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|John OTTMAN Portrait of Terror OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5986||
Did you hear the one about Marco Beltrami ? This composer walks into a studio and writes a cracking post-modern horror score. He comes back and writes a sequel soon after. On that one he is asked to emulate the guitar sound of a John Woo / John Travolta picture. He thinks he has done his job, and then discovers the original piece is still in it. Oh well. Then this other composer (Ottman) gets a horror picture; the latest in a long line of Halloween screams. They want a post-modern slant too, so they ask him to emulate the first composer's sound. He thinks he has done his job, and then discovers the original piece is still going to be in it. They bring in the first composer and he works the first two scores into this latest. So what's the punchline ? Answer - this album.
It is every so easy to throw in a phrase like 'post-modern' and get away with not explaining yourself. What it is deemed screenwriter Kevin Williamson has created is an acceptance of in-jokes for cinema and TV (media journalism seems to have forgotten something like Moonlighting). It is OK to be distracted from the flow of a movie by a reference to "Wes Carpenter" or anal trivia swaps. Musically speaking that gives licence to draw from existing sources and styles and not be accused of plagiarism. Seems like an OK deal really ! The most obvious example of this in H20 is the start of "Advice". Jamie Lee Curtis' real-life mum plays a school mistress. She was (of course) Marion in Hitchcock's Psycho. After a couple of obvious lines about mothering and showers she goes to her car (the one she had in Psycho). Accompanying her walk are the strains of Herrmann's main theme. It is reasonably subtle. Is it clever though ? Taken in the context of the rest of Ottman's intelligent score - yes.
For legal reasons stemming from the circumstances described above, this disc lives under the Picture Protection Program, and has been given a new identity as "Portrait of Terror". Since it announces that it contains Carpenter's Halloween Theme, it isn't really much of a disguise though. Two minutes into "Main Title", and you're in no doubt as to what this is. What's great however is that this is the theme as many composers must have been itching to hear it - fully orchestrated and elaborated upon. It functions perfectly through the opening credits, which are basically a montage re-telling of the story to date by way of newspaper clippings etc. (a little reminiscent of Dead Again or To Die For). It underlines each heading as you might expect, but also manages to establish both the suspense and impending sense of resolution that the film will bring.
Overshadowed by the exceedingly familiar cyclic Carpenter theme, is a secondary piece he created for the "Shape" in stalk mode. It is simply a beat carved out on firm piano chords accompanied by a ringing sample. For Portrait it is braided into passages of suspense for the protracted sequence between Laurie and Michael. In "Disposal" it is just about recognisable under some seemingly endless reverberation from harp glissando. It is even better in "Face To Face", which is the album's standout (and longest) cue. It dips in and out of every phrase to create the ideal suite, and even manages to conjure memories of The Usual Suspects at one point.
The best way to demonstrate that Ottman did a fine job is with "Road Trip". This is a by-the-numbers scene of supposedly dead bad guy in back of vehicle waking up. This cue is great - it knows the sounds of screeching tyres and screams will drown it out. Instead, the powers went for a Scream cue and at what becomes an important part of the film, that really drags the sequence down. Maybe one day they'll learn when to leave well enough alone.
|Christopher YOUNG Rounders OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5980||
Jazz is by no means a new sound for Young. He set a great precedent very early with The Telephone. More recently there was the beautiful style of Norma Jean & Marilyn, and the insanity of The Man Who Knew Too Little. With them all though was a very modernistic feel to the jazz elements. With Rounders it mostly seems as if taken straight from a '70s thriller. The jazz band combo is made up with some great kitsch appeal.
With the title opening cue we're straight into the main sound of the disc with brushed cymbals, electronic piano and double bass. This funkiness re-appears many times, most noticeably in "Alligator Blood" (terrific shrill horn crescendo too), "Belly Buster", and "High Society". Variations on the jazz mood come with a sax for "Brass Brazilians", where the horns add to the fun too. In "Tapioca", the sax gets to breathe a sexy duet with the double bass.
The other main sound of the album is what I hesitate in labelling an almost stereotypical spy music. Chap in a tux tiptoeing around a chateau type of thing. First appearance is in "The Catch", and repeats for "Ode To Johnny Chan" and "Finger Up Your Spine". It's very tongue in cheek, as was The Man Who Knew Too Little, but very atmospheric. Which leads into the lesser number of more traditional soundtrack orchestral cues which are likewise full of atmosphere. Be that of suspense or poignancy.
"Lady in Black" is a piano and strings lament, while "Glowing Glimmer" progresses the sound towards a hint of danger from some late muted horns. "The Apple" seems to be nothing but strings and is a particularly sensitive highlight. A couple more funky jazz reprises and then the album ends all too suddenly. Which is really all I can fault the CD for. A very safe party background mood setter, but not really your average poker session accompaniment - in real life anyway !
|Joel MCNEELY The Avengers OST SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 304 [62:45]||
Very few people would argue the toss with just how big a let down this film was. After excitement over the casting, and a terrific trailer it seemed a sure-fire hit. Delay after delay instilled enough concern however, and so the final release was already an empty proposition before you go anywhere near Warner's disastrous attempts to keep critics off their backs. There was so much that was technically flawed about the movie too (although most criticism is aimed at the non-existent plot). For these purposes, it is the yucky sound mix that chiefly grates. Michael Kamen pulled out because of the delays and being committed to Lethal Weapon 4 (yawn), and McNeely stepped in with very little time at all. It is therefore inconceivable that there was time for a considerate or artistic dub. From out of all this came a great main titles sequence and the occasional dramatic high - both for film and score. The rest was just a fuzzy blur.
So hoorah for the States' new Compass III label, and double huzzah for Blighty's Silva Screen who have released it in the UK. They have championed an almost lost gem which has a lot more going for it than the film's reputation gives you inclination to appreciate. What this surprisingly lengthy disc reveals is one of those unfortunate situations in which a great score didn't save a film, but by no fault of its own.
First of all there's the issue of a main theme. Laurie Johnson's classic does feature as the final track - a bonus as it's not featured in the film(performed by The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Mike Townend). Preceding that is an upbeat version by McNeely that was in there. After Mission: Impossible, The Saint, and Lost In Space it seemed all too likely that there would be a best selling techno version of the theme that would outsell and obscure everything else. Not so. Mr McNeely got to play, and what a fab time he must have had. "Main Title" immediately establishes that the score will follow David Arnold's drum and bass add-on style (Tomorrow Never Dies / Godzilla), yet keep a genuine sense of heroics through brassy fanfare and tightly orchestrated rhythms. Passing some red herring tinklings, a low mixed beat repeats for the build up of various sample overlays. Then the theme is introduced by a sampled whistle (very reminiscent of The X-Files), but is downplayed by repetition. As the drums go crazy, the strings take over for a very impressive showcase of the flexibility of the piece. A coda to the titles is a subsidiary action motif.
What next separates the men from the boys are some humorous pilferings. "Flight of the Mechanical Bees" dances from one fast paced passage to another and midway raises a smile with a variation on 'The Flight of the Bumble Bee'. Later, "Invisible Jones" playfully invokes the 'Sugar Plum Fairy'. It's a sense of devil-may-care anything goes that lifts this. Anything based on the Avengers was always going to require a helter skelter kookiness, and the darting about in one cue (like this) from militaristic marches to romantic theme variations to explosions of brass really does fit the bill.
