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August 1999 Film Music CD
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EDITORS CHOICE August 1999
Franz WAXMAN Mr Skeffington Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg MARCO POLO 8.225037 [62:57]
Bette Davis knew the value of film music. She keenly appreciated its power to flatter her and support her portrayals, focusing and intensifying the emotions of her characters and, often, revealing contradictions in their personalities. Davis took a keen interest in the composition of the music for her films. At Warner Bros, where she was under contract from 1932 to 1949, her films were scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Max Steiner. They would all become very familiar with her screen characterisations. [Her favourite was Max Steiner, who contributed music for most of them - 20 in all.] But of Waxman's score for Mr Skeffington, Bette Davis told the composer's son, "Yes, now that was music!"
Excerpts from the scores of many Bette Davis's films were included in Charles Gerhardt's Classic Film Scores albums, notably "Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis" (RCA VICTOR GD80183) which included the strikingly atonal and advanced cue, 'Forsaken' from Mr Skeffington (Warner Bros. 1944). Fittingly, therefore, this new Marco Polo release carries the dedication - In Memory: Charles Gerhardt. [Gerhardt died on this year
In fact 'Forsaken' is one of the two climactic and most impressive cues in this new album. But first, a brief description of the film. Fanny Trellis (Bette Davis) marries the gentle rich Jew, Job Skeffington (Claude Rains) for his money but persists in her hedonistic lifestyle which includes many admirers. Eventually, an attack of diphtheria robs her of her beauty leaving her an ugly disfigured woman. Her suitors now only visit her because she might have money. Job returns after many years wandering about Europe on his own, and after suffering under the Nazis. He is blind and therefore oblivious of her disfigurement and so the film ends with Fanny at last finding fulfilment with her estranged husband.
Mr Skeffington was poorly received by critics and public alike when it was first released and not really appreciated until much later when it was seen by new audiences on TV. Waxman's score is film music of a very high order played by the Moscow SO on top form. They have clearly got into the stride of this series now and this is one of their best releases to date.
Waxman's score is heavily influenced by the richly romantic music of Richard Strauss. It is apparent in the brief storm music, in the wry humour that pervades much of the score especially in the scenes involving Fanny's many suitors where Waxman pokes mischevious fun at their foibles and, most dramatically, in the scene (the cue 'Finale') where Fanny descends the staircase to meet her now blind husband; here the music has quite eeie parallels with the Marschallin of Der Rosenkavalier.
The two main themes of Fanny and Job dominate the score. The former theme winds its way through self-indulgency to despair as illness ravages Fanny's beauty, to a glorious affirmatory 'Finale' as Job and Fanny are reunited. The music for Job on the other hand speaks of a stoic dependability and gentlemanly dignity. Much of the score's darker material surrounds the irresponsible activities of Fanny's self-destructive brother Trippy who is eventually killed in World War I which is held at a distance while Fanny continues to live life to the hilt. For the cue 'Forsaken', Waxman creates a disturbing, disorientated atonal atmosphere as the music swirls around Job's theme. Fanny, utterly desolated, finally accepts her predicament and at last appreciates the sterling worth of the husband she has largely ignored.
Waxman creates a sound world, which brilliantly evokes the sound and spirit of the age in which the film is set. In the orchestra you hear the honking of the automobiles as the first of Fanny's suitors arrive vying for her attentions, and you share the jazzy excitement and terror of the prohibition period. Waxman's gift is so acute that by some extraordinary alchemy Waxman he even succeeds in suggesting Davis's very individual gait.
and another view from Richard Adams
I can't imagine a better memorial to the great Charles Gerhardt than this CD. Gerhardt made what I believe are still the greatest recordings of Franz Waxman's music for the disc entitled Sunset Boulevard, part of the Classic Film Score Series on RCA. That disc is arguably the highlight of the entire RCA series and featured great music beautifully played and recorded. Waxman has been a lot less fortunate with other recording teams who have taken up his cause. The four (soon to be five) part "Legends of Hollywood" series on Varese Sarabande suffers from less than virtuosic playing from the Queensland Symphony Orchestra while the playing of the Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra on the complete Bride of Frankenstein re-recording from Silva Screen doesn't even approach professional standards. Marco Polo's own re-recording of Rebecca with Adriano conducting is also marred by indifferent conducting and playing. (It's frustrating that record producers assign 2nd and 3rd rate orchestras for film music re-recordings. Since these scores are usually only recorded once, they should be afforded the best playing and recordings possible.) Korngold, Herrmann and Rozsa have been luckier in this regard. Varese Sarabande is using the excellent Royal Scottish National Orchestra to re-record Herrmann's scores while Varese, Decca, DG and Koch have used front-rank orchestras to record Korngold and Rozsa. Waxman is the equal of any of those composers and he deserves better recording and production standards. With this new recording on Marco Polo of his score to Mr. Skeffington, he finally receives it.
This is the finest recording of a Waxman film score since Sunset Boulevard (admittedly I haven't heard Elmer Bernstein's reportedly outstanding 25-year old recording of The Silver Chalice once available through his film music club) and this may also be the best film score recording issued so far from Marco Polo. Everything about this production is top-drawer. Mr. Skeffington at first seemed an odd choice to record. Why not Prince Valiant, Hemingway's Adventures as a Young Man, The Spirit of St. Louis, Peyton Place or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde chosen instead? I should have know better than to second guess John Morgan and Bill Stromberg! This is glorious music that features the same rich melodies, sophisticated harmonies, inventive scoring, invigorating rhythms and virtuosic contrapuntal technique that characterize most of Waxman scores. Listening to this or any other Waxman score makes one wonder why he bothered to write such fully developed music when he must have believed what he was writing would never be heard on its own. Whatever his reasons, his scores work extremely well away from the visual images that inspired them.
Ian Lace discusses the specifics of the score and film in his review above. I would like to re-emphasize what he says about the recording itself. The first few recordings in this series were marred by some less than polished orchestral playing. Bill Stromberg has obviously developed a great rapport with the players of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and they have developed nicely under his direction. While you can still tell them apart from the very best orchestras, the differences are becoming increasingly insignificant. There are several bravura passages in this music which the MSO sails through without a hitch. Bill Stromberg's interpretation is everything a Waxman fan could wish for. The music has the necessary sweep but at the same time he is careful to assure that all the orchestral details come through clearly. He is aided with a good recording that is open, detailed but has an adequate amount of ambient warmth.
