless to say, there are many coloured stills from the show like an assortment of characters entering the dumper truck; Ally and Georgia's heads suddenly turning into snarling cats, that dancing baby, and the tongues of Billy and Greg reaching floor-wards as they admire the figure of a new recruit.
Great fun and a super souvenir of a fabulous show. An ideal Christmas present
Collection: Heart and Soul - New Songs from Ally McBeal featuring Vonda Shepherd SONY/EPIC 495091
This is the second volume of songs from Ally McBeal and as last year I include them because I will admit to being a devoted fan of Calista Flockhart and of this crazy show. The second series just unfolding on our screens, here in the UK, is, to my mind, even better than the first. Ally's character might be submerged a little now in favour of a more ensemble approach, but the scatty humour, the freshness of the plots and the youthful high spirits still holds this reviewer spellbound.
Vonda Shepherd's songs are an integral part of each episode, and are often featured within them, pushing the drama along as Ally tries to enchant her Dr Greg, for instance, as well as commenting on the plight of the characters when the end credits roll - especially Ally herself but sometimes also Nelle, Renee and others. As Vonda Shepherd writes, in a brief liner note, "All lyric alterations were specific to David E. Kelley's vision of the show and I wanted the songs to reflect that vision on this album...' In fact, as we learn from the book (reviewed with this album), Kelley views the songs as an important part of the show and chooses/scripts 90% of them into the programme. In the book Vonda says, "David Kelley talks about me as being the voice of Ally - she'll be saying something, and my lyric will take over that matches her thought. I'm sort of her subconscious, in a way...I think my favourite early moment was when she was walking down the street in the pilot episode and "The Wildest Times in the World" came on - it goes, "Ain't it funny how you're walking through life and it turns on a dime" - and you can feel how she feels."
So, this album might be regarded as a song cycle reflecting Ally's progress (or lack of it) through life and love. But in case I sound rather too profound, I hasten to add that the songs are enjoyable in their own right. Following the pattern of last Fall's album, there is a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. There is the old Roy Orbison number, 'Crying'; the lovely 'Starry Night' of Don McLean; Lennon and Mc Cartney's 'World Without Love'; and 'This Old Heart of Mine' with that warbling refrain - "...This old heart darling (darling) weeps for you, I love you, yes I do (yes, I do-oo-oo)". Vonda Shepherd contributes five songs herself in a mix of styles including quasi-gospel and country and western. I liked 'Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow' which she has written with that great film music melody man - James Newton Howard. The album ends with a quiet rendition -- just piano accompaniment -- of another beautiful song, Paul Williams' and Jon Vezner's 'I know Him by Heart.'
Not quite the stunning album that the first Allly McBeal CD was, nevertheless it makes nice dinner party listening and late night smooching material. But I must go, Ally McBeal is just about to start and we have two episodes, and two hours of Ally tonight! Cheers!
Christopher TYNG The Associate Music from the film performed by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Tri-City Singers Gospel Choir SUPER TRACKS STCD-880 [38:13]
Comedy scores may just be among the hardest to write, yet often the least satisfying to listen to when removed from the context of the film for which they were composed. Unless the film has sufficient character and story to allow for more developed musical material, as was the case with Stephen Warbeck's magnificent score for Shakespeare in Love, comedy scoring can all too often become, out of necessity. 'Mickey-mouse' music, so closely tied to the on-screen action that it makes little musical sense on CD.
Relatively unknown composer Christopher Tyng adopted a simple yet effective solution to the problem of how to score The Associate, a 1997 Whoopi Goldberg comedy about a black woman, who when passed-over for promotion in favour of a white man creates a fictional associate for herself, a highly successful white man. Good-natured farce ensues. Schematically, Tyng chose to characterise the comedy with a traditional (white) orchestra, combined with a gospel (black) choir and wordless female soul vocals. His main theme is a jaunty, upbeat and swaggering affair, often driven along with a bouncy, presumably electronic, rhythm section. It is infectious, catchy, and repeated rather too often. For the more rousing moments the solo female voice joins in, somewhat reminiscent of rather more dramatically intense passages from Hans Zimmer's score for The Assassin (Point of Know Return).
Elsewhere there is a fair amount of the afore-mentioned Mickey-mousing, with lots of stops and starts and playful pizzicato strings. 'Laurel's Theme' combines choir, orchestra and piano in a warmly reflective melody, which while not especially memorable, is certainly attractive. 'Laurel Has Here Day' develops from almost John Williams-esque tender nostalgia into a big production number 'ATI' which is several cuts above the contemporary average.
The performances are splendidly spirited (the Seattle Symphony Orchestra is always a delight to listen to) and The Associate is polished, slick, and has a wonderfully rich sound with a real punch. It is a little repetitive, perhaps too much so to really justify having an album all to itself, and if the writing isn't yet of the highest order, Tyng shows enormous promise and potential, for instance, the finale is a lovely Williams-seque creation which could almost have come from Hook. Unfortunately it is spoiled by a very rapid fade, presumably to make-way for an end title song which isn't on this album. This is a limited promo release, and therefore difficult and/or expensive to come by. However, if you should acquire a copy, you will find an enjoyable and fun release. Play loud, and smile.
Gary S. Dalkin
Christopher TYNG Kazam Music from the film performed by the London Symphony Orchestra SUPER TRACKS STCD-877 [35:42]
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The talented young Christopher Tyng is a protegé of Basil Poledouris and already at only 27, he is carving quite a name for himself with over 20 motion pictures and TV scores to his credit. Kazam can only boost the quality of his portfolio.
Kazam is a fantasy film about a skeptical city kid who accidentally frees a genie while fleeing from a gang of bullies. As usual, this genie has the power to grant wishes.
Tyng's score is wild and whacky and embraces juast about every conceivable musical genre. As expected there is a prominence of material suggestive of the mysterious Orient with lots of drummings, prayer-like wailings and middle eastern exotic instrumentation, plus a smattering of the little bells/magic dust stuff all done to a rather novel turn by Tyng. The wildness reaches its peak in 'Never Challenge A Genie' where Tyng allows his music to erupt like fireworks sprouting, speading colour and explosions in every direction. In 'Maljk's Way' Tyg impresses with his layered writing for a variety of drums to build a potent atmosphere and in 'Tape Theft' he creates something of a Tom and Jerry chase flavour with some quite weird effects. Quieter moments are found in tracks like the romantic 'Max and Alice' and the relatively serene 'DiJinn explained' which has an Irish/Celtic tinge (well Kazam is played by an actor called Shaouille O'Neal!) Added to all this is are jazz/rock/rap based tracks.