After Shadows of the Empire, this is the most inventive I have heard McNeely get. Perhaps he thrives on tight deadlines. Or maybe after all those Varese re-recordings he was just itching to let loose on a film with very few stylistic limitations. Whichever, it is one to applaud as ultimately managing to escape its unworthy surroundings.
|Danny ELFMAN Music for a Darkened Theatre (Vol I). OST MCA MCAD-10065||
|Music from: Pee Wee's Big Adventure; Batman; Dick Tracy; Beetlejuice; Nightbreed; Darkman; Back to School; Midnight Run; Wisdom; Hot to Trot; Big Top Pee Wee; The Simpsons; Alfred Hitchcock presents: The Jar; Tales from the Crypt; Face Like a Frog; Forbidden Zone; Scrooged.|
This album is a complete delight from start to finish. It is a first class representation of the works of Danny Elfman specialist in the Gothic, the comic and the grotesque (often the grotesquely comic) - and the anarchic.
The album opens exuberantly with a seven minute suite from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Elfman, himself, says in his very pithy notes "...fans will undoubtedly hear my tributes to Nino Rota and Bernard Herrmann, the two composers who were responsible for igniting my interest in film music way back when I was a kid..." This high-spirited, bouncy music, redolent of the fairground and the circus with clowns, trapeze artists and a demented carousel, could so easily have accompanied a Fellini film.
Then we move from the light to relative darkness - and to the Gothic. The senses are assaulted by the emergence, out of cavernous depths, of the thrilling Batman theme. It seems to suggest a controlled madness if you like, Batman's obsessive, ruthless war on lawlessness besides the heroic. There are two movements in this continuous eight minute suite; after the statement of the theme "Up the Cathedral" with mounting excitement generated by ascending, driving strings, organ swells, crashing cymbals and staccato brass figures. Voices, intoning some satanic-like paean, join the orchestra as the chase continues in "Descent into Mystery".
For Dick Tracy, Elfman manages, appropriately, to inject a rather cartoon-like character into his score which mixes mystery with romance. (You feel that he has his tongue well and truly in his cheek with this one.) There is a very marked nod in the direction of Gershwin with tremblingly respectful timpani rolls. Droll, droll...
"Daylight come and we want to go home..." intones the husky voice at the start of this outrageous ghost-ridden, fun-filled romp, that is the music for Beetlejuice It is quirky and irreverent, and it's a real musical roller coaster; it grabs you by the scruff of the neck and pushes you through all manner of bangs, whoops, screeches and slithers; there's even a mad broken tango in there. A perfect accompaniment to all the on-screen insanity. Great fun.
Nightbreed takes us back into the shadows. As Elfman says, "... it combines the dark, funny, scary, sweet and tribal all in one ...using children's voices and a whole slew of ethnic drums and instruments together with an orchestra in an attempt to bring a unique musical tone to the film." He succeeds for this music really resonates for this listener. There is a parallel sense of compassion along with the feeling of ghoulish menace (very palpable in a Voodoo type of dance) adding an extra dimension to this very impressive score which again demonstrates how imaginatively Elfman integrates voices into his orchestral fabric.
Darkman is another troubled and turbulent Gothic score. It is powerfully driven music once more and again there is that overpowering sense of lurking evil, of the beast barely caged. The organ has a major role, as in Batman; and there is a slow march for brass over ascending tremolando strings before harp arpeggios usher in calmer, more romantic material.
Back to School is short and sweet. It's rather silly really, the clowns are out again and running berserck.
Midnight Run's music contrasts the slow and limpid with the fast and exhilarating. It begins with a set of snidish-sounding electronic guitars that seem to be menaced by a rattle-snake. This is a biggish jazz band-based score with the aforementioned guitars massed across the sound stage in front of the brass and saxes. The latter half of the track is a piano and harmonium led blues piece. Another facet of Elfman's wide-ranging talents.
There is a primitive feel of the jungle about Wisdom. Voices and a wide variety of exotic percussive effects with some electronic punctuations all add up to another hypnotically- rhythmed, ear-arresting score. There is a feeling that everything including the kitchen sink is being used here!
Hot to Trot. As Danny says, "I never pass up a chance to write for accordions." - even though they have to fight against the electronics and percussion. Another fun item. It's amazing how Elfman can almost make his instruments talk. Just listen to the part for the harmonica.
Big Top Pee Wee see track one - another wild and wacky excursion to the circus - this time its the saxophone, tuba and accordion that have most of the fun. There's a rather nice touch of pathos too - the clown in tears?
The Simpsons - a brief explosion of anarchy. Raspberries all round!
The music for Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Jar, funnily enough had me visualising hammers hitting a line of jars filled with varying amounts of liquid to provide some intriguing modulations if not a distinctive tune. The score is appropriately sinister but comic too. Are there dastardly deeds afoot - can I hear that skeleton in the cupboard and sort of Tom and Jerry tiptoeing up the stairs? Music to ignite the imagination.
So too are the dreaded thumps which open Tales from the Crypt. It's the Elfman mix of terror and buffoonery again. With the double bassoon as the main villain.
Face like a Frog is - well, totally, grotesquely funny. Its just completely, hilariously - wild!
Forbidden Zone is for two pianos. The Dies Irae shadows its rather sad, enigmatic little journey.
Scrooged is a substantial nine-minute track. It starts with children's voices chanting over sleigh bells; all pursued by sinister figures of the Batman variety. Then there is a colourful, atmospheric mixture of boozy saxes, chiming figures, and sinister flutterings and sighings. This Christmas Carol chills as much as it charms and the ending is unusually bleak.
An absorbing album and strongly recommended
And Paul Tonks says:-
The release of this album in 1990 acknowledged how rapidly the composer had become a cult item. A hideous term for his fans ("Elfies") sprang up, which probably best describes those who rushed to by the disc on release (ahem).
There are 17 suites and themes pasted together in this first volume. They do not run chronologically, so it must be presumed some thought went into the sequencing of cues - it eludes me however ! Opening appropriately on Elfman's first studio picture, Pee Wee's Big Adventure is a lesson in meeting expectation. He was hired by director Tim Burton on the strength of what he'd heard from the rock band Oingo Boingo. Not formally trained in musical composition, this chance of a lifetime was also understandably daunting. He therefore did what most of us might well have done in such circumstances - adapt what we know. Throughout this suite made up of 4 album cues, you are invited to doff your cap to Georges Delerue, Nino Rota, and Bernard Herrmann. I won't spoil the fun that's to be had by discovering the specific films themselves, but where Rota's concerned a look into Federico Fellini's greats is quite revealing...
Paul Reuben's Pee Wee is a crossbreed of Jerry Lewis with a mime clown. With plenty of surreal carnivalesque imagery in Burton's film, Elfman created a very refreshing comedic sound which obviously caught studio's ears. An immediate glut of comedy scores appeared; obviously influenced by it. There are some remarkably well orchestrated parts in cues such as "Breakfast Machine". What they demonstrate as is so often the case in his career is just how adept with percussion he is. Rhythm was the fundamental key to the success of his first score. It goes beyond mere 'Mickey Mousing', and as an example there is a scene in the film where Pee Wee storms up to a house and there is a visual gag of him repeatedly knocking on the door. Elfman makes the whole thing incredibly funny by anticipating timing of the knocks in the incidental build-up. Without that feel for a good beat, things might have been rather different.
Aside from the fun of the fair, the film also managed to allow Burton to exercise his darker sides in some smaller scenes. The Herrmann influence was therefore allowed licence in the music. The cue "Stolen Bike" (not here) is the best example, but even in this opening lively suite there is the familiar use of harp and brass to give enough of a taster for all that was to come...