Mr Skeffington was trimmed by nearly 20 minutes at the time of its release in 1944. This required Waxman to do some last minute rearranging and cutting. Score reconstructionist John Morgan has gone back to the original sketches and has reinstated the cuts thereby lengthening several of the cues. This is typical of Morgan's dedication to authenticity as well as his commitment to present these scores in the best possible light. Morgan's involvement in this series is one of the principal reasons for its success. Finally, special praise must be given to Bill Whitaker's outstanding liner notes. The film and the music have been exhaustively researched and discussed in an essay that are as entertaining to read as they are informative. If only this was the standard that all companies followed in writing liner notes. This disc is strongly recommended.
EDITORS RECOMMENDATION August 1999
Ennio MORRICONE One Upon A Time in America Special edition including previously unreleased material RESTLESS/BMG 74321619762 [49:55]
Doublecheck if purchasing from Amazon that I have listed the correct album as they list more than one and do not show a cover
This is a very welcome return of a classic score now presented in a marvellously refurbished CD format with substantial new material omitted from the original 1984 release.
Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time In America starred Robert de Niro and James Woods. It was a saga of a bunch of gangsters set in 1923, 1933 and 1968. For Leone, it was much more than just a gangster movie - he conceived an almost dark operatic treatment about society's outcasts, friendship and betrayal.
Incredibly Morricone's much-praised score was not nominated for an Oscar in 1985 because of an administrative oversight as the Ladd production company was winding down. (The film was distributed by Warner Bros. They would probably have been more awake to the opportunity). The film, itself, was not a success at first; its greatness appreciated only when its full complexity became apparent when the complete over 220-minute version appeared on TV and home video.
Morricone's haunting music is sentimental, melancholic and nostalgic emphasising the sadness, the tragic fates and camaraderie of the gang. The main theme of the film immediately establishes this mood. It appears in two forms. The first is more serious and string-dominated for the '30s and '60s segments of the film, while a more carefree and jaunty version, using a brighter jazz-band orchestration, reflective of the 1920s in 'Friends' dominates the '20s segments. In the early cue 'Poverty' and even more so in the later 'Childhood Poverty', the composer evokes the boy's harsh early lives in the New York ghettos with appropriate period sounds of saloon piano, mandolin and recorder. This memorable, yearning, reaching theme starkly suggests why the boys turn to a life of crime. Just as Morricone used a harmonica to telling dramatic effect in Once Upon a Time in the West, so he uses a pan flute here for 'Cockeye's Song.' Cockeye is one of the original gang and often seen playing the instrument. Morrione cleverly uses this theme in some of the most dramatic and violent moments of the 1923 segments of the film.
There is much use of the period song 'Amapola' in various forms such as a chamber ensemble, as a counterpoint to Deborah's theme and in a slow version with clarinet playing the melody (on an old Victrola record player) to accompany the young Deborah as she rehearses her ballet steps while the young Noodles (de Niro) spies on her through a keyhole). De Nero's love for her is never consummated and so Morricone's gentle theme for Deborah is correspondingly sad and wistful. Other source music features strongly ranging from Cole Porter's 'Night and Day' to Lennon and McCartney's 'Yesterday.'
Morricone makes much use of jazz in his score especially in relation to the stolen pleasures of the speakeasies and prohibition where it suggests wild, raucous parties.
There are some substantial additions in this new format with a suite of previously unreleased music comprising interesting alternative treatments of the main themes and cues not used in the final cut of the movie. It also contains some intriguing atonal music for the more violent and suspenseful episodes of the film. A further unused cue is also included which is another haunting piece very much in the mood of the other main themes.
The packaging is superb with a 16-page colour booklet containing many stills from the film, production photographs and most informative notes by Jon Burlingame.
Alfred NEWMAN The Song of Bernadette OST VARÈSE SARABANDE (Fox Classics) 2CD VSD2-6025 [104:50]
Released by 20th Century Fox in 1943, The Song of Bernadette was nominated for 11 Oscars. The film won four: for Jennifer Jones's glowing portrayal of Bernadette Soubirous, the 14 year-old peasant girl who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto which would become the religious shrine at Lourdes in southern France; for cinematography; interior decoration and for Alfred Newman's score.
Newman always considered this score to be something very special. A Fox publicist at the time reported that "He delved extensively into old French songs and Gregorian chants" in his preparatory researches. While Europe was engaged in the bloody conflict of World War II, it was clearly impossible to obtain on-the-spot material and "colour." By sheer coincidence, however, a lady, hired as an extra, turned out to be from Lourdes and her late husband had been organist in the Basilica there. One day she arrived on the set carrying music that her husband had played, wondering "if the studio might be interested?"
The music for 'Bernadette was the "biggest musical project in the history of the studio" employing an 80-piece symphony orchestra and several choirs. Newman's wonderful music for the scene in which Bernadette sees the Virgin Mary caused him some anxiety. He considered musical styles like those of Schubert and Wagner but dismissed them. In the end, he remembered that Bernadette never claimed to have seen anything other than "a beautiful lady." He therefore chose to interpret the event not as a divine revelation, but as he said later, "as an extraordinarily lovely experience that came to a young girl, who was not sophisticated enough, either intellectually or religiously, to evaluate it as anything other than a vision of beauty."
The beautiful main theme has purity and nobility. There is also an imposing brass chorale to represent the might and majesty of the Church and a Wagnerian-style motif - romantic yet spiritual - to represent the vision of the Grotto of Massabielle.
Newman's music undeniably played a major part in the success of the film. Newman very sensitively conveys and heightens Bernadette's unshakeable belief in what she had seen, the scepticism of the local municipal and church officials, even members of her family, and the discovery of apparent healing powers of a nearby spring.
The second CD includes some interesting material - four cues (including an affective alternative 'Commission Convenes') and three unused cues.