A rich, appealing mix with its tongue firmly in its cheek.
Evan H. CHEN Crusade Television Score SONIC IMAGES 878 278 910 [68:16]
Crusade is another Sci-fi series created for TV by J.Michael Straczynski who also created the popular Babylon 5 that was quite successfully scored by Christopher Franke.
Straczynski did not collaborate with Franke this time but hired newcomer Evan H.Chen instead to score the new series. The intention of the creator was to submerge his series in a different sound, not quite heard before. And Chen did exactly that. He created a synthesized, atonal, beat-driven score, deprived of the sort of memorable melodies, rich orchestration, grand themes and lush strings and brass we have come to expect from Space movies/series. Stylistically it is similar to Kamen/Orbital's Event Horizon, although even that did not sound that incoherent.
More to the point, Main Title fires off with a distant brass-sounding synthesizer tune, which might create the illusion that this is about to be another Star Trek episode, until it reverts to beat and synthesized ambient music. Synth effects persist in the next track, 'Hyperspace', which, along with atonal music, manages to convey the feeling of vastness and coldness of Space, in a way similar to Goldsmith's Alien, but never reaches the same artistic levels.
'Future Pleasure' introduces an extremely simple theme performed with a synthesized
flute-sounding instrument mixed with various beats and effects. 'Elizabeth', on the other hand, is the first (and only) attempt to introduce a listenable melody. It doesn't quite succeed though, choosing to maintain the loose and atonal feel of the whole. It gives the impression of a dissonant love theme. Nevertheless it is a track that stands out (of the rest that is!). In 'Shanghai Tan', we have the rare opportunity to listen to Evan H.Chen himself accompany the incoherent music with equally obscure lyrics and whispers.
'Alwyn's Story' contains Eastern music blended with beat and synth tunes to a point that loses everything exotic and cryptic that characterises this music. The attempt for action music that is made in 'Battlestation', hindered by synth sound fx, does not manage to build anything suspenseful. Mr Chen returns in 'Rainbow' with another set of Indian-sounding chants! 'My Way', even includes a baby giggling and calling his mother, over a medley of boing-boing sounds. How refreshing!
It is one thing to experiment to produce something new, but another to mix synth tunes and sound effects, Chinese music, beat, incoherent vocals and ambient atonal music in a chaotic attempt to be original. I can't see the value of this music in the context of the series. In pure musical terms though, it is by no means an easy listening experience and probably it won't be visiting your CD player that frequently. It is weak and lacks any connectivity, cohesion and memorable themes. All in all, it sounds more like a compilation of a series' sound fx than a series' score.
Perhaps Mr Straczynski should stick with Mr Franke.
More Promotional Albums
Promotional Albums offer lesser celebrated film composers the opportunity to bring their work (often of good quality but unsung [if you will forgive the pun]) to the attention of prospective producers who might be interested in contracting them for film scoring assignments. Another market opportunity is for short films, trailers, commercials, and other theatre and TV projects where producers with limited budgets might be interested in buying material "off the shelf." Lastly, film music buffs who have admired the scores but hitherto have never had an opportunity of acquiring the music now have an opportunity of buying scores they have admired. For instance anybody who liked Hummie Mann's music for Mel Brook's farce, Dracula, Dead and Loving It (with Leslie Nielsen) can now buy it from specialist sellers such as:
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Robert FOLK Nothing to Loose PROMOTIONAL RFCD 002 [45:24]
I vaguely remember seeing this film and wondering why the score, a "rhythm-based composition" as the album's liner notes extol, suited the images before me, but did little to affect them. On disc it becomes apparent the reason is that there is no musical narrative -- the music does not travel far with the locations or the characters in them. It is a series of urban soundbytes, probably less metropolitan than intended, passably reminiscent of Danny Elfman's "Midnight Run" without the eclecticism. One hears cues using harmonica, percussion, accordion, guitars, saxophones, occasional strings, and sampled sounds and vocals; they are obviously independent tracks, yet frequently sound too much alike.
Of course, any Robert Folk score would demonstrate how underutilized he is in Hollywood, and this promo does its job in proving he is more than an orchestral artisan. The music here does have a certain pizzazz (although it is one I am not personally keen on). If you like this style then it is possibly worth a test, as Folk, a music professor of fairly weighty regard, brings his skills and distinguishing choices into action. This ensures the soundtrack is generally bearable, but moments of tediousness remain, and coming from the man who gave us the "Police Academy" march, "Beastmaster 2," even
"In the Army Now," this recording is not a sign of progress.
William ROSS Tin Cup OST PROMOTIONAL WRCD 02 [29:59]
William Ross' "Tin Cup" does overflow! The music offers country & western, blues ('Double Bogey Blues,' arranged by Ross), no holds barred orchestral, and Ross still has room to throw the audience a couple of fitting surprises. It is a distinctive and refined share of film music; it is a delightfully above-average score to hear, especially from a composer relatively close to the beginning of his game. Most impressive are the symphonic flourishes -- at times overly dramatic (I am thinking, Is this golf, or the parting of the Red Sea?), but strengthened with confident grace, bold tonality, and extremely solid orchestration. And as with any romantic score -- in this case, both for love of a woman and love of a game -- there is a need for distinguished melodies. There is, appropriately enough, a pair of them here: a slick, free and easy tune for Tin Cup, and the previously mentioned fanfare for the grace of golf. The presentation is a small flaw... The orchestra's performance is surprisingly rough... There are several harshly played notes, and the finale on Varese Sarabande's "Hollywood 96" album received a more pleasant and charismatic reading. However, it gets the point across, and Mr. Ross continues to establish himself as an influential creative presence ("The Amazing Panda Adventure" and "My Fellow Americans" are proficient scores, as well). "Tin Cup" is not tin-pot. ****(*) © Jeffrey Wheeler
Arthur RUBINSTEIN Blue Thunder OST PROMOTIONAL ARCD01 [54:59]
"Every sound you made was overheard, every movement scrutinized... asleep or awake, working or eating, in the bath or in bed, no escape. Nothing is your own, except the few cubic centimeters inside you skull."