By skipping to their third cinematic partnership together, the album proves just how much Herrmann means to Elfman. Batman was the biggest thing about the end of the '80s. It captured everything about the need to flash the size of your wallet in the 'Loadsamoney' era. As far as the film's score is concerned, we need only be thankful that no-one scrimped on the budget. It could all very nearly have been a wash of songs from the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson, but in the end the director's voice outweighed the producer's. Somehow the album's version of the score (and these are nearly all taken from the already available releases), sounds smaller than it does to film. The Sinfonia of London still makes a hell of a racket though, and the classic "Batman Theme" is even more memorable when you know the composer put it together stood in the toilet of a plane taking from England to the States !
There is more than just a dash of the opera about the music, yet a choir is only used the once for the cue "Descent Into Mystery" for a showing off scene of the Batmobile hurtling through a forest at great speed. It is with no small amount of shame that I confess to knowing there are a total of 18 cymbal crashes in this cue, making it the most dramatic part of the suite. It is sadly a weak link in the represented scores, since there are far better tracks that could have been used here. Also, it is receives the largest number of edits of all the collection's pieces. In total they would not have exceeded the disc's running time, and this can therefore only have been an artistic (vanity) choice. [Pee Wee suffered the loss of the second half of its first cue too - the better half unfortunately]
Still in comic book territory comes Dick Tracy. The fact that this is the original unused main title is acknowledged, but that isn't a selling point since the version of the love theme was replaced by a terrific upbeat hero theme - which we don't get. Relishing the slushy larger-than-life opportunity, he certainly delivers a fine lover's tune for strings but the preceding brassy subdued fanfare is far more creative. In fact there were again many better cues that could have represented the score better.
The backtrack to Beetle Juice (or Beetlejuice as it seems to be formatted everywhere but actually in the film !), is part of the reason I question the sequencing. It's a light-heartedness that interrupts the more serious mood before and after. That's not to knock the music itself, which is a sprightly jig for the "Main Titles" with innovative samples beefing up the smaller orchestra and mixed choir. It bounces very merrily into a segue with the slightly more serious "End Titles", and confirms by this point that the collection is largely concerned with dishing out the big themes. Something that the film has always had to its credit is the inspired use of songs by Harry Belafonte. Burton's idea of a certain type of 'holiday music' pointed very specifically on the musical map for Elfman, and there is a whole sense of breezy nothin' doin' alongside the spookiness.
Real horror comes with Clive Barker's Nightbreed - what a mess. After some easily identifiable Herrmannesque flourishes in the subterranean depths of the "Main Titles", this suite presents parts of what is still Elfman's loudest score to date. The exaggerated 'whoops' of the choir are in direct contrast to the later sound of Edward Scissorhands. Here, it's every shock chord for itself and is probably about as half and half a listening experience as soundtracks get. The melody with atonality is mixed thick and fast, and takes an acquired ear to appreciate.
Blending everything that has come so far is Darkman - another example of Elfman working with his idol directors (Sam Raimi here). Interestingly, you can hear the "Main Titles" theme for this gothic misadventure previewed in the "Clown Dream" segment of the Pee Wee's Big Adventure suite. There it's just a muted horn. For the whole tragedian aspect of Liam Neeson's Phantom of the Opera wannabe, the theme is played larghetto with just a hint of the circus in the background once again. The most abundant use of his dadadadadada horns features here, long before their predictable inclusion became overtaken by his current favourite samples.
Here the album effectively enters a second catalogue of material. With all the big school of blockbuster scoring dealt with, the lesser known quirky oddities get some attention. Starting with Back To School, the first style exhibited is a neo-classical piano running amok. Midnight Run is one of the most entertaining albums in its own right, but even this one small snatch of Rhythm 'n' Blues is satisfying enough. Wisdom is an all electronic score, and was all performed by Elfman himself too. The one man show had a great theme in its "Main Titles", but sadly we only get two lesser cues. There's a first in the availability of the funkiness of Hot To Trot. Its accordion sample and guitars perfectly complement Midnight Run (so it's a shame they weren't sequenced as neighbours). Then after all the suppressed desires to work for the circus, his wish came true with Big Top Pee Wee. What a shame it could not have been a more worthy sequel. Unable to re-use any of the material from the first (different studios), he still got to have some fun, and the "Love Theme" is an unexpected treat in an old fashioned grandiose way.
Turning to TV, we have the omnipresent Simpsons theme (the international annual residuals of which must be able to support a sizeable family). The Jar was his second collaboration with director Burton, and a long forgotten one at that. It did offer Elfman his first opportunity to directly follow Bernard Herrmann (he has just arranged for the new Psycho of course), and it shows. It's quite a lightweight piece, but the underlying sinisterness is all the better for it. The organ and harpsichord combination for Tales From the Crypt almost seems like a genre cliché, yet somehow it comes alive (or undead) with the catchy theme.
We get into real fannish territory for the penultimate couplet. Face Like A Frog is a short animated tale scored for a friend. It doesn't really progress as any sort of thematic development, more a cobbling together of experimentations with a keyboard (side note: see comments for review of Pee Wee's Playhouse in Volume Two). That's also largely true of Elfman's real first movie Forbidden Zone directed by brother Richard. The former Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo were called upon to play to and in the movie, but Elfman managed to find time to put in more, and the first of many beautiful "Love Themes".
The most collectable part of the album is tagged last in the unreleased Scrooged. After recognising the opening as reminiscent of Toto's Dune, the remaining 8 minutes don't actually leave that much more of an impression. The harpsichord has already made an appearance, as have the wordless choir. Looking back from its position it indicates just how little there was to sell the album on at the time other than the composer's popularity, and sadly we had to wait 6 years for a much worthier Volume Two...
|Danny ELFMAN Music for a Darkened Theatre (Vol II). OST MCA MCAD2-11550||
|Music from (CD1): Edward Scissorhands; Dolores Claiborne; To Die For; Black Beauty; Batman Returns. Music from (CD2): Mission Impossible; Sommersby; Dead Presidents; Nightmare Before Christmas; Freeway; plus Television odds and ends: Amazing Stories - "Family Dog"; Amazing Stories - "Mummy, Daddy", Nike Commercial; The Flash; Pee Wee's Playhouse; Beetlejuice Animated TV Series; Plus This Is Halloween (original demo for Nightmare Before Christmas)|
Volume II of Music for a Darkened Theatre dates from 1996 and is very much the mixture of Volume I only this time the excerpts are more considerable and spread over two CDs. Like Volume I, the thrilling Batman music is a strong feature with a close-on-sixteen-minute suite from Batman Returns; this is the film that starred Danny De Vito as the Penguin and the gorgeous Michele Pfeiffer as Catwoman. The music is even more darkly Gothic than for the original Batman film. The suite commences with a deep organ swell, the music not only subterranean befitting the cavernous, watery home of Penguin, but also portraying his clumsy gait and expressing the tragedy of his fate, plus his thirst for vengeance. The female voices express not only Catwoman's tragedy and vulnerability before her transformation, but also her dark powers and her feline allure afterwards. You can really feel those claws being flexed; there is such vividly evocative violin writing here. Then, of course, we have Batman's own powerful theme, imaginatively developed here to show him pitted against both of his foes, together with bat-like screechings. Listen out for Bernard Herrmann influences in the harp figures and love music.