But does the music work away from the film? I find myself torn between an emotional affection for this well-loved score and a more reasoned conclusion that like Newman's score for The Greatest Story Ever Told there is too much material on one level. Some may feel that over 100 minutes of Newman's high-strings piety is rather too rich a feast.
Jon Burlingame's notes are illuminating but he tends to be rather too reverential. He tells us that Newman was the most honoured composer in Hollywood history: forty-five Oscar nominations and nine Academy Awards. One therefore wonders why there are comparatively few albums of his music. A close look at the record reveals that many of these nominations and awards were for music direction or for arranging other composer's music (eg 1953 Oscar for musical direction for Call Me Madam - it was Irving Berlin's music; and his 1956 Award for musical direction for The King and I - this music was, of course, composed by Richard Rogers. Then one must consider Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938 Oscar) again with music by Irving Berlin and With A Song in My Heart (1952 Oscar for music direction). These facts are often overlooked to the detriment of the reputation of other composers. Thus, by my reckoning, John Williams must now equal, if not lead in the Oscar stakes for highest number of accolades for original compositions. [Alfred Newman was the head of the music department at 20th Century Fox as well as being one of that studio's major composers. In effect, therefore, he was something of a combination of Warner Bros.' Leo Forbstein and Max Steiner ]
Danny ELFMAN Instinct OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD 6041 [38:38]
From the cold crystalline world of A Simple Plan, Danny Elfman turns, in his new score for Instinct, to the hot-house, exotic atmosphere of the jungles of Rwanda to create a warm and colourful score which celebrates the wild and the free. The music is preponderantly warm-hearted and compassionate, mystical even (especially when the women's wordless chorus is used) moving slowly but with deliberation, propelled by intriguing cross-rhythms. It often employs ethnic percussion instruments, drums and sticks etc for colour as in the Main and End Titles and 'Into the Wild. Well into this latter cue there is some sublime writing for divided strings and harp
The music would seem to be working against the screenplay. Advance publicity (the film has not arrived here in the UK yet) tells us that the Anthony Hopkins character, a brilliant primatologist, had been living with and studying gorillas in the jungles of Rwanda. He is accused of murder and thrown into a brutal prison for the criminally insane. The Cuba Gooding character, a psychologist, tries to uncover the dark secrets in the mind of Hopkins. What he encounters is a series of perplexing mysteries, questions with chilling answers and shocking psychological truths.
Elfman's music gives little hint of this turbulence. Most of the score unfolds serenely as if floating, swaying or gliding on the humid jungle air - you can visualise the song and flight of spectacularly coloured insects and birds and sense the fragrance of the tropical plants. You have the distinct impression of peace and beauty undefiled. In 'Back to the Forest' Elfman introduces the first but brief note of disquiet and eerieness but this quickly dissipates and there is another lovely passage employing complex slow moving rhythms that suggested to me speckled patterns of shower drops. Again in 'Everybody Goes' and especially in 'The Killing', violence is brief and subordinated. 'The Riot' is the wildest cue with terse rapid-fire staccato brass notes but the brutality is brief. The music becomes tranquil and almost mystical in 'Escape.'
An enchanting album. If you liked Randy Edelman's score for Six Days and Seven Nights, you'll like this album. Very enjoyable
Paul GRABOWSKY Noah's Ark The Victorian Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Paul Grabowsky VARESE SARABANDE VSD-6027 [59:00]
Every once in a while a score comes along that is non-committal to the point of sad triviality. That the television score to Hallmark Entertainment's "Noah: Warrior Carpenter" (officially titled "Noah's Ark," though most people know this particular morality tale without the hokey dialogue, Photoshop special effects, comic relief, and steady stream of period anachronisms) is so thoughtlessly derivative and hit or miss is an affront to the story it attempts to support and recreate. The music, like the TV mini-series itself, is loaded with big names that are not there because of their usefulness, but because they fill a questionable business requirement to have contemporary distractions for the benefit of great unwashed masses. Unlike the TV mini-series, the musical leads and cameos here receive no proper credit.
There are appearances by Horner, Stravinsky, Wagner, Mancini, and a host of others, all unaltered, all cheaply used with obnoxious wit and reason. For instance, the highlight of the score, a whimsical ditty called 'March of the Animals' ultimately leads nowhere, except perhaps to a ludicrous (but gratefully brief) James Horner to Danny Elfman hybrid of "Edward Scissorhands" and "Titanic" that is nonetheless the score's emotional peak! The orchestral rumbles used to evoke the power of God make The Almighty sound like He has a bad case of indigestion. The sentimental music is a rehash of every third-rate cinematic love theme in existence. Attempts to provide an 'ethnic' feel to the score often result in what sound like a tone-deaf camel chewing an oud rather than a musician playing one. Sure, it is easily accessible and listenable, but for much the same cause that slows people down to look at a tragic accident.
Zero originality, no credibility. It should be an embarrassment, but it is so lackadaisical that it offends most on account that it neither offends nor delights on its own. It is empty twaddle. *No* film score should be indifferent. That the same people who hired Richard Hartley to write the magical score to "Alice in Wonderland" approved this moth-eaten patchwork is a catastrophe. Everyone's been there, and done too much of that. The score doesn't even have camp value.
Duke ELLINGTON Anatomy of a Murder Columbia / Legacy CK 65569 [75:57]
'Crime Jazz' is a sound you can't help but love. Despite the pastiche development from the likes of Police Squad, it has never become so cliché that anyone using it for sincere dramatic purposes cannot do so without inadvertently raising a smile in the audience.
Can it really be 100 years since the birth of Duke Ellington ? Did it really take Hollywood so long to embrace his talent ? This wonderfully expanded album shows how at 60, Duke was still more than on top of his life and career. The sheer energy and dynamism in every cue is incredibly infectious. If only some of the interminable court dramas produced today would take a leaf out of this success story's book...
At CD capacity length there is way too much to chronicle musically. The jazz tenets are as inspired as you would expect - often surpassing expectation with breakdowns or staccato rhythm for particular effect to picture. In two halves, the collectible aspect to cover here is the latter section which is chock full of unreleased goodies. There are rehearsal takes, a collection of stings, alternate and deleted takes, and even Duke's own rehearsal for his cameo role !