Nothing could describe the world of Blue Thunder better that George Orwell's prophetic voice. Blue Thunder is a story of a super-helicopter seemingly designed to prevent terrorism in Los Angeles, but as Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) soon discovered, intended for spying on the public. This is not just a kiddies adventure film like Knight Rider or Airwolf, where good prevails. The film is dark in its nature, warning us of the dangers of hyper-technology and bureaucracy.
The approach Arthur B. Rubinstein followed to score the film is somewhat predictable, quite usual for techno-thriller films: Electronic sounds, occasionally combined with an orchestra. Rubinstein mixes synths, to represent the high-tech theme of the film, and orchestra to suggest Frank Murphy's struggle to prevent this super-weapon being used (by stealing it!) With heroic and dramatic material, he creates two musically contrasting worlds that complement each other and emphasize the drama on screen.
This works well on screen. But on the CD?
Essentially the dominant and most recognisable theme, (Murphy's) is played by the brass in the Main Title and soon afterwards above a layer of synths and percussion, effectively providing us with a taste of the clash that is about to begin. The theme is kind of heroic and seemingly grand not in a pure adventurous sense. It is quite dark, ominous and dissonant in parts.
''Nam Flashback' clothes Murphy's mental scars from Vietnam War (all 80's movie heroes seem to be Vietnam veterans!!) with atmospheric electronic music and violin plucking. A brief statement of Murphy's theme also appears. Kate's theme is a romantic touch to the score, performed mainly by piano. "Follow my Leader" includes some quite suspenseful chase music, reminiscent of Schifrin's Mission:Impossible theme, rendered once again with synths.
'Murphy steals "Blue Thunder"' fires off quite promisingly but quickly reverts to electronic underscoring. 'River Chase/Hide and Seek', on the other hand, is a quite powerful track and one of the few times that the orchestra is allowed burst out of the thick layer of synths that constrains it, to perform this chase music, elevating the track significantly. In 'Ride with the Angels', the main theme is quite beautifully performed by piano and orchestra, giving at least a satisfactory conclusion to the score. The CD concludes with a rendition of the main theme by The Beepers. This track has an even more electronic feel than the rest of the score but is enjoyable.
Throughout the CD, the music more often than not, degrades to electronic underscore with occasional statements of the main theme and some chase music, maintaining and enchancing maybe the atmosphere of the film but adding very little to the score.
There is no doubt that the score is very effective in the movie and blends well, highlighting the drama, but its entertaining power is questionable when it is detached from the film. Most tracks sound much like each other and the score, at length, becomes tiring. Also, thematic variability is not a characteristic of the score and originality is not its strong point. The score would certainly benefit from a deeper thematic development, instead of overbearing synth underscore. Synths seem quite appropriate when it comes to techno-themed movies but overusing them may hinder any orchestral qualities the score may have and suppress its the listening value.
The CD is well produced, with crisp sound and a very informative booklet. It probably won't hold your attention for quite long.
Collection: The Film Music of VAN DYKE PARKS - Wild Bill and The Two JakesSUPER TRACKS/PROMOTIONAL VDPCD001 [50:05]
This promotional disk contains 2 scores from Van Dyke Parks, whose credits as a film composer (about 16) are comparable to his appearances in movies and TV films (minor parts of course!!)
The first score is the 1995 rendition of the story of Wild Bill Hickock (aka Buffalo Bill), directed by Walter Hill. Walter Hill is no stranger to the Western genre having previously directed Geronimo and Long Riders (both scored by Ry Cooder). Hill narrates a different aspect of Buffalo Bill's life -- a semi-retired declining man, haunted by his reputation and glorious past, and addicted to opium.
Van Dyke Parks, seemingly chose not to adhere to the classic scoring approach of many western movies, i.e. grand main titles, sweeping love themes, bursting orchestral and galloping fight themes. His small ensemble comprised the traditional western instruments - banjo, harmonica, small percussion and a touch of piano and harpsichord giving a familiar western flavour to the score.
The score is introduced by the Love theme mainly on the piano but occasionally supported by banjo, grieving the unfulfilled love between Bill Hickcock and Calamity Jane. It is certainly not the most beautiful love theme ever penned, but it carries romance, albeit muted passion. Typical western material is presented in 'A New Day' by harmonica and banjo, sounding a cross between Missouri Breaks and Rosewood, but adding nothing particular to the score. 'Saloon Piano' is exactly that: a saloon piano piece reminiscent of the love theme.
In 'First Gunfight', Van Dyke Parks uses an underscore and atonal approach, with no recognisable interweaving melody, that in conjuction with the quite detailed orchestration, mainly strings which provide the track with an odd flavour of carousel music spiced with banjo, builds up a sense of anticipation and suspense, like one would feel when coming eye to eye with a gunslinger knowing that the first who'd be fast enough to draw his gun will live.
A radical change of mood and style takes place in 'The Heart of Darkness', a short but very dark piece, followed by an equally radical change in "Sempre Librera" an opera track written by Verdi. It is a passionate piece, but I question its suitability for a western!?! Underscoring persists in 'The Burning Sun' with no apparent statement of a theme, just scattered appearances of flute and piano, which nevertheless conveys the discomfort and torture of a blistering sun.
'Wild Bill' is an Egyptian-sounding, quite fun track that sounds completely out of place. I can't decide on whether its use is appropriate of not (since I haven't seen the movie). Nevertheless it is interesting and colourful. The score comes to conclusion with "Leaning on Jesus" a short gospel song, followed by a melodic, almost religious, piece of music performed by violin.
Some might argue that Wild Bill is not a typical western score. That might be true in some parts, but in general nothing new is really added to the western genre score. Typical material and orchestrations are reheated and presented; clichés are not avoided. Yet this doesn't make the score less enjoyable, it being just the right length to prevent it from becoming repetitive and boring. It is an entertaining listening experience but not a memorable one!
The Two Jakes is the 1990 follow-up to the successful Chinatown, this time directed by Jack Nicholson himself. Van Dyke Parks did not adhere to the Jerry Goldsmith's 74's jazz texture for Chinatown, but followed a more modernistic approach, yet, at the same time preserving something older-fashioned. This becomes apparent in the enjoyable Main Title that has a distinct film-noir flavour, intermixed with cabaret and lounge music, rendered mainly by brass and a layer of percussion. 'Jake on the Road' maintains this flavour, enhancing it with more orchestral colour, by adding rhythm and pulse to the music.