For me, the standout score is Edward Scissorhands which opens the programme. Elfman, himself, still considers it to be his favourite score and it is certainly very imaginative - brimming with colour and extraordinary but trenchant effects. The early music expresses Edward's allure for all those suburban women, with romantic, hot-house music for orchestra and wordless women's voices. It all perfectly portrays Edward - his wild hair, pale appealing looks, the mute charm shining through those dark-coloured eyes and, above all, the potential to make his ladies look and feel glamourous with a few dexterous snips of those scissor-hands. In the middle of "Suite", the music moves into another dimension, those scissor-hands now sound mechanical, robotic, unfeeling, sardonic and threatening. The music, grows wilder and more grotesque, passing through numerous styles including a passionate, sexy tango before peace, and the warm romantic music which reaches towards ecstasy, is restored in "The Grand Finale".
Dolores Claiborne (played by the impressive Kathy Bates) was the film based on the Stephen King novel about a dowdy middle-aged domestic serving woman who is suspected of killing her richer employer/companion and, years before, her husband. This bitter-sweet score manages to tell us the truth about the long-suffering Dolores long before we discover it for ourselves. "Vera's World" is edgy music for piano with violins in neurotic mode, perfectly describing Dolores's suspicious, unforgiving daughter. For the scene in which Dolores gets her brutal husband drunk and goads him into chasing her so that he falls to his death down the cunningly-hidden well, Elfman provides really powerful, suspenseful heart-bursting material - you get a whiff of Lucifer in The Devil's Trill Sonata and Liszt's Todtentanz references. Another fine score.
To Die For was "pure wicked fun" according to Elfman. The score is as wild and wicked but great fun. It suggests the Nicole Kidman character's child-like, "acting-the-innocent" manner that hides a ruthless ambition to become a someone on television at all costs even murdering her young husband who might hold her back. The music combines women's voices again, this time in pouting panting alluring "come-to-me-but-it-will-cost-you"-mode plus electronics and wild rock music as well as conventional orchestral music - all as breathless as Suzie's driving ambition.
Black Beauty is a more conventional, sentimental girl's horse story. This lovely, warm-hearted music is in the English/Irish pastoral tradition and it is very reminiscent of Vaughan Williams.
CD 2 begins with Danny Elfman's score for Mission Impossible which is darker again, metallic and abrasive with only a hint of Lalo Schifrin's original score. Here jagged dissonances hold sway in a harsh, gritty yet varied score (there is even a whiff of Arabia) which is ambiguous and unsettling reflecting the enigmatic screenplay where nobody or nothing seems to be what they seem to be.
Sommersby is a good old fashioned romantic wallow. It begins quietly in elegiac mood with an off-stage "fanfare" and mourning for the dead after battle. Has Sommersby survived and is Richard Gere he? And is Jody Foster sure it is he, or is she thinking what she wants to think and feel? This is an appropriately romantic score sometimes gentle sometimes passionate and at one point deeply affecting. It is contrasted with western folk dance material. Pass the Kleenex!
Dead Presidents is a very unusual and very intense driving score that heavily employs synthesisers A quieter section for piano and orchestra with a significant role for celeste is a welcome interlude. Jazz features prominently with much use of electric guitars accompanied by sinister brass snarlings.
Nightmare Before Christmas begins with fun and frolics on a sleigh ride but this is soon chased by the usual Elfman ghoulies and ghosties in the guise of exotic variations on dear old Dies Irae. Haunted house music and giant footsteps (a dressed up bassoon) together with groanings and grumblings and sultry excesses (how did belly dancing get in here?) abound plus a little sentimentality - yes, it's another ridiculous fun-filled brew.
Freeway is funky electronics with childish choruses - weird and devilish. It seems Danny has thrown everything at this one including the kitchen sink! "Shrunken Heads" - No one can Voodoo like you do, Danny!
In a collection of television odds and ends, there are two short excerpts of material for Amazing Stories: Family Dog (chasing after the postman and hunting for that lost bone?) and "Mummy Daddy" (hill-billy Munsters relatives?); a Nike commercial - all pounding and sweating; The flash - part Flash Gordon and part Star Wars; Pee-Wee's playhouse is bring-the-house-down chaos with a side trip to Hawaii, and the fairground once more; and, finally, in Beetlejuice, the animated TV series the ghosts are in party mood
The double album concludes with another comic-scary piece for chorus this time with words for This is Halloween which was originally a demo for Nightmare Before Christmas. In total maybe too much of a good thing nevertheless hugely enjoyable
And Paul Tonks adds
So few composers get a solitary standalone collection of their work made available, let alone a second volume. Mr Elfman kept his fans more than happy with this follow-up though. A lavishly packaged two disc set with quite a few rarities. In fact, an official voting system was set up on the Internet for fans to make requests - so they had no excuse for not being happy ! Again, the chronology of projects as released is all over the place. The first disc seems to have gone for a smooth listening experience, but the second is more of a free-for-all than the first volume was.
So to the first disc of suites - or 'excerpts' as they are credited. Starting with 5 tracks blended together from Edward Scissorhands was always going to be a great idea. I remember a horror movie magazine reviewing the disc at the time alongside the latest heavy metal releases. It insisted its readers rush out and experience this unique new sound. That was pretty much the reaction all round really. It seemed Elfman re-invented himself from the bottom drawer of superhero and/or supernatural projects. The bittersweet use of strings and choir caught audiences unawares, and is a sound constantly re-used in film and television (especially commercials, where Elfman has occasionally relented and scored in the style himself to stave off the annoyance of hearing someone else do it).
You'll hear a faint re-use of the choral sound in the next suite from Dolores Claiborne (and again later in Batman Returns). Five years actually separate the films, and the intriguing part about it being sequenced next is that it was recognised as being another of the gear shifts for the composer. There is a dryness to the score - almost a rawness. Having been pegged as a tunesmith capable of memorable theme tunes, here was the starting point at which much of his atonality and percussive experimentation crept in. Subsequent features (Extreme Measures particularly) owe a lot to whatever inspired him to be in turns dense and sparing in this one score. The edgy tone nicely prepares for the kitchen sink approach of To Die For. There was in fact a completely different score for this first collaboration with Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting and Psycho have followed), but the flexible potential of the script's structure called for a different approach when heavy re-edits were made. The "Main Titles" are a heady mix of sweet and light with thrash metal (!). This rather unsubtly depicts the double life of TV worshipping Nicole Kidman, who's Suzie gets an infectious "Theme" comprised of 'pah pah' vocals, harp figures, and pizzicato strings.
It's a trip to kiddie town for Black Beauty the film, which dares to present a film narrated by the horse itself, but is rather poorly sequenced - something the kids mind not a bit. Making it a little more bearable for adults (but no less saccharine an experience) is the frolicking yet gentle score. Piano features strongly for Beauty's own theme, and there are some wonderful uses of flute and piped instruments. "Happy and sad to the extreme" affirms Elfman in his booklet notes, and the film's chop-chop pace frequently calls for both within the space of a single cue. The great shame of the score is that it followed so closely to Sommersby, and the undeniably similar style of the two has meant this has often been overlooked.
Batman Returns is a very difficult score to encapsulate. Overall it is representative of a very worthy sequel from director Tim Burton. In many ways it succeeds the original. Yet despite the far darker humour to the script, Elfman's music rises above the gloom to be as floaty light as the perennial Gotham snow. Both The Penguin and Catwoman receive grandly tragic themes, yet none of the variations prove too solemn. The cat-call strings are undeniably effective, and are a humorous gesture in and of themselves. Even the fantastic "Batman Theme" gets upbeat treatment. Right from the sewer journey of the opening credits, the theme is stretched by the Scissorhands choral lowing, and even bongo drumming ! Condensed into the cues chosen for this suite, you'd be hard pressed to identify this as a superhero's musical accompaniment. There is plenty of the fairground to identify with The Red Triangle Circus Gang, but the most militaristic the score gets is for the army of missile-carrying penguins. The edits are quite sudden here incidentally. Although 4 cues are credited, several more are pinched from to pad it out.