Giovanni TOMMASO La Prima Volta OST CAM Original Soundtracks CAM-494632 [38:17]
For this 1998 Italian arthouse film about a group of young adults recalling their first erotic experiences, director Massimo Martella hired famed contemporary jazz musician and composer Giovanni Tommaso. The result is surprisingly eclectic, if occasionally off-putting.
Contemporary jazz, frequently with a techno beat, obviously dominates the soundtrack. Precise, undulating rhythms, bass accents, and improvised cadenzas wildly perforate the music. It is an acquired taste, a propensity I admit I do not have in abundance. Why useless droning seems to be gaining popularity as film composing technique, I have no idea, although Tommaso does spare listeners from excessive
doodling. For diehard fans of orchestral music, however, it is a style difficult to approach with any great comfort. Lovers of the jazz and techno genres will undoubtedly enjoy it more. I am not among them, as I said. Nevertheless, one must say this product is functional, interesting, the creation of someone with a high degree of musical skill. It improves with multiple listenings, partially because there is more to it than what initially meets the eye (ear?).
There are a couple of relatively unobtrusive songs ('G. & E.,' 'You and me house' -- both composed by Tommaso and Enzo Lo Greco). The easy listening moments, such as a relaxed love theme ('Noi due') and the intro to 'Soft and hard,' are welcome islands amidst the hullabaloo. "La Prima Volta" also features a wonderful small ensemble consisting of piano & keyboards, classic guitar, acoustic guitar, electric bass, drums, and contrabass (the last performed by the composer). It is a well-produced disc, but short, and a possible gamble. The sole guaranteed recommendation goes to those who enjoy these strong pop influences, otherwise the disc is... experimental.
David A STEWART Cookies Fortune OST BMG/RCA 74321 661102 [42.12]
Cookies Fortune, is one of this year's major films, receiving acclaim with its all star cast, and original, mood-setting film score written by Dave Stewart. Directed and produced by the prolific Robert Altman who is credited with making more than thirty films, all of which share wide-ranging casts and musical undertows; in the case of Cookie's Fortune, the Blues.
Patricia Neal plays 'Cookie' an eccentric old widow, who flouting convention, shares her home (and games of one-upmanship!) with Wills (Charles D Sutton), a middle aged black man. Wills has a penchant for bourbon and Theo's Bar, a blues owned by Theo (Rufus Thomas), but dominated by the voluptuous Josie. Other central characters in the film are Cookie's estranged nieces, Glen Close, as 'Camille' and Julianne Moore as 'Cora'. Cookie's one cherished relative is Cora's restless daughter Emma, played by Liv Tyler, who shares Wills' fondness for bourbon and Cookie! Emma is the local object of desire for both Manny (Lyle Lovette) a local catfish supplier and Jason the deputy sheriff, played by Chris O'Donell.
Altman called upon the talents of the iconic Dave Stewart to create the 'Cookies Fortune' soundtrack that would reflect the feel of the film, which is set in Holly Springs in the Deep South of America. Himself a passionate devotee of the blues, Stewart produced the award winning documentary 'Deep Blues' - the history of Delta blues. To fulfil the needs of the film for musicians, who could play the roles of Theo and Josie, Altman scoured Memphis, Tennessee where in Beale Street he came across Rufus Thomas and Ruby Wilson.
The soundtrack opens with the instrumental "Cookie" which introduces the album's main theme. Some evocative electric bottleneck guitar carries a typical blues riff over a percussion and synthesiser track. The saxophone takes over the theme, then the two duet, taking a line each. The scene is set. This is the Deep South; hard living, sultry and with a hint of danger.
"Camilla's Prayer" features steamy bottleneck blues with a dance track laid underneath and a spoken vocal. Throughout, the guitar playing (most of it by Dave Stewart himself) and the excellent sax solos (by Candy Dulfer) seem to juxtapose the hard-working honesty of days in the country with the darker forces of bar-based nightlife and tangled relationships.
"A Good Man", like many of the tracks on this album, picks up on the main theme, but then moves on to a vocal rendition featuring some screaming blues by none other than Bono!
The film's featured composition is "I'm Coming Home", sung by Ruby Wilson, who plays the part of Josie. Humming along with the main theme, her vocal develops into a blistering blues anthem, with harmonium backing giving a gospel feel to the whole song.
The album is built around these three tracks: Cookie/Wild Women Don't Get The Blues/Helios/Camilla's Prayer/The Cookie Jar/Hey Josie/All I'm Saying Is This/A Good Man/Did Good Didn't I?/A Golden Boat/I'm Coming Home/Willis Is Innocent/Patrol Car Blues/Emma/.Humming Home.
The rest of the tracks are of a "fill-in" nature, and help to move the story along. They give the album as a whole a shimmering, heatwave quality with synthesiser-produced "wave" effects, persistent drumming and a good deal of sampling taken from lines spoken by the film's actors.
My personal favourite is "Patrol Car Blues", a pulsing instrumental with a shuffle feel and an electric guitar with a tremolo setting employed. The whole piece builds up menacingly, simulating the approach of some unseen danger, and explodes with a train whistle/scream from the guitar, complete with a percussion line echoing the sound of the wheels on the track. This one features the guitar playing of The Edge and is for me the high point of the album.
"Cookies Fortune" contains no desperately original melodies, themes or lyrics, but then that's not the point. The familiarity of the sounds and the Deep Blues clichés are what is needed to evoke the heat and passion of the American Deep South, and this CD certainly does that.
Collection: Cinema Romance Performed by Omoté-Sando VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6033 [59:25]
Themes from: Hope Floats (Dave Grusin); Message in a Bottle (Gabriel Yared); Ever After (George Fenton); Life is Beautiful (Nicolai Piovani); Bridges of Madison County (Clint Eastwood/Lennie Niehaus); Shakespeare in Love (Stephen Warbeck); Sense and Sensibility (Patrick Doyle); Cinema Paradiso (Ennio Morricone); Meet Joe Black (Thomas Newman); My Best Friend's Wedding (James Newton Howard); My Heart Will Go On from Titanic (James Horner); You've Got Mail (George Fenton); Theme in Search of a Movie (Grant Geissman).