A mystery and suspense atmosphere is created in 'The Plot thickens', 'Oil Fields, 'An Old Friend' and 'The Shooting', while the story unfolds to reveal more secrets, assisted by the complex orchestration and textured music. The atonal mood of the previous 5 tracks is interrupted by 'Femme fatale' which is the usual underscoring of the film's woman to-die-for, by brass and jazzy feel. The score reverts, once again, to atmospheric underscoring in 'Clues' with a touch of synths. To make a long story short the same style is utilised in almost all the rest of the tracks with small variations in colour and orchestration.
Although given a decent theme, the score soon disintegrates to underscoring and atmospheric music and becomes tiring. Nothing original is offered here, well-defined and explored paths were followed. Detailed orchestration does not manage to give the score the appropriate boost, although it demonstrates the ability of the composer to handle the orchestra sufficiently well. The score is thematically underdeveloped, the music following and denoting the drama on screen rather than exploring and analysing the characters.
A nice but incomplete try by Van Dyke Parks which does not perform well when detached from the movie.
Ratings: Wild Bill: The Two Jakes
Noel COWARD Collection: If Love Were All Original Musical Cast Recording featuring Twiggy (as Gertrude Lawrence and and Harry Groener (as Noel Coward) VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6083 [55:39]
Some Day I'll Find You
A Room With a View
Mad About You
Don't put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington!
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Poor Little Rich Girl
Twentieth Century Blues
You were there
Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?
Men About Town
Mad About the Boy
I'll Follow My Secret Heart
I Like America
If Love Were All
I'll Remember Her/I'll See You Again
If Love Were All is the story of Noël Coward (Harry Groener) and Gertrude Lawrence (Twiggy). Their's was a celebrated life-long collaboration that included two inspired productions in which they appeared together: Private Lives (1930) and Tonight at 8:30 (1936). All - or most - of the numbers listed above will be familiar and they are interspersed with a narrative by 'Noël' (and embellishments by Gertie). They begin by telling us how they first met, in their early teens, on London's Euston Station on their way to Liverpool to appear in a stage show. She gave him an orange and he fell in love with her there and then. Their story continues right up until Gertie's death.
But it's the songs that matter. Who could resist the naughty but only-to-realistic, 'Don't put your daughter ("please, on my knees") on the stage, Mrs Worthington.' or the humour of 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen.' Then there is the sophistication of 'Poor Little Rich Girl' and the wartime nostalgia of 'London Pride.'
Groener is marvellous. Twiggy's voice, style, and look fits comfortably into the milieu of the Roaring Twenties but her intonation is... well let's say that she is often a semi-tone (or more) off her target; "I'll follow my secret heart" is weak with the voice vibrato and sliding rather painfully up to the note. Another disappointment is the delivery of the title song, 'If Love Were All.' This is a lovely number and sung by an accomplished actress/singer like Elaine Paige, never fails to bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.
But, in all, this is a sparkling CD and a confident recommendation to sweep away the blues.
Burt BACHARACH The Instrumental Side Original Musical Cast Recording featuring Twiggy (as Gertrude Lawrence and and Harry Groener (as Noel Coward) VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6073 [53:10]
Burt Bacharach is an instantly recognised name in the pop soundscape, having a career spanning 40 years and creating many memorable and enduring songs like 'Raindrops Keep Fallin On My Head', 'Walk On By', 'What The World Needs Now Is Love', and 'What's new Pussycat?' just to name a few, many of which reached the top 40.
He is not a stranger to film music either. He has written complete scores for such films as 'What's new Pussycat?', 'After the Fox', 'Casino Royal', and 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', which earned him an Academy Award for Best score, and many others.
To attest his contribution to music in general, Varese Sarabande compiled and arranged instrumental versions of some of his well-known songs.
The songs are performed by a quite small ensemble utilising piano, synths, percussion and brass, in a nostalgic and sweet way giving, on the other hand, a cheesy flavour to the CD.
Many pieces stand out such as 'Always something there to remind me', 'What's new Pussycat', 'I Say a Little prayer', 'Walk on by' and others.
The question that occured to me listening to this album is how will a compilation of cheesy, nostalgic, instrumental music to songs that hit the charts some 20 or 30 years ago, appeal to a newer generation of listeners exposed to modern pop music, New Age, progressive sounds or even modern soundtracks? Music that in parts reminded me of lounge music and music we usually listen to in elevators and supermarkets?
I realised though, that this is the strength of this album: most of them are well-known pieces, catchy tunes most of us have listened to, one way or another, and quite often whistled under our breaths. One doesn't have to necessarily like this kind of music to appreciate this CD. It automatically induces a nice, relaxing, and somewhat melacholic, for the older generations, an aura, sufficient to carry you away to whatever this music represents in you.
A mood-creating album that you may love or be indifferent to according to your tastes. It deserves a listen though, even if you don't buy it!
Constant LAMBERT Merchant Seaman Suite, with Piano Concerto, Prize-fight and Pomona BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Barry Wordsworth. ASV White Line CD WHL 2122 [67:26]
These are all premiere recordings with the exception of Pomona
Constant Lambert (1905-1951) was a British composer, conductor, editor/arranger, and writer of wide and prodigious talents. Halliwell mistakenly lists his only film score as Anna Karenia (the 1947 version starring Vivien Leigh, Kieron Moore and Ralph Richardson; a wonderful score recorded by Bernard Herrmann on his album Great British Film Music - Decca London 448 954-2). In actual fact he made his debut in 1940 with the documentary Merchant Seamen from which the suite on this recording was derived.
Merchant Seaman commences with a bold, salty movement entitled 'Fanfare', heroic and virile. 'Convoy in fog' is an atmospheric piece suggesting the convoy groping its way forward through the mists with ominous pedal notes on low groping clarinets that might suggest lurking enemy submarines. The powerful and intense 'Attack' begins with agitated scurryings before explicit suggestions of explosions and fire. 'Safe Convoy' sees the return of the convoy to more serene waters with an imminent promise of landfall suggested by the cries of 'gulls. The final movement, 'March' is a stirring conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable and evocative suite.