The second disc is a composer's dream promo item. A wider range communicated in an hour and a quarter is hard to imagine. Like the first volume, this is perfectly suited to the 'random play' function of your stereo. It doesn't really matter that it opens on Mission: Impossible, but since it does you certainly get sucked into some high octane action to encourage you to stay with it. It is another bits and bobs suite really, since "Trouble" is the first credited cue but isn't a title from the actual score release. What we actually have are the build up of drums from the film's opening "Sleeping Beauty" merged into the way over the top Channel Tunnel adventure in "Zoom B". Lalo Schifrin's theme is missing - presumably due to this being all Elfman's work and nothing to do with licensing.
Having Sommersby next is proof positive of this being a free for all. If Edward Scissorhands had made an impression, this is the one score that should have won Elfman an Oscar ®. On a first listen - especially not knowing its origin - you would never be able to identify it as coming from the composer's pen. No other score can claim so individual a voice (even the R&B of Midnight Run was peppered with 'Elfmanesque' streaks). This is the most romantic he has ever been without crossing the line into sugar plum fairy territory. The use of brass is particularly new for him, and the country jigs are a one off wonder. Quite aside from just how different it is, the more important factor is just how perfectly it sat with the film. Every nuance of ambiguity was enhanced by the affecting theme.
There is one cut (the main titles) of Dead Presidents commercially available, but here you get an extended suite of unreleased material. Elfman cites "my old hero Jimmi", and that is very obvious in the cue "Montage". It is a heavily percussive score, and is frequently built around innovative samples - may of which keep creeping up in subsequent scores. The Nightmare Before Christmas is next, and probably needs no introduction. What is interesting is the absence of a single song in the 'excerpt'. Right at the end of the album there is a demo for "This Is Halloween", which has the curiosity value of featuring multi-layers of Elfman voicing the entire town.
You are unlikely to have seen the 90's take on Red Riding Hood in Freeway. It was a Direct To Video release outside of America, and is the reason for no prior availability of the composer's first improvised score. It is quite an oddball mix. The sound of a small choir sample calling 'Oh God!' repeatedly over guitars, whooping calls, and a pots and pans approach to rhythm is an acquired taste. "On the Road" is the best of the 3 cues, with a real sense of menace under the guitars plus some highly peculiar uses of choir voice. Another movie most missed was Richard Elfman's Shrunken Heads, which featured a score from Richard Band that often seemed like a cross between West Side Story and Edward Scissorhands. Brother Danny contributed a title theme which is most notable for its muppet-like vocals and bouncing beat.
In one final 11½ minute suite, we are treated to completely new material from "Television Odds 'N Ends". The first Amazing Stories episode - Family Dog - bears a strong resemblance to the combined sound of Pee Wee and Back To School (very noticeable since those two are doubled up for a Varese release). Mummy, Daddy immediately lets you know you are out in the sticks with twanging guitar, and then it too becomes a familiar take on the Pee Wee sound. Sharp contrast follows in the all-too-brief thunderbolts and lightning of one of many Nike Commercial pieces he has done. It paves the way for the following reason above all else that this album should be in your collection - the incredible theme to The Flash. This short-lived series always had a wonderful score from Shirley Walker, but the wonderful main titles were always worth sticking through for the heroic brass and snare drum posturing. This is even about 30 seconds longer, with an extended middle section. The only thing absent is the quality bass that propelled the theme in its TV version.
Then get ready for absolute insanity in Pee Wee's Playhouse - the TV version. In this small edit, Elfman regrettably chose to use pieces that include material he re-used from Face Like A Frog - a piece represented on the first volume. With a kids version of the Beetlejuice theme for the animated series, we come to the end of my over-long review. It's all fabulous material folks, so play it any way you want it.
|Collection: THE BATMAN TRILOGY
Danny ELFMAN Batman. Batman Returns
Elliot GOLDENTHAL Batman Forever
Neil HEFTI (arr David Slonaker) Batman TV Theme
|Joel Mc Neely conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and ChorusVARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5766|
It is appropriate to include a late review of this spectacular 1997 album after the reviews of the two Danny Elfman albums above which, of course, included the composer's own take on the first two Batman scores listed above. The Batman score has plenty of power and excitement and the RSNO play it with full gusto and commitment although their account, perhaps, lacks just a little of the raw energy that Danny Elfman himself brings to that marvellous Batman theme in "Main Title." McNeely underlines the Gothic elements of the score and the Wagnerian connections are more obvious in his more grandiose, classical treatment. The second cue "Flowers" speaks of Bruce Wayne's mourning at the loss of his parents and the beginnings of his dedication to revenge and a life of obsessive crusading against crime so much so that the following "Love Theme" is cool and unfulfilled because of his total all-exclusive dedication. "Joker's poem" is child-like games edged with menace while "Clown Attack" is a grotesquerie for piano, percussion and pizzicati strings - a sort of dark Tom and Jerry caper. "Up the Cathedral" rivals Elfman's version in its excitement - upwardly reaching violins, heavy cymbal crashes, snarling brass and snare drum rolls; in contrast comes the bizarre "Waltz to the Death" - a duel in waltz-time. "Final Confrontation" has heavy Wagnerian poundings and right triumphs of course in "Finale" which has a pointed reference to Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra.
McNeely really excels in Elfman's second Batman score, Batman Returns which starred Danny De Vito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. The RSNO choir if anything is more expressive than that which Elfman has at his disposal. The opening cue, setting the fate of the abandoned ugly baby which is reared by the penguins is excellently played with plenty of eerie and damp subterranean atmosphere. You really feel that Elfman is basing his writing on Debussy's Sirènes for his Catwoman choral music but Elfman's sirens are pronouncing not only Catwoman's feline allure but also a warning of her terrible powers. Elfman's imaginative scoring for "Selina Transforms" - into Catwoman is, for me, the highlight of this score; it is an uncanny description of a whole range of feline characteristics. McNeely also cleverly develops his Batman theme so that it is not only heroic but darkly terrifying, suggesting an almost blood lust to crush evil. "The Cemetery" is a furtive, yet poignantly tragic piece underscoring The Penguin's visit to the cemetery to discover his parentage. More feline shenanigans are evident in "A Shadow of A Doubt" when Batman is bewitched by Catwoman's charms. But the claws are out and the cat spits and screams spitefully (the RSNO ladies really let themselves go here) in the five minute "End Credits."
Goldenthal's music is somewhat different for a different Batman cinematic approach with a new director (Joel Schumacher succeeding Tim Burton) and comedian Jim Carrey (The Riddler) plus Tommy Lee Jones (Two-Face) adding a lighter touch to the villainy. Goldenthal mixes Elfman's Gothic with a jazz element in keeping with the Gotham City story being set this time in the jazz era. Goldenthal's "Main Title" presents a new theme for Batman after a brash cynical jazz trumpet introduction; it is darkly heroic and savage but it is not so definite, not so arresting or memorable as Elfman's original theme. The music varies between the manic in mad circus/carnival mode, the sentimental, (sometimes slyly, cloyingly so), the slinky and sexy, and the sinister. A nocturne whose basic serenity is edged with shadows breaks up the generally fast paced music.
The album ends with a delicious spoof, after a portentous opening, on the old Neil Hefti comic-cuts type score for the fabulously camp Batman TV series.