The first thing to make clear is that these are all new recordings; the material is not from the original soundtracks. The tracks are all arrangements performed by Omoté-Sando - guitar, cello, reeds, piano and percussion. As can be seen from the list above these are all relatively new films and it has to be said that in the main the melodies are undistinguished and unmemorable. Having said that, this is most relaxing and soothing music played at a slow tempo just right for easy listening late at night and for smooching with someone special.
Of the 13 tracks, I warmed the most to the music for Bridges of Madison County in a laid-back and quasi country and western style; the bitter-sweet, cello-led music for My Best Friend's Wedding and the silken guitar-led sweet sentimentality of You've Got Mail. The last track, 'Theme in Search of a Movie', is something of a mystery for which the booklet provides no solution but it ripples along pleasantly enough.
Collection: WILD WEST The Essential Western Film Music Collection City of Prague PO conductors: Paul Bateman; Nic Raine; Derek Wadsworth 2 CDs SILVA SCREEN FILMXCD 315 [72:00] + [73:35]
This is a generously-timed though occasionally 'rough and ready' two CD collection. The performances vary from the excellent to the ho-hum! Technical features are never less than good and the recordings are all 1990s vintage. Some of the tracks will be known from other (usually composer-themed) Silva collections.
There is a great deal of music here and for all the occasional lack of finesse it remains pretty consistently enjoyable. The chance to hear this wide landscape prompts many thoughts about cross-fertilisation of ideas within an admittedly rather inward-looking genre. Scores from the 'Golden Age' are meant to jump through particular and venerated hoops if they are to qualify for 'greatness'. For the most part these scores know where the hoops are, understand the clearance required and vault through them like practised athletes.
Although the title indicates a collection of film music there are a few attractive TV-originated 'black sheep' amongst the flock.
I will deal with the contents as I track through each disc. The first disc overtures with Tiomkin's Alamo theme, hymn-like with a fine swing prompting recollections of Smetana's Vltava. The Big Country's chattering strings and brilliant trumpet theme is presented without the sharp and crisp definition I had hoped for but the performance is respectably exciting. Buffalo Girls' cantina guitar-decorated siesta ride glows, with stetson down over eyes and the horse ambling along half asleep. Williams' score for The Cowboys has some punchy cut and slash and is perkily ear-catching. Dances With Wolves (John Dunbar Theme) has a slowly trekking wild prairie atmosphere. A Distant Trumpet is all jingling 'Boots and Saddles', blue serge and yellow bandanas - nothing at all ersatz about the performance! El Condor returns to the dry heat of the cantina but is dotted with lively guitar skits and jazzy material as if from Constant Lambert's Horoscope. The excellent guitar dominates and rings out close to our ears. A Fistful of Dollars is typically Morricone; like an ecclesiastical version of Nights In The Gardens Of Spain (de Falla). Sadly the cor anglais theme seems rather hurried in this performance. Gettysburg (Edelmann) is fulsome; blastingly steady and yet conveying tired repletion . fatigued triumph and a splash of Waltonian splendour.
Glory is Horner in tribute mode. A choral/orchestral slice of Orff's Carmina Burana cut deep and bloody. Heaven's Gate has a Morricone-like guitar solo. High Plains Drifter is eldritch with solo soprano voices keeling, diving and rising on baking verticals. How The West Was Won is brazen dynamism in echt Western style. The Last Of the Mohicans represents Trevor Jones in superb clothing - a tortured journey of the soul. Lonesome Dove is rather tired Poledouris or at least reads that way here and I am not endeared by the 'Robert E Lee' dance conclusion. The Magnificent Seven lacks the zipping sharp clip and definition of the OST. In TV territory Maverick (Randy Newman) is off-beat jazz age stuff. John Barry's Monte Walsh is pretty ordinary while Morricone's Once Upon A Time In The West is dreamy but is rather compromised by a wobbly-voiced female solo.
The second disc opens with Jarré's Mexican hoe-down for The Professionals (OK but when is someone going to record the superb Jarré score for Enemy Mine) motivated by El Salon Mexico. The Outlaw Josey Wales sports a mouth organ solo. Jerry Fielding's The War Is Over evokes singing across battlefields. Jerome Moross's Proud Rebel steps from the pages of Dvorák's New World Symphony with a sprinkling of Copland's Appalachia and Red Pony innocence. John Williams Rare Breed is in a recent Williams collection as is The Cowboys - all exuberance and sounds dynamic and dapper. Red Sun is another score by Jarré. Tense and featuring some rather pathetic coconut hoof noises as well as some of the fine pacing of The Magnificent Seven music. Steiner's The Searchers is apocalyptic stuff with Janacekian brass and searching stellar high strings picking out an epic ride. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon is a return to authentic Boots And Saddles blue serge - gaudy music bursting with 1950s American consumerist confidence. A gas-guzzler of a score.
Silverado is by Bruce Broughton. The high kicking, superb horns are a hallmark of the Prague orchestra. Oddly enough the theme made me think of the music for Battlestar Galactica. Elmer Bernstein's Sons Of Katie Elder is another magnificent seven clone-echo done with zip. Not so much Son Of Katie Elder more son of The Magnificent Seven. The score for the John Wayne 'vehicle' Stagecoach was written by a committee of composers including the very interesting Louis Gruenberg whose pacy Violin Concerto was recorded by Heifetz. The score in brassily inconsequential. Another Wayne job: True Grit opts in Elmer Bernstein's hands for lyrical chamber textures than the blatant prairie stuff. Two Mules For Sister Sara is Morricone again with trademark plangent guitar, ecclesiastical atmosphere and 'teardop in eternity' sadness. The Unforgiven has a solo guitar again is Lennie Neuhaus's Claudia's Theme: excellent and worth pairing with Myers' Deer Hunter theme. It revels in a lovely sense of chaste sadness; a touch of Ravel's Infanta Défunte. Jarré is in the saddle again for Villa Rides; another 'clip clop' score struck through with Mexicana. Wagon Train is by Moross: all far-stretching plains and a calculating wide-stepping theme seeming to limn the prairie landscape in sound. Jerry Fielding's The Wild Bunch is an essay in violent Stravinskian music, jazzy with an invigorating slice Alex North; A film noir of a Western. Superb! The Wild Rovers is by Jerry Goldsmith and its tributaries from Copland and Kodaly meet in brash horn clashing, sadly undermined by kitsch clip-clop hoof-falls. Wyatt Earp is by James Newton Howard: lyrical like Poledouris's Lonesome Dove with horns prominent carried by soft ecstatic string writing. The Richard Markowitz score represents a sort of Patton goes West with a touch of jazz and (horrifyingly in this context) a hint of Mike Post's The A Team music.