Lambert's music that occupies the remainder of this programme may not have been written for the screen, but it is highly evocative and dramatic and therefore very suitable for scoring films. Prize Fight was music for a ballet but it could easily have underscored a silent slapstick comedy with its banana-skin style of broad humour. The Piano Concerto (edited by Giles Easterbrook and Edward Shipley) is an astounding work for a 19 year-old composer, full of confidence, sparkling wit and invention. Despite superficial influences, Prokofiev, Ravel, Poulenc, Stravinsky and Delius it is pure Lambert. The delightful ballet Pomona is an exercise in neo-classicism.
Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra give sparkling performances of all the works. **** © Ian Lace [This recording is reviewed in more detail on our associated Classical site.]
Sergey PROKOFIEV Cinderella (also includes Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty*) Narrator: Brian Cant. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Theodore Kuchar and *Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Mogrelia. NAXOS 8.554610 [69:53]
If you are worrying about what to get for that young niece or nephew this Christmas, then this CD might just be the thing. It will certainly provide an ideal introduction to the world of classical music. Brian Cant is, of course, well-known for his many television appearances as an actor, and in many children's programmes; but he is probably best remembered for his narration of those favourite TV series for the very young: Camberwick Green and Trumpton. As such, he makes an ideal, unselfconscious story-teller of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
Prokofiev (1891-1953) was of course one of the greatest twentieth century composers working in most genres but in the world of film music he is remembered best for his music for Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible. He also contributed significant music for the theatre and ballet. His best-known ballet music, for Romeo and Juliet, has tended to overshadow his other achievements in this context. He commenced work on Cinderella in 1940 in response to a commission from the Kirov Ballet but the German invasion diverted his attention and so Cinderella was not completed until 1944. Soon after its première, Prokofiev arranged three suites from the ballet. The suite on this recording draws its material from all three suites. Theodore Kuchar draws playing of great enchantment and humour from the Ukraine players. In the 'Dance of the Shawl' (by the ugly sisters) Prokofiev, in some of his most sardonic music, pours rough scorn upon them. 'Fairy Godmother' (preparing Cinderella for the Ball) is a very atmospheric movement for the magic of the creation of the coach and horses, the gown and the slippers. The scintillating 'Cinderella's Waltz' (at the Ball), on the other hand, is one of Prokofiev's most beautifully romantic creations. Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty music is too well known for the necessity of any comment from me and so I will just comment that Cant adds his magical touch to a good performance by Mogrelia's players.
A ticket to enter a world of enchantment for the young music lover.
Collection: THE ONLY MUSICALS ALBUM YOU'LL EVER NEED! Various artists including: Michael Ball, Elaine Paige; Marti Webb; Philip Schofield; Julie Andrews and Marilyn Monroe RCA VICTOR 2-CDs 74321-60825 2 Mid-price
This cheeky and rather OTT title proclaims a collection of 38 fabulous numbers from musicals old and new. My reviewing job is easy - just look at what you get! Roll back the carpet and then turn the lights down low, snuggle up to someone special and enjoy -
'Love Changes Everything' - Aspects of Love (LloydWebber/Black/Hart) - Michael Ball
'Losing My Mind' - Follies (Sondheim) - Cleo Laine
'Last Night of the World' - Miss Saigon (Schönberg/Maltby/Boubil) - Joanna Ampil & Peter Cousens
'If I Can't Love Her' - Beauty and the Beast (Menken/Rice) - Ethan Freeman
'With One Look' - Sunset Boulevard (Lloyd Webber/Black/Hampton) - Kim Criswell
'Unusual Way' - Nine (Yeston) - Elaine Paige and Jonathan Price
'The Music of the Night' - Phantom of the Opera (Lloyd Webber/Hart/Stilgoe) - Marti Webb and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
'Can You Feel the Love Tonight?' - The Lion King (John/Rice) - Sean McDermott.
'Memory' - Cats (Lloyd Webber/Nunn/T.S. Elliot) - Maria Friedman.
'Talk to the Animals' - Doctor Dolittle (Bricusse) - Philip Schofield and Julie Andrews
'Big Spender' - Sweet Charity (Coleman/Fields) - Jacqueline Dankworth; Josephine Blake; Shezwae Powell and girls.
'Money' - Cabaret (Kander/Ebb) - Alan Cumming and the Kit Kat Girls
'All that Jazz' - Chicago (Kander/Ebb) - Caroline O'Connor & Company
'America' - West Side Story (Bernstein/Sondheim)
- Charlotte d'Amboise; Debbie Gravitte and Ensemble.
'Bring Him Home' - Les Miserables (Schönberg/Boubil/Kretzner) - Colm Wilkinson
'Climb Every Mountain' - The Sound of Music (Rodgers/Hammerstein) - Lesley Garrett.
'The Impossible Dream' - Man of La Mancha (Leigh/Darion) - Colm Wilkinson
'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' - Evita (Lloyd Webber/Rice) - Stephanie Lawrence
'Send in the Clowns' - A Little Night Music (Sondheim) Cleo Laine.
'There's No Business Like Show Business' - Annie Get Your Gun (Berlin) - Ethel Merman.
'I Get a Kick out of You'/'Anything Goes' - Anything Goes (Porter) - Patti Lupone
'Old Man River' - Showboat (Kern/Hammerstein) - William Warfield.
'Oklahoma!' - Oklahoma! (Rodgers/Hammerstein) Company
'I Got Rhythm' - Crazy for You (George and Ira Gershwin) - Ruthie Henshall; Kirby Ward and company.
'Singin' in the Rain' - Singin' in the Rain (Brown/Green) - Tommy Steele.
'Shall We Dance? - The King and I (Rodgers/Hammerstein) - Yul Brynner and Constance Towers.
'I Could Have Danced All Night' - My Fair Lady (Lowe/Lerner) - Lesley Garrett
'Stranger in Paradise' - Kismet (Wright/Forest/Borodin) - Valerie Masterson and David Rendall.
'Lullaby of Broadway' - 42nd Street (Warren/Dubin) - Jerry Orbach and Company.
'Consider Youself - Oliver (Bart) - Michael Goodman and Bruce Prochnick.
'Everything's Coming Up Roses' - Gypsy (Styne/Sondheim) - Angela Lansbury
'Luck Be a Lady' - Guys and Dolls (Loesser) - Peter Gallagher and ensemble.