This album is fabulous.
|Collection: THE MOVIE ALBUM As Time Goes By Neil Diamond (vocals) with orchestra conducted by Elmer Bernstein COLUMBIA C2K 69440 2CDs [67:03]||
"As Time Goes By" from CASABLANCA (Herman Hupfeld/prelude composed by Elmer Bernstein);
"Secret Love" from CALAMITY JANE (Sammy Fain & Paul Francis Webster);
"Unchained Melody" from UNCHAINED (Hy Zaret & Alex North);
"Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from THE LION KING (Elton John & Tim Rice);
"The Way You Look Tonight" from SWING TIME (Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields);
"Love With the Proper Stranger" from LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (Elmer Bernstein & Johnny Mercer);
"Puttin' On the Ritz" from PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ (Irving Berlin);
"When You Wish Upon a Star" from PINOCCHIO (Ned Washington & Leigh Harline);
"The Windmills of Your Mind" from THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR (Marilyn & Alan Bergman & Michel LeGrand);
"Ebb Tide" from SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (Robert Maxwell & Carl Sigman);
"True Love" from HIGH SOCIETY (Cole Porter);
"My Heart Will Go On" from TITANIC (James Horner & Will Jennings);
"The Look of Love" from CASINO ROYALE (Hal David & Burt Bacharach);
"In the Still of the Night" from ROSALIE (Cole Porter);
"Moon River" from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (Johnny Mercer & Henry Mancini);
"Ruby" from RUBY GENTRY (Mitchell Parish & Heinz Roemheld);
Suite Sinatra: "I've Got You Under My Skin" from BORN TO DANCE (Cole Porter) &
"One For My Baby" from SKY'S THE LIMIT (Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlen);
"And I Love Her" from A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (John Lennon & Paul McCartney);
"Can't Help Falling In Love" from BLUE HAWAII (George David Weiss, Hugo Peretti & Luigi Creatore);
"As Time Goes By" Reprise
There are some things you never expect. Take, for example, this Neil Diamond release. One could say it aims to attract fans of film songs who can tolerate Diamond's voice. Another could say it aims to attract fans of Diamond who can tolerate film songs. It does not matter.
Admittedly, Diamond's vocals are an acquired taste, and he does sometimes falter on this 2CD set from Columbia Records. After a grand introduction composed by Elmer Bernstein, Diamond exceeds expectations with a classic rendition of 'As Time Goes By.' He holds onto that high until 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight,' at which point he succumbs to gross melodrama. This unfortunate trend continues off-and-on over the course of both discs. Concerning the most popular song on the compilation, his interpretation of the insipid 'My Heart Will Go On' is more skilled than that of Celine Dion (though the over-emphatic phrasing appears here as well), and Jeremy Lubbock deserves kudos for writing as intelligent and original an arrangement of the song as humanly possible. Other songs that fair best under Diamond's voice are 'Love With the Proper Stranger,' 'When You Wish Upon a Star,' 'Ebb Tide,' 'True Love,' and perhaps 'Ruby.'
Apart from the vocalist, the disc features a skilled team of film musicians. Die-hard filmusic aficionados will spot many familiar names in the orchestra and production notes. Elmer Bernstein conducts with precision, and the instrumentalists play their hearts out.
The arrangements by Jonathan Tunick, William Ross, Jeremy Lubbock, Elmer Bernstein & Jon A. Kull, Alan Lindgren, Patrick Williams, Tom Hensley, and Jorge Calandrelli range wildly from clever harmonies to overbearing monstrosities. Tunick and Lubbock present the music in top form; ignoring the lamentable 'Puttin' On the Ritz,' Ross does as well. Every one of Lindren's arrangements goes for empty technique and cheap dramatics.
The selection of songs places emphasis on ballads, so the music bounces without ever getting much above the metaphorical trampoline. It needs the sparkling inclusion of something extraordinary to divide the sameness. A sense of fun is all but excised. Now, who would not secretly enjoy a Neil Diamond version of 'Ewok Celebration' from "Return of the Jedi"...
The production is classy, with some great photographs from the recording sessions and of Diamond. Columbia recorded the album at the Alfred Newman Scoring Stage on the Twentieth Century Fox studio lot, and the sound is appropriately mixed in a manner which recalls classic Hollywood (without the deterioration). It is crisp, clear, but somewhat distant. Diamond wrote his own humorously effusive liner notes.
It is an enjoyable disc and a sure filmusic novelty, but its hits are only slightly more obvious than its misses.
And four interesting albums in my curio corner
|Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920) Goddess of the Moon Perspectives Ensemble NEWPORT CLASSIC NPD 85634 [61:57]||
|Exotic Chamber Music based on Japanese, Druid and Indian
The Kairn of Koridwen; Three Japanese Melodies; Three Sketches on Indian Themes; Sonata for Piano
Charles Tomlinson Griffes was born in Elmira, New York. After early studies in Elmira he went to Berlin where the musical life was dominated by Richard Strauss. He studied piano and composition with various teachers including Engelbert Humperdinck. His music is very eclectic; at various times he was influenced by Debussy and Ravel, Scriabin, Schoenberg and Stravinsky; plus the German Romantic tradition and Impressionism and the music of the orient as well as the poetry of the Scottish-Celtic writer Fiona MacLeod. He is best remembered today as the composer of two orchestral pieces: The White Peacock and The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan.
His music is dramatic, atmospheric and colourfully evocative. He had a strong innovative streak and often thought in terms of unusual combinations of instruments. He died at the tragically young age of 35.One cannot help conjecturing, if he had survived, that Hollywood would have beckoned him in the 1930s and the whole history of film music might have taken a quite different direction.
The most substantial work on this CD is The Kairn of Koridwen (composed in 1916). An observer has likened different parts of it to Olivier Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time, a Poulenc Sextet, the ending of Berg's Wozzeck and Bartok's Sonata for two pianos and percussion. Kairn originated as a dance-drama about a druid princess who is pledged to her island sanctuary and, rather than escape from it with her warrior lover, remains there to fulfill her religious vows and in so doing seals her doom. In the Celtic language Kairn means sanctuary and Koridwen is the Goddess of the Moon (hence the title of this album). Griffes did not regard this as chamber music but as "continuous symphonic music in two movements or scenes" and as "concert music". Consider the unique scoring: flute, two clarinets, two horns, piano, harp and celeste. The music is presented on the album as six pieces each with titles as though they are film soundtrack cues: Scene One: Introduction; Bringing out the Cauldron; Fury of the Priestess; Scene Two: Introduction; She Begins to Rise; and Dirge. Influences (or rather pre-echoes ) of Bax and John Ireland are discernible and the impressionistic influence is strong. The sound world and sonorities which Griffes creates are truly spellbinding and highly evocative; and descriptive of the narrative. Clarinets and horns are used both in unison to add depth to the texture and in counterpoint to each other to add perspective (one has the impression of druid calls between islands for instance).
Griffes' brief Three Japanese Melodies (1917) are exquisite and worth the price of the CD alone. Scored for flute, clarinet, oboe, two violins, cello, bass and tom-tom, in Griffes own words: "It is developed Japanese music - I purposely do not use the term "idealized"...the orchestration is as Japanese as possible: thin, delicate, and the muted strings points d'orgue serve as a neutral-tinted background like the empty spaces in a Japanese print."
Three Sketches for String Quartet based on Indian Themes is a remarkable evocation of the music of the Native American Indian melodies. Griffes's sound world, reinforced by occasional strokes on the bodies of the instruments, seems to suggest larger forces at work. The second movement is a beautiful lament as though expressing a sadness at the passing of an era, while the lively Allegretto moderato final movement is a lively Indian dance.