The ones that got away: Percy Faith's superb music for The Virginian; the theme from The High Chapparal and the music from Blazing Saddles although quite who is going to measure up to the original solo vocalist I do not know.
The booklet (which I note does not give as much cast and plot detail as previous issues from Silva) gives date, director and lead actors.
I note that all the usual typos have been continued from previous issues. About time these were tidied up and removed:, 'micronsonics', 'compatable', 'sophisicated'. Come on fellas!
Ian Lace adds:-
I broadly agree with everything Rob Barnett says about this collection. The performances are uneven and CD1 is better than CD2. I was disappointed with the flat reading of Maurice Jarre's The Professionals and the excitement of the bouncy tune tends to have been drained from Jerry Goldsmith's Wild Rovers, for instance, but I enjoyed Lee Hodridge's Buffalo Girls, Maurice Jarre's El Condor, Randy Edelman's Gettysburg, Max Steiner's The Searchers and Bruse Broughton's Silverado despite the fact that the opening was poorly balanced - the main theme should have shouted out on the trumpet. But overall this is a pleasing compilation, big, bold and lusty - so pardners - Giddy-ap! Yahoo!
The Stone Killer OST CINEPHILE CIN CD006 [41:10]
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The Marseille Contract OST CINEPHILE CIN CD 009 [39:46]
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The Wild Geese OST CINEPHILE CIN CD 014 [35:49]
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Kidnapped OST CINEPHILE CIN CD015 [37:13]
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Flight of the Doves OST CINEPHILE CIN CD010 [35:43]
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The Stone Killer
Michael Winner's reputation was built on gritty violence taken to the point where the boundaries of acceptability were tested. Whatever mainstream 'acclaim' he may have basked in his films enjoyed some commercial success.
Budd's music for The Stone Killer is very varied. Breaking-strain tense with spare textures are provided by a full orchestra. There is a sprinkling of big band music and some commercial rock as in track 4 . Track 8 is like a slowed down Tales of the Unexpected.. There are a few real explosions of violence. Often the big band sound is alternated with chamber textures and a strong accent of French sixties film music bordering on Claude Lelouch.
Copland's Appalachian Spring rubs shoulders with Sondheim/Gemigniani exuberance. Starsky and Hutch one moment; swanky hotel cocktail bar piano the next. Track 6's sleepy jazz trio has a glitter-whispering piano part.
The tracks use enigmatic master tape titles simply because they cannot now be easily related to the film episodes. The sound quality is excellent - an aural tribute to the remastering team. Speaking of whom Paul Fishman also wrote the lively music note and 'our own' Paul Tonks produced the engagingly literate plot notes. Pity the track times are not given on the back of the CD case. Total playing time is also not declared.
The Wild Geese
With a theme that is a crossover between the themes for The Magnificent Seven and The A Team, oompah Teutonic with a touch of Holst's brass band this score has a buxom dynamism and a swagger stick element recalling Ron Goodwin's dramaturgy. This is offset with Joan Armatrading's dreamy though not desperately memorable song Flight of the Wild Geese. This song is, however, better than the wince-making Parade Ground  and Left Right  which includes a truly hideous song sung with murderous conviction by the voices of the Irish Guards. Remember the men of the New Philharmonia chorus in Frankel's OST LP of Battle of the Bulge sounding uncannily similar to the way we would imagine the massed choirs of Hitler's Leibstandarte Division might have sounded?
The romance is represented by an silvery high-speed theme on the strings (track 11 and elsewhere). The same theme has overtones of the Biblical epic approach of Miklós Rózsa as well as a smidgin of John Barry in his most swooping swooning James Bond mode (You Only Live Twice). The same line is also to be found in Budd's arrangements of the Nocturne from Borodin's String Quartet No. 2. When the two join together in track 15 Budd pulls off a superb emotional coup and does it with great taste. I wish the track and idea had been allowed to bloom over a longer duration.
The insert notes, which are briefer than those for The Stone Killer, are in another single sheet folded three times. This has the advantage of including a large format original film poster. The disadvantage is the short shelf life of such a format: prone to tearing and other wear.
I must not forget that every disc in this series is designed to look like an old style film spool - a great touch by .. whoever's decision that was.
Decent notes by Geoff Leonard and Pete Walker and hey! . we even have the orchestra identified. The repro of the cover of the original LP is also useful.
As usual the total timing and individual track duration is not included on the leaflet or anywhere else.
Anyone enjoying scores for war films of 633 Squadron, Battle of Britain and A Bridge Too Far needs to hear this worthy and often stingingly apt piece of Glam-militaria.
The Marseille Contract
This score was never issued on LP (although there was a French 7 inch issue) and has been produced (Paul Fishman claims 'genetically modified') and remixed from the original soundtrack tapes. The territory is familiar enough: murder and mayhem; drugs and dazzling seventies chromium in French locales. The plot no longer matters. The actors are worth mentioning as a cross-reference and memory-jogger: Michael Caine, Anthony Quinn and James Mason.
The music strides along at speed mixing in some high tensile William Schuman effects. Film music exclusivists who wonder what on earth I am going on about should try to hear Schuman's Violin concerto and his third symphony. Track 2's music is bell-like but plagued with 1970s trendy. Tabla sounds stalk the listener in track 3 and a funky Shaft haunts track 4. Track 8 has a definitely French 'spin': half sad half seductive and redolent of an early morning loneliness. In the final 'house mix' track disco beat meets sophisticated Galllic jazz.
