Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Alex NORTH  2001 (the Unused Score) Jerry Goldsmith conducts The National Philharmonic Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5400 [35:39]  


Crotchet (UK)


The catalogue of film scores commissioned and then dumped in favour of someone else's work is extensive. The situation has a fascination all of its own; `what might have been'. Herrmann's score for Torn Curtain, Walton's for The Battle of Britain and here Alex North's score for the epochal score of the 1970s: 2001'are all examples.

The music was commissioned for Stanley Kubrick's film and it was only as North watched the first commercial showing that he discovered that his own score had been discarded. In its place the world was offered existing classical scores including slices of avant-garde Ligeti and, for the spacecraft ballet, Strauss's Blue Danube waltz. Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra opened the film in awe-inspiring grandeur. For both Ligeti and the Strauss Estate the film must have sold many thousands of classical albums. Ligeti must surely have been delighted. As for North he was devastated.

Now we get the chance to make our own judgement and of course it is possible, with some dexterity, to play the film with North's score rather than the classical anthology.

The score opens in gloom with a deep brass rumble and the first track is distinguished by smashing blows which have the aural quality of iced glass disintegrating under hammer-strokes. A pallid emotionless cold permeates the next track as the grey gods look down.

Next comes a heavily percussion-driven track - perhaps influenced by North's orchestrator Henry Brant. This was no doubt also affected by Stockhausen's concert music of the day. Henry Brant was much in sympathy with this then-trendy avant-garde and this also shows in the wispy ideas, cloud segments and modules of sound in the next track. It may well have been this element that put Kubrick off.

A Panufnik-like contrast of high strings with deeply murmurous brass leads into bitter resolve in face of devastating odds as suggested by track 6. This grand stance reminds me of the mood of Copland's Lincoln Portrait and the brazen cordite-blackened fanfares beloved of William Schuman.

Track 7 strikes the first delightfully carefree note with a light-as-featherdown dancing theme of great and memorable quality. It has something of Sibelius 4 with its dancing woodwind and strings - light and high and blown by summer breezes. I have also heard works by Walter Piston in similar vein. Holst's Mercury is also not far away from this track. A wonderful cue. For heaven's sake why not play it now, and repeatedly, on Classic FM. Just listen. It is Ravelian and dripping with Hollywood's grand romance. The Trip to the Moon [8] is an airy torrent in slowest of treacly motion in much the same line as the previous track but calmer and quieter.

Moon Rocket Bus has a distantly balanced solo soprano voice half removed from VW's Antartica and close to another V: Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras No 5. This is driven forward by quite an urgent pulsing beat in the mid-range strings. The proceedings are lit by celesta, bells and vibraphone effects.

Track 10 is all glimmering stars and swirling glittering dust delivered with a fetching lyricism also found in the next track. The final entr'acte [12] is a strange contrast with confident strident brass chorales, jazz big-band sound, a dollop of Sousa and a dash of wild dance. The entr'acte seems almost a non sequitur after all that has gone before.

The music, as described in the excellent booklet, is apt to the picture - of that there is little doubt. The disc makes a satisfyingly challenging listening experience but the immediate enjoyment is concentrated in tracks 7 and 8 which deserve celebrity cue status along with Waxman's Ride to Dubno and Bliss's March from Things to Come.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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