The other work in the programme is the Sonata for Piano composed in 1917-18. It is considered by many to be his masterwork. Critics were uncertain about it considering it to have been experimental and to have broken convention. One critic writing in Christian Science Monitor observed: "The work though strange, perhaps, to some hearers, proved to be clear in structure, intense in feeling and refined in expression." To which I would add that it is both imposing and arresting. It is rhapsodic and it is often has an other-world, dream-like quality.
The instrumentalists of the Perspectives Ensemble, attached to Columbia University, are to be congratulated on their fine committed playing of these remarkable works and on their initiative in recording them. A real treat for the adventurous listener.
|Gian Carlo MENOTTI (b.1911) Help, Help The Globolinks (Space-Age Comic Opera) John DeMain conducts Madison Opera NEWPORT CLASSIC NPD 85633 [61:57]||
"Attention, attention! Unknown flying objects from another planet and creatures identified so far only as Globolinks, have landed on Earth. All citizens are asked to remain calm. Be on your guard. Stay tuned for further broadcasts. THE GLOBOLINKS ARE HERE!"
A scene from some science fiction movie? It certainly could have been; the admonition is so familiar but, no, this is the opening spoken narrative that follows some evocative night skies, space-sweeping and reminiscent-of-schooldays orchestral music in Menotti's space-age opera for children of all ages, Help, Help, The Globolinks. Composed in 1968 and first performed in Hamburg, this is it's first recording. Menotti's music for ...Globolinks is appealing and accessible and often very amusing. The opera has a message that should be heeded in every school.
Amusing electronics characterise the Globolinks. The opening scene has them gathering around a school bus. They are about to converge on the children when they are repulsed by the sound of the horn. The children awaken and are alarmed but Tony, the bus driver, tries to comfort them. Then they learn from the bus radio that the Globolinks are at large and that they are frightened of the sound of musical instruments. However, all the children, who are returning to school after their holidays, had left their instruments at school except for Emily who is persuaded to go to the school for help from the teachers, playing her violin as she goes to protect her against the Globolinks. Tony, sung commandingly and heroically by tenor David Small, has a memorable aria as he persuades Emily to go and find help, "Let music clear your path..." His aria is broadened out to include the children's voices and he sings in counterpoint to them as they urge Emily to "Make arrows of your scales; pierce the night with your bow..." Emily (beautifully sung by Erin Windle) replies with an equally enchanting aria, "Farewell, my friends... After brave Emily departs, we hear a lovely interlude with a prominent part for the violin. This interlude, and its preceding conclusion to Scene I, is the high point of the opera.
Scene II opens with the Globolinks' electronic music but we are now at the school where the Dean is worried about the whereabouts of the children. Where is the school bus? Timothy, his dim-witted school custodian is no help. Then the Dean's concern is inflamed by the entrance of the school's music teacher Mme Euterpova who is threatening to resign because the children are not receiving any encouragement from the Dean to study music and she deplores the fact that they had all gone on holiday without taking their instruments to practise on. "You do not know the power of music", she admonishes him. "That's what is wrong with the world! It has forgotten how to sing!" But the Dean remains unconcerned and Mme Euterpova (sung with real shrewish relish by Rachel Joselson) sweeps out but not before she lets us know that she is in love with him.
From the radio we hear that musical instruments are the only defence against the Globolinks who can penetrate walls and doors but the Dean thinks it is all nonsense and, now exhausted, he dozes off. A Globolink enters and touches him. At once he begins to change into a Globolink himself for he looses his voice and only electronic sounds come from his mouth much to the concern of Timothy who calls on the teachers to help him. They recognise the problem and resolve to collect up the instruments and go off to rescue the children. Timothy finds a tuba and discovers that it's tune can kill Globolinks. Mme Euterpova takes charge of the situation and after reversing the "spell" on the Dean in getting him to sing one note - "La", the teachers go off on their quest stirringly singing "Musicians unite, let the trumpet blaze..."
After another interlude contrasting the eerie danger of the Globolinks with the heroic theme of the rescuers, with important parts for piccolo and tuba, we are back with the children now cowering in the shadow of their bus because the Globolinks are becoming more and more daring and they will soon overcome the children. Tony, the bus driver, encourages the children to sing the school song to keep up their spirits but the Globolinks seem to be just enraged by it (a nice ironic touch which will appeal to many school children) Just as all seems lost, the teachers appear and the Globolinks retreat. After rejoicings, a roll call of the children reveals Emily still missing. Everyone goes off armed with their instruments in search of her, led by the Dean who can now fly. An amusing orchestral march accompanies them
Scene four is set in the forest. Emily is lost; she is surrounded by Globolinks. Menotti here gives us a haunting violin melody and Emily sings plaintively "I still cannot find the way...but I must play on." She has to rest and falls asleep. A Globolink picks up her violin but its sound frightens him away. Alas he drops it in his hasty retreat and it is broken. Emily is distraught because she now has no protection. But then Dr Stone, the Dean, appears. Emily cannot understand why he keeps on singing La, then she is frightened when he turns completely into a Globolink and flies away. At this point the rescue party arrives to save Emily. Mme Euterpova is philosophical about the loss of her Dean but decides she should now look for another husband. She then says that a lesson should be learnt from the day's events. And to another splendidly affecting Menotti theme (rather Elgarian nobilmente) she sings, "Unless we keep music in our soul, a hand of steel will clasp our hearts and we shall live by clocks and dials instead of air and sun and sea. Make music with your hands, make music with your breath." In a miscalculation - an understandable miscalculation - yet a sad error of taste, this laudable sentiment is brushed aside by another teacher's admonition that the message is boring. The opera then draws to a close as the cast departs but isn't that a wee Globolink following them?
A completely charming little production which I recommend unreservedly and I hope that many more productions are staged for children.
Footnote: Composer, librettist, and conductor, Gian Carlo Menotti was born in Cadegliano in Italy in 1911 but has lived mainly in America and Scotland. He studied at Milan Conservatoire from 1924-27 and then on Toscanini's advice at the Curtis Institute where he met and formed a lifelong friendship with Samuel Barber. He has worked mainly in the field of opera and is best remembered for his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. Other successes have included The Consul and The Medium.
|PUTTIN' ON THE RITZ The Palm Court Orchestra Directed by Anthony Godwin(Chandos) FLYBACK FBCD 2011 [57:03]||
Irving Berlin: Puttin' on the Ritz; H. Barris: It Must Be True; Ted Snyder: The Sheik of Araby; Yellen, Silvers & Dougherty: Let's Get Friendly; Moll, Dowling, Hanley: Honeymoon Lane; Jack Yellow and Milton Ager: Happy Feet; Gottler & Meisel: Oh! What a Night; Jimmy Kennedy: Roll Along Covered Wagon; Razaf, Waller & Brooks: Ain't Misbehavin; Warren & Dubin: She's A Latin from Manhattan; Gilbert & Nicholls: Horatio Nicholl's Californian Serenade; Yellen & Shapiro: Loving You; and D.J. La Rocca: Tiger Rag.
This is an absolutely cracking album. Fourteen tracks in the sparkling effervescent style of the Roaring Twenties. Much of the material was played to accompany silent films and of course many of these songs have been featured in lots of films and TV programmes set in the 1920s. All the tracks are in strict tempo and the ensemble playing is perfect and perfectly in accord with the period - its as though you have travelled back in a time warp.