'I Wanna Be Loved by You' - Some Like It Hot (Kolmar/Stotthart/Ruby) - Marilyn Monroe
'If I Were a Rich Man' - Fiddler on the Roof (Block/Harrick) - Zero Mostel
'Some Enchanted Evening' - South Pacific (Rodgers/Hammerstein) - Giorgio Tozzi
'You'll Never Walk Alone' - Carousel (Rodgers/Hammerstein) - Carousel Company
'76 Trombones' - The Music Man (Wilson) Brian Cox and Company
'Hello Dolly' - Hello Dolly (Herman) - Carol Channing and Company.
Collection: The Only Opera Album You'll Ever Need Various Performers RCA Victor/BMG 75605 513562 * CD1 [68:10] / CD2 [72: 46] mid-price
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A Midsummer Nights Dream: Verdi - Brindisi (La Traviata)
Fatal Attraction: Puccini - Un Bel Di (Madama Butterfly)
Dangerous Liaisons: Handel - Ombra Mai Fu (Serse)
Diva: Catalani - Ebben? Ne Andro Lontano (La Wally)
Moonstruck: Puccini - O Soave Fanciulla (La Boheme)
Driving Miss Daisy: Dvorak - Song to the Moon (Rusalka)
Prizzi's Honour: Donizetti - Una Furtiva Lagrima (L'Elisir d'amore)
Trainspotting: Bizet - Habanera (Carmen)
Mrs Doubtfire: Rossini - Largo Al Factotum (The Barber of Seville)
Sunday Bloody Sunday: Mozart - Soave Sia Il Vento (Cosi Fan Tutti)
The Witches of Eastwick: Puccini - Nessun Dorma (Turandot)
Bizet: Toreador Song (Carmen)
Gershwin: Summertime (Porgy and Bess)
Delibes: Flower Duet (Lakme)
Purcell: When I am Laid in Earth (Dido and Aeneas)
Verdi: Grand March (Aida)
The Lone Ranger: Rossini - William Tell Overture (William Tell)
Moonraker: Leoncavallo - Vesti La Giubba (I Pagliacci)
Amadeus: Mozart - Der Holle Rache (The Magic Flute)
Gallipoli: Bizet - Au Fond du Temple Saint (The Pearl Fishers)
Apocalypse Now: Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walkure)
Bizet: Seguedille (Carmen)
Puccini: E Lucevan Le Stelle (Tosca)
Offenbach: Barcarolle (The Tales of Hoffman)
Verdi: Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (Nabucco)
Mozart: Voi Che Sapete (The Marriage of Figaro)
Bellini: Casta Diva (Norma)
Verdi: La Donna E Mobile (Rigoletto)
Gluck: Che Faro Senza Euridice? (Orfeo ed Euridice)
Mozart: Non Piu Andrai (The Marriage of Figaro)
Verdi: Celeste Aida (Aida)
Tchaikovsky: Entr'acte and Waltz (Eugene Onegin)
Of course it seems a very strange thing for a record company, in the business of selling records, to claim that any sort of album is the only one of its genre you will ever need. However, this determinedly populist anthology is clearly aimed at a market that does normally buy opera recordings, but which is familiar with releases along the lines of 'Now that's What I Call ', and which might be tempted to purchase an opera set which gathers all the 'famous bits' together for easy consumption. Indeed, the booklet notes have the flavour of a beginners guide: "These two CDs feature thirty-two extracts from the greatest operas of all time, sung by world-famous artists, to move, excite and thrill you. Welcome to the magical world of opera!" And with that welcome, far from being the only opera album you will ever need, RCA must hope that this lavish collection will serve as a super sampler and appetiser for further explorations of the catalogue.
From a film point of view, the set lists the movies in which many of the pieces have been featured (though not necessarily these particular recordings). There is at least one omission, for the very first track, 'Brindisi' from La Traviata, can be heard in the most recent film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the cover fails to record this fact. Perhaps the film is too recent. In total 15 of the 32 pieces are associated with films, several others with advertisements, and one with a football competition. Apart from The Lone Ranger, these films tend only to date back as far as the 1970's, and most are of more recent vintage than that. Whether this indicates that using opera in film is a relatively recent thing - given that the leitmotiv approach of much film scoring is derived directly from opera, one should think not - or whether it is simply that selections from opera have recently been given especial prominence, usually as a shorthand indication of aspirations to quality film-making.
Whatever the reasoning behind the selections, this is a good value collection, which, while inevitably alienating the opera purists (for whom in any case it is not intended) serves its purpose. The sound quality is obviously variable, especially so given that the selections span five decades, but is always adequate and is frequently excellent. Further, these are good performances by some of the most famous names in classical music. RCA have dusted down the back catalogue, and while the earliest recording dates from 1950, a surprising number are very recent, showcasing albums recorded in the last two or three years. Here we have Jussi Bjorling, Montserrat Caballe, Lynn Dawson, Placido Domingo, Leslie Garrett, Angela Gheorghiu, Della Jones, Vesselina Kasarova, Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Robert Merrill, Janice Watson, and such equally famous conductors as Carl Davis, Sir Edward Downes, Herbert von Karajan conducting orchestras ranging from the London Symphony Orchestra to the Vienna Philharmonic and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Clearly an impressive collection of top names, though anyone considering buying this set because of Pavarotti's name on the cover should be aware that he appears only on one track: a duet from La Boheme, recorded live in mono with soprano Mirella Freni in 1967.
Even if the titles are unfamiliar, every piece should be instantly recognised. Here are many of the great set-pieces of opera, from the impassioned romanticism of 'Un Bel Di' from Madama Butterfly - which being the song of a woman rejected by her lover, actually had a thematic relevance to the film which appropriated it (Fatal Attraction) - to the exhilarating ferocity of Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' (used unforgettably in Apocalypse Now), and the rambunctious 'Largo Al Factotum' from The Barber of Seville (heard in Mrs Doubtfire). Presented in this form, shorn of recitatives and less well known arias, makes the music as accessible as popular, and there is really no reason why almost anyone could not enjoy what is ultimately a collection of great music. Resolutely not a release for serious opera buffs, but for the general listener, someone who likes a bit of classical music but doesn't know where to begin with opera, or the film music enthusiast curious about some of the opera selections heard from time to time in the movies, this is as good a place to begin as any. It provides a painless, good value doorway into the world of opera, and for that can really only be commended.