The insert notes by Paul Fishman and Paul Tonks are golden. They leave me with very little to say (but somehow I always manage to say it). The notes are about the same length as those for the same company's disc of the Budd Wild Geese: a fragile single sheet folded three times with a large format original film poster on one side. Technical aspects are fine with some excellent work having been done on the original tapes and tape hiss barely detectable - in fact I couldn't hear any. The design is consistent: a CD looking like an old style film spool and Budd's signature in facsimile on the winningly distressed-silvery disc. Roy Budd is pictured in the notes leaning nonchalantly against his G registered (1968!) Lotus..
Flight of the Doves
Flight of the Doves (1971) was a family film about two children who take flight from their cruel stepfather. Their journey takes them from Liverpool to Ireland where they seek the protection of their Granny O'Flaherty (Dorothy McGuire). In fact they are inheritors of a large fortune and they are pursued by their wicked uncle (Ron Moody) who in all sorts of disguises and ruses to prevent the children reaching their goal and claiming their inheritance. The music is genial and includes a number of songs and material based on traditional Irish music ('Fiddler at the Fair' being prominent). The strongest and most memorable of the songs is: 'Little Boy, Little Girl' (written with producer and lyricist Jack Fishman). It is this melody which forms the backbone of Budd's gentle score. His piano-led instrumental version is played over the main titles and it captures, very well, the charm, atmosphere and location of the film. Elsewhere Budd's versatility is evident in music with such diverse influences as Tchaikovsky and Henry Mancini; and the comic-dramatic music of the silent film era is recreated to underscore the thwarted villainies of the Moody character.
The popular singer, Dana, who had leapt to fame winning the Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland with 'All Kinds of Everything', sings 'Little Boy, Little Girl.'
Kidnapped (1971) starring Michael Caine, Trevor Howard and Jack Hawkins was the fourth attempt at filming Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure story. In this case, however, story lines from the author's sequel Catriona were included in the screenplay. Again Budd demonstrates his gift for writing a memorable main theme, often in song form. For Kidnapped he wrote two principal themes that appear in varying guises throughout the film. As he caught the atmosphere of Ireland in Flight of the Doves, so he now evokes the true essence of Scotland by drawing on the country's authentic traditional instrumentation and musical forms. We have pipe and drums prominent in military music, for instance Again, disparate influences are clear from the romance of Henry Mancini to the more astringent music of Bernard Herrmann in the string writing of 'Fugitive from the Redcoats' Mary Hopkin, a popular vocalist of the time, sings the ballad 'For All My Days' the music for which is prominent in the film for the romance between David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas) and Catriona (Vivien Heilbron); and as a plaintive lament for the lost cause of the heroic rebel Alan Breck (Caine).
Christopher FRANKE Babylon 5: The River of Souls Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra/Franke Sonic Images SID8907 [49:55]
I, like thousands of other viewers, am constantly surfing TV channels to see what's on offer, with the plethora of stations to view, whether it be cable, satellite or terrestrial (whatever that may mean these days with digital channels through your aerial!), and frequently find myself drawn to Babylon 5. Its not my regular fare, nor have I ever seen more than a few minutes of an episode, but I am always intrigued by the fantastic images of alien creatures and bizarre sets, and stay for just a few moments for it to register in my psyche. However, to be honest, the bubble bursts once some ludicrous creation, cross between lizard and hammerhead shark, quite obviously Homo sapiens in rubber suit starts speaking mid-Atlantic drawl. I flick onwards. But next time, I think I'm going to hang around and check it out!
The soundtrack to The River of Souls, by Christopher Franke has quite simply got me thinking. Composed especially for this episode (OK I know there are references to the main Babylon 5 theme tune), it is a tour de force. Superb interplay of conventional "straight" orchestral arrangements, using the Berlin orchestra, and the more contemporary sounds of Mr Yamaha and Co are simply inspiring. Using synthesized sounds to paint a soundscape can be a hazardous occupation, these textures quickly start to sound dated, what is this weeks "cool sound" can overnight become embarrassingly twee (take a listen to an old Rick Wakeman album to see what I mean). Christopher Franke' s selections seem to me to be spot on. The mental imagery and emotional tides certainly carried this reviewer downstream on The River of Souls. Mind you, I'm a sucker for a good Hammond Organ sound, the sleazy, bluesy tracks conveying a space brothel bought a chuckle to my lips. But why Mr Franke can we not have had a real drummer and bass player? I know that with a machine you only have to punch the information in once, but I missed the human touch.
All in all, this CD is a fascinating selection of moods and thrills, competently written and superbly played and arranged. This particular episode features the talents of Ian McShane, Martin Sheen and Richard Biggs, a benchmark of talent and quality.
EDITORS RECOMMENDATION August 1999
Bob FOSSE's Sweet Charity (Book by Neil Simon; Music by Cy Coleman with lyrics by Dorothy Fields) Original Broadway Cast SONY SMK 60960 [75:29]
Shirley MacLaine shone brightly as Sweet Charity in the 1969 film of the Broadway musical which itself had its roots in Fellini's Le noyyi di Cabiria. It is often forgotten however, that Gwen Verdon the original Sweet Charity was just as arresting in the role.
This marvellous refurbished reissue, in excellent sound, has all the numbers one remembers from the film; plus interviews with members of the production immediately after the premiere of the show - Ethel Merman, Hellen Gallagher (who plays Nickie), Neil Simon, and Gwen Verdon herself.
All those unforgettable numbers are here: 'Big Spender' (blasted out with real abandon); 'If My Friends Could See Me Now'; 'There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This'; I Love to Cry at Weddings'; and 'Where Am I Going Now?'
Tango Libre Tango Libre Mikael Augustsson (bandoneón); Anna Lindal (violin); Sven Aberg (guitars and baroque lute); Mikael Jöback (paino, harpsichord, fortepiano); Jonas Dominique (bass) BIS-CD-907 [54:16]
Al Pacino certainly started something with his tango in Scent of a Woman. Since then there has been a constant stream of albums celebrating the genre. This is one of the best. It is indeed free Tango - full of tang and bite. Right from the opening 'A fuego lento' (over a slow fire) you know that you are in for something refreshingly different. This piece regards romance with sour disdain. It is a hilarious send-up of the old fashioned Hollywood torrid tangos where you knew that at least one of the dancers was up to no-good.