Gary S. Dalkin
MUSICHOUND SOUNDTRACKS - The Essential Guide to Film, Television, and Stage Music Edited by Didier C. Deutsch Visible Ink Press. ISBN:1-57859-101-5 $24.95
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I opened the book. Generally speaking, this is what most people tend to do when they wish to read one. But, Oh! the thrills, chills, and spills within this specimen... Educating and entertaining, containing nearly 900 pages of succinct, elucidative reviews and juicy tidbits, with a few lacunae, the new edition of 1997's VideoHound book is worthy of recommendation.
Taking a simple format best popularized by Leonard Maltin's Movie & Video Guides, applying it to soundtrack albums, and changing rating 'stars' to 'bones' (witty?) does not distinguish the book; however, the subject itself does. Ranging from the earliest of available soundtracks to those of mid-1999, this is the most complete systematic overview of soundtrack albums in stores now. The reviews provide critical analysis, as well as the year of composition, the year of album release, the existence of other releases, the composers, the conductors, and featured musicians. A humorous and direct forward by Film Score Monthly editor Lukas Kendall starts the trek. A second forward (is it technically a forward if it follows another?), by former Capital Records Director of Soundtracks Julia Michels, jabbers on about 'songtracks,' which receive equal footing as score albums in the guide. MusicHound Soundtracks also contains several sidebars listing the arguable '10 Essential Scores' by composer, and select quotes from FSM interviews, lists of film music compilations (some reviewed in detail), other publications, web sites and record labels, and additional indexing. These are the thrills. All are worth the investment.
The chills and spills are occasional discrepancies in ratings and the reviews. That is, a soundtrack is made out to hail from the darkest chasms of the netherworld, yet receives a 'three bone' rating. Or reviews contradict each other. For example, Jeff Bond calls John Williams' "Jaws" "classic" and gives it five bones, a perfect score. Meanwhile, Didier C. Deutsch takes a look at "Jaws 2," saying, "In truth, Williams surpassed himself, writing a score that had the effectiveness of the first, and then some." Yet he gives it four bones.
So, who to trust? There are instances of the same critics reviewing the same composers on different scores, giving variations on, "This is the composer's best." The need for an editorial overhaul is particularly obvious when 'the best' gets below five bones, yet a half-dozen 'lessers' receive full praise. Which to choose? With a team of 16 reviewers the inconsistency is not only understandable, it is expected, but it also means the guide is only useful on a disc-by-disc basis, as opposed to literal comparison.
MusicHound Soundtracks is largely solid as a reference book for soundtrack addicts. For all that, it is an exceptional gift for those merely beginning their filmusic journey.
The Score - Interviews with Film Composers By Michael Schelle 430 pages; softback Silman-James Press, Los Angeles $19:95 £12.10
James Newton Howard
This is a book that is well overdue. It is an inside look at the working life of the people who compose for films against ruthless deadlines and the dictates of production teams who, more often than not, are motivated by the responsibility of ensuring commercial profit over ever-spiralling production costs, rather than by aesthetics.
Out of a 430-odd pages book I will just mention a few of the things I highlighted as I went through it.
The interview with John Barry is absorbing. He makes many interesting points. Commenting about writing behind dialogue, he observes that the personalities of the characters and the actors have to be taken into account. He quotes Gregory Peck's 'wonderful deep voice and very slow delivery with marvellous cadences you write music to that central [part of its range] voice - under it, over it How the dialogue is recorded is critical to where the music fits in: is the dialogue what I call " front screen" right in front - or is it off to the left or right? The instruments can move actors - push them back or move them forward. By being aware of dialogue duration and distance, you can create a cushion behind the whole thing I always like to use a large orchestra behind dialogue scenes. With a large orchestra playing softly, you get weight and depth on the screen. A small group dwindles down to nothing by the time you take it back against dialogue. And believe me, they're going to do that." Later in the interview, Barry discusses the question of where music should be placed. "Choosing where you put the music or where you lay out are the big discussions with the director. I absolutely believe that those choices will make the difference between a good score and a bad score, not to mention help make a good movie or ruin it. Sometimes the director can get foggy because he is seeing the scene in an uncut version, and probably carrying some emotional baggage about musical thoughts he's had long before the composer arrived on the movie. So its up to the composer to say, 'I think you're wrong. I think this scene is working beautifully up to this point, and the music needs to wait until here." The good directors will be very responsive " In the context of balancing sound effects and music in the final mix, Barry can often suggest restraint, even absence of music. He says, "In the five-minute buffalo hunt in Dances with Wolves, for example, they initially laid a very loud temp track over the entire scene, but I pushed for beginning it with only the sounds of the buffalo, which were such terrific sounds in themselves, without music "
Bruce Broughton remarks about the composer's working relationship with the film's production people " you are the guy who comes in at the end. They are very suspicious of you because they have already had the marketing blitz - they have their numbers, and they don't want you to screw it up. You know, "We need music, just don't do too much. We got this fifty-million-dollar investment don't blow it don't do this don't do that.. don't be too emotionally big, don't change the emotions here, don't say too much there, don't be too overt, don't be too mysterious, don't be too energetic " It's not like it was even a few years ago " Yet Broughton does appreciate the duties of the directors and the plight of the writers who often recognise little of what they had originally penned. Broughton goes into revealing detail about his composition routines, how he organises his written scores showing all the instrumentation and information notes to the copyist etc. When asked , "Is it common to find directors who are musically confused?', Broughton candidly and openly replies, "Not really. There are times when the director tells you exactly what he or she wants and you have to hope that you are not translating. I have been in situations where I have stepped into it up to my chin, and the director suddenly says, "No, not that. I wanted such and such," which was exactly what he wanted all along, but I had translated wrong - I had thought he wanted something else. So I had to rewrite it.' And he goes on to observe that film music is all commercial music in that it is written to be criticised and altered, whereas nobody would dream of wanting to alter a composer's work for the concert hall.
James Newton Howard has the happy knack of being able to write beautiful tunes. "I suppose they're effortless in that they're essentially part of an unconscious process I approach most scores from the "theme is king" perspective. Yet he is not entirely satisfied with this emphasis. "As I look back on some of my older stuff I just find some of it is too melodic and melody-driven, which is a form that has become kind of boring to me. I think that I'm only lately getting away from that or becoming able to write more freely. I think that it is really all about counterpoint - more counterpoint and less melody. Just dig into the texture of the music rather than the melody or the theme." He goes on to discuss his music for such films as Pretty Woman, Prince of Tides and, particularly, Falling Down (the film in which Michael Douglas as a well-intentioned individual reacts with increasing violence to the world [suburban Los Angeles] that is crumbling around him). For this screenplay, he felt he had to restrain and contain the music except for a few brief manic outburst in the climactic scenes and even use a little mordant humour to ease the tension.