These numbers are full of character, irreverent and sassy and the young ensemble play them with lusty abandonment. The El Chocolo is well-known but is given a very cheeky and mischievous treatment here. Each number is given an often terse description in the booklet. The one for this number is very anarchic - "It danced with me. She danced with me. He danced with me on the forest's covering of pine needles They danced with me, it danced with me..But which of us was the fool? We were a fool." I wonder how many they, it, she, he had had??
In the instrumentation for Nostalgias you can almost hear the tell-tale tear-jerking of the man who has been deserted by his girl-friend but says he won't allow himself to wallow in his grief. There is a military like tango for Taquito militar and Porteña y nada mas is more of a South American waltz. The bitter Nocturna is described - "For the stars it is irrelevant whether someone is born or dead." Dame un fasco or Give me a fag (Frustrata del Tango) was written while the composer, Mikael Jöback, was unsuccessfully trying to give up smoking - no wonder he was frustrated!
Ida y vuelta comes with full 'libretto' - an ardent, passionate, even erotic love song with sweet violin writing.
Some of the tangos are strongly syncopated and have an equally strong jazz basis.
Well worth exploring
Collection: CINEMA CLASSICS 1999 (Classics made famous in films) Naxos 8.551183 [68:46]
Excerpts from:- Hilary and Jackie - Elgar: Cello Concerto
The Big Lebowski - Korngold: Die tote Stadt
Bulworth - Sousa: Stars and Stripes Forever
Rounders - J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1
La vita e bella - Offenbach: The Tales of Hoffmann
The Proposition - Schubert: String Quartet D.804
The Truman Show - Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1
Star Trek - Insurrection - Haydn: String Quartet Op. 64 No. 5
Elizabeth - Elgar: Enigma Variations MIKE POST
Babe - Pig in the City - Saint Saëns: Symphony No. 3
The Thin Red Line - Fauré: Requiem
Although films are still happy to spot the odd bit of classical music, there's been a tail off of its representation on disc. Soundtracks are too focused on the pop song to have space for a classic. Perhaps one reason behind this is the often flimsy excuse for a bit of classical music in a film in the first place. Take Star Trek: Insurrection - as with the TV show, it was basically Captain Picard's penchant for certain pieces that meant we got the odd 10 second burst.
Thankfully, the rest of this disc has found those few others that over the course of the last year were savvy enough to know how to comprise a rounded movie soundtrack with pieces welcomly familiar to us all. It was very pleasant to see Elgar championed by two Oscar nominated films. Reviews of both Hilary & Jackie and Elizabeth can be found elsewhere on this site. Their particular use of the music is discussed at length.
A couple of interesting thoughts occur working through the pieces on disc. For The Truman Show, "Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1" was obviously influential on the style director Peter Weir communicated to his two composers (Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz). Likewise, "Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann - Barcarolle" would appear to have lent itself to Nicola Piovani's romantic side in Life Is Beautiful.
Glossing over the fact these are all from Naxos' stock catalogue, the performances are all rather super, and the sound is consistently excellent. All the time movie CDs fail to deliver the goods, it will be down to this on-going series to make amends.
Christopher YOUNG Entrapment Restless 01877-73518-2 [54:49]
There's so much of a sense of aching familiarity with this score that whatever its merits on screen and off, the distraction might prove too much. By familiarity I don't mean as in purloined from elsewhere. The predictability is what makes for the deja vu. Young writes some cracking good scores, but when merely cruising - it shows.
The title cue has a nice enough introductory task with the primary theme (doubling throughout as a love motif too), but descends into what will mar many of the cues - dodgy synth patches that seem to date the whole thing. Maybe this all has something to do with the ludicrous on-going attempt to portray Sean Connery as a far younger man. Maybe the idea is to create a soundscape redolent with slightly past-it effects that take you back a few years. (Maybe not though)
Grudgingly I'll cite "Blackmail" as an exciting action cue, and "Kuala Lumpur" as an interesting concoction of percussion and brass, overlaid with ethnic piping. Otherwise, you'd do far better with his own Species or The Man Who Knew Too Little as recent examples of a terrific composer at work.
[Paul had forgotten he also reviewed this in June; nice consistency!]
John CARPENTER (In Association With Alan HOWARTH) Big Trouble In Little China Super Tracks AHCD 01 [71:29] Promo disc
Without a shadow of a doubt, this was one of the most kooky movie concepts ever. It draws on elements from lots of cinema genres, but ultimately comes off most closely to the spirit of a live-action comic book.
Carpenter's style of music lent itself to this movie perhaps more than to any of his others. Halloween has little actual musical content beyond its well-known theme. His guitar and synths style has more properly served the tongue-in-cheek humour of his other work (They Live, Prince of Darkness, etc.). When it came to his most deadly serious piece with The Thing he knew to hand the reigns over to someone else (Morricone).
For Big Trouble the oriental look and setting dictated some of the sound palate up front, but all the guitar and sample percussive licks are distinctly his own. Having said that, this is once again 'in association with' Alan Howarth. Their collaborative relationship is chronicled elsewhere. Concentrating just on the end result, we must be thankful that whichever way around they worked neither one wanted to break up the fantastically lengthy cues.
With one at 10 minutes and four more over 6, this is almost like listening to a concept album that's experimenting through purpose designed patches. It's like a self-contained world in here, with the rapid beats hardly ever letting up. It would take forever to list all the throwaway inventive moments too. Suffice to say you'll most likely be buying this because you always loved it in the movie. You won't be disappointed, especially with the extra material.
There are bonus tracks from Backstabbed, which is a Howarth standalone. The electric guitar performance in "Opening" is markedly different from anything you'll have heard earlier on the disc. The three cues are more subdued than Big Trouble's, with 'Blue Planet Interlude' turning out to be a rather touching piece.
Finishing the disc (and Carpenter fans) off completely is an unreleased cue from Escape From New York. The 'Atlanta Bank Robbery' is an accumulative finger-snapping rhythm that makes for a fun climax.
And just how is it that promo discs like this can have far better packaging than regular commercial releases ?
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