The interview with Mark Isham included a section on the composer's Academy Award-nominated music for A River Runs Through It. We learn that Redford already had a score which he rejected before Isham came on the scene. Isham comments, "When I saw the film, I immediately said, 'I know what will work on this.' And, luckily I was right.' Redford confirmed his hunch when he suggested that a Malcolm Arnold Scottish Dance and a Jean-Pierre Rampal recording of Celtic music was something like what he was after. So Isham wrote five beautiful "Celtic" melodies, almost like folk songs, and orchestrated them in different ways. "The music had to have a poetic quality because the film had a poetic quality. You have this beautiful narration all the way through the film, which is a very high-aesthetic film and a very subjective film. The guy (Brad Pitt) gets killed, but, other than that, everything else is sort of up in the air as to what's really happening. The film never really explores on the surface. It's like poetry. And so the music had to operate on that level."
Joel McNeely talks about his classical music, and 'Golden Age' film music inspirations. "Yes we all have our inspirations, and then we outgrow them I think it is important to stand on broad shoulders - it's a musical food chain. I have done my growing and learning in public I am now starting to amass a lot of different kinds of knowledge. I am starting to find out who I am and what it is I want to say " Further on in the interview Schelle raises McNeely's award-winning conducting assignments for Varèse Sarabande. Speaking about Vertigo, McNeely observed that Herrmann did not conduct the film's score himself; it was done in London during a musician's strike. "Since Herrmann was not allowed to conduct it, the tempos in the score are sometimes wildly different from what ended up in the movie. And sometimes, mostly from an expressive point, there are moments in Herrmann's score indicating that it is to stretch and stretch, but in the film they really blew right through those moments. So I was determined to stick to Herrmann's performance indications throughout It took a lot of work. It was also very difficult to record because a lot of it was very high, and you know how difficult it is for players to sit for long periods of time being really quiet and playing really high "
Thomas Newman (eldest son of the celebrated Alfred Newman) offers some thoughts on film music composers conducting their own music. "It took me quite a while to put together a sense of who I was and how I was to deal with musicians. I'd had some experience just talking to players, and I was told, "You get on the podium and you kind of talk Italian - whatever Italian you know." I remember the first time I got on the podium to conduct, it was just wow! Then you realise that it's not that big a deal. A musician friend of mine once said, 'You get out on the podium and you look at all those players and you think they're looking at you as if to say, 'Now what do you want us to do?' But no, they're asking themselves, 'When's the next break? When's lunch!" Newman talks about his composition processes. "The danger of working with abstract sound is that it can be anything for any amount of time. Sometimes I wonder how deep down into this well I dare dive, discovering my own instrumentation, my own orchestrations along the way. It is a discovery process. And that's good and bad. It can be very time-consuming; you can do five hours of work for ten minutes of result. Newman is keen to experiment to use synths well, for instance. "God, there have been some amazing things written before any electronics or sound processing existed! But I want to be a product of my own time Sometimes I think film music is an opportunity for people to justify their own conservative natures."
Marc Shaiman likes to use the themes he creates for his characters in interesting and meaningful ways. "I wrote my main theme for the Meg Ryan character [in Sleepless in Seattle] as a counterpoint to the song "An Affair to Remember" from the movie An Affair to Remember, the movie that she keeps talking about. When she is running to the Empire State Building, we're hearing the theme that we've been associating with Meg Ryan, her main theme, and "An Affair to Remember" - the themes from her movie and her life -playing together." Schelle observes that Shaiman uses that technique in First Wives Club too. At the very end, when the ladies are singing "You Don't Own Me", Shaiman's original themes for each of them are blended in. Schelle also notes that during the opening credits for An American President, Shaiman's patriotic tune modulates and arrives at a surprising new tonic key at the very moment his name appears on the screen, a trick that reaches back to the films of Korngold, Steiner, Waxman, and numerous others.
Shirley Walker went through the mill co-composing, orchestrating and conducting and, it appears, she collected a number of scars on the way up. When asked, "Do you use the sound effects as part of your musical atmosphere, she agreed "absolutely" and said that she had learnt that music and sound share the soundtrack and each have a contribution to make. "I love writing around sound. My music is capable of having a transparency even though the architecture of the composition might be dense I'm not going to have a timpani going as a car rolls up, because that's what the sound of the motor's going to do. It's already going to be there."
Now for what I personally think is the down side of this book.
The ordinary music lover with limited technical knowledge may well be stumped when encountering questions like this rhetorical one to Howard Shore: "In The Fly, the harmonisation of the principal motive is atonal but moves in parallel thirds and by root-third relationships."
Interviews with leading A list composers are few: no contribution from John Williams, nothing from James Horner, nothing from Jerry Goldsmith. Is it significant that the interview with Elmer Bernstein is the shortest? [Although it touches on some interesting points like Bernstein's relationships with his teachers, Aaron Copland, Stepan Wolpe and Roger Sessions, his attitude to the emotional content of scores, and his discovery and varied use of the Ondes Martinot.]
For me, opportunities have been missed. For a complete perspective it would have been instructive to interview descendents of, or those who knew the greats of the Golden Age. Why not, for instance, speak to John Waxman about his father Franz Waxman to gain some idea of what it was really like to work under the old studio system - that had the music department dictating the music rather than directors? Perhaps it might have been more preferable to have worked out specific themes for each interview and concentrate on those rather than attempt scatter shot questions that cover a lot of ground, but at the same time, the same sort of ground. Might it not have been better to have focussed more tightly on fewer more high profile films and TV scores rather than on so many obscure ones that many readers will not be aware of and are therefore unfamiliar with the music. This unfocussed style makes reading this book heavy going; I have to say it wearied me more and more as I progressed through it. One of the requirements of the interview style of presentation is that the interviewer edits what is said to tighten, elucidate and ease reading.
Perhaps for a future edition Mr Schelle might consider adding a CD with musical examples to make points that much clearer?
For the more technically-orientated film music college student, this book will be indispensable. The ordinary lover of film music, although thinking it good, even very good, on the whole, might have rather too many reservations for comfort.
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