The opening number sets the mood with the bright and breezy title song "Puttin on the Ritz" - note the cinematic reference in the line, "...dressed up like a million dollar trouper trying hard to look like Gary Cooper, super-duper..." "It Must be True" finds the Palm Court Orchestra in a more relaxed and sweetly romantic mood enhanced by the ardent whistling of the Palm Court Orchestra's Director, Anthony Godwin. We are woken from our dreams of true love by the more urgent rhythms of "Toot, Toot, Tootsie" featuring the hottest violins and brass in town. Shades of Ketèlbey in Arabian mode and of Rudolf Valentino are summoned by "The Shiek of Araby" and how the boys camp it up - even the horse gets a laugh! The ladies of The Stardust Trio invite us to "Lets Get Friendly with their close harmony singing. Get those scintillating, swooping, scooping voices! - And there's a touch of the Grapellis!
"Honeymoon Lane" rings those wedding bells and the violins lead in another relaxed yet pointedly rhythmic romance. "Happy Feet" is deliriously happy - six minutes of sheer vitality! This track is tremendous and if you can keep still through it, you must be made of wood - and those hap, hap, happy feet go tap, tap tap dancing over the wood of the dance floor. "Oh What A Night" it was and the song of that name that follows is another wild party in itself. We are in the wild and woolly west with "Roll Along Covered Wagon" with a team of unimpressed horses that obviously always get the best of their driver. Clonk those coconuts while singer, Davis Norton does his Gene Autry Whippity-ee-i-o! "Ain't Misbehavin'", I wonder? I should think not by the sound of this sexy, blowsy rendition - Hey-Ho! Warren & Dubin wrote the songs for many of those wonderful Busby Berkeley musicals for Warner Bros. "She's A Latin from Manhattan" comes from the1935 film, Go Into Your Dance. 'She can take a tambourine and wack it, but with her its really a racket' for Dolores, the Latin senorita from Havana is really Suzie Donohue a hoofer from tenth avenue - saucy madame! No matter the Palm Courters bring all their Latin temperament and instruments to celebrate her charms.
"Horatio Nicholls' Californian Serenade" is a happy, quickstepping winner that must have delighted all the flappers, before the ladies of the Stardust Trio return to delight us with "Loving You", yes please! - so sentimentally sweet and persuasive how could I resist? The party ends with a rip roaring rendering of "Tiger Rag." It's really great - bouncy and brimming with tingling excitement. You simply will not be able to remain seated through this one. Where's that tiger? Hold that Tiger!
I think that you may have got the impression that I think this is the best thing since Mr Hovis put on his baker's apron? True, true, true!
|GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS Gordon Langford and his Orchestra (Chandos) FLYBACK FBCD 2010 [42:39]||
Gordon Langford is widely acknowledged as one of England's most prolific and versatile composer/arrangers. He has written for vocal groups, chamber ensembles, brass bands, concert bands, jazz bands, 'light' orchestras and symphony orchestras. Much of his output has been used in films, TV radio and records. He is featured as pianist, conductor, arranger and conductor. The concept girls includes girls by name or simply girls collectively.
The album consists of 14 easy listening tracks and begins merrily with the catchy "Girls, Girls, Girls" and is followed by the equally melodic "Music to Watch Girls Go By" with the distinctive sound of boo-bams (a set of tuned bongos). "Stella by Starlight" by renowned film composer, Victor Young, has the boo-bams too, and marimba. Langford's own relaxed "Pretty Girl by Moonlight" carries a reference to Debussy's "Clair de lune". Purists will be shocked at the wayward up-beat treatment of David Raksin's lovely theme from the film Laura. "Dindi" is a nice melody spiced by subtly sensuous Latin harmonics. "The Girl that I Marry" looses her innocence in this fast-tempoed arrangement but Leonard Bernstein's "Maria" is essentially faithful to the original yet strongly rhythmical with colourful orchestrations with emphatic Latin brass. "Gwendoline" is a lively, slinky miss who is also a bit undecided or simply a flirt? Stephen Foster's "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair", used in a number of movies, is now a classic. "The Girl from Ipanema" is a really catchy bossa-nova and Richard Rogers' "Have You Met Miss Jones?" again features the boo-bams in this bright and breezy number. For "Anna" muted strings play the romantic introduction before the brighter Latin American rhythms entice Anna and her partner from their secluded corner table up onto the dance floor - Ole! "Portrait of Jeannie" begins sentimentally again and a trumpet converses about her with another trumpet on the other side of the sound stage. They are clearly both ecstatic about Jeannie because the strings are equally impressed and the drums and cymbals are all a flutter too - what a girl. The final number is, of course, Girls, Girls, Girls full of enthusiasm and exuberance.
Easy listening music that bridges the generations. Ideal party music.
|Lee HOLDERIDGE The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue (with songs by Lee Holderidge and Richard Sparks) The Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus of London conducted by Lee Holderidge SONIC IMAGES Records SID-8820 [62:24]||
Lee Holdridge is a master tunesmith, but here his melodies follow the lead of trite & hollow lyrics, succeeding only in demonstrating that the composer inspires easily. A good trait, it is true, but the difference in quality from music to lyrics is huge. Surprisingly, the underscore fares little better. The orchestrations are good, but nonetheless typical. There is nothing to place it alongside Jerry Goldsmith's score for the original.
As for Richard Sparks, he may be a good writer, but his lyrics are utterly useless. When your most inspired text goes, "Butterflies and pretty flowers/Sunny skies and super powers/Silver streams and fluffy kitties/Laser beams and rubbled cities," there are most definitely problems.
The songs boast performances by Al Jarreau, Bobbi Page, Dom DeLuise, Andrew Ducote, Arthur Malet, William H. Macy, Alex Strange, Ralph Macchio, Meshach Taylor, Hyndan Walsh, and Eric Idle. I applaud any effort that uses the actors' own voices for the songs instead of hiring generic 'professional' singers, but the voice direction by Maria Estrada is flimsy. Only Eric Idle cuts through the morass; the other actors and actresses turn in painfully average performances. The Philharmonia Chorus is unfortunately buried in the sound mix.
The album design suitably gears toward children (and the child in all of us!), the two-tone picture disc is cute, and the liner notes are easy reading. Included are the lyric texts, so they can simultaneously offend the eyes as well as the ears. The sound is average. The highlight is hearing how much fun the Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus of London musicians seem to be having at times.
The valiant attempts of those involved should not go unnoticed. It is a pity that, despite those tasks, the parts never meet to create a whole. The result is a mass of mediocrity.
|Joseph LoDUCA Young Hercules Original Television Soundtrack VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5983 [44:23]||
This TV score is like the curate's egg good in (a few) parts. Clearly it is designed for a young audience and they may well like all the boomings, bangings, wailings and screechings that emanate from the electronic inputs to this highly eclectic score. It certainly rushes along so the youngsters will hardly encounter any longeurs.
A slightly more mature audience might find some amusement in playing a game of guess that influence; there is plenty to keep them occupied in this score of a multitude of styles that are so often incongruously mixed. In "Promise Me" we are back aboard the Titanic and "Stable Rumble" has a very Gaelic tinge - Hercules in County Kerry? Then we have our dear old friend the Dies Irae marching haltingly after doleful funeral bells for "Slain Warriers" while bits of Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story score peep out from underneath "Very Big Foot".
"Bathing" is suitably aqueous and the setting sultry haremy with finger cymbals, tambourines and other ethnic Indian/Arabian instruments. A little romance steals in with "Promise Me" and "Be Honest" which is quite nicely pliant and pleading; just as well after the headache-inducing thunderings, bangings and moanings from tracks like "The Gods Take Away/The Stick Fight."
Readers will appreciate that January 1999 reviews were written in December 1998. Since the new James Horner score for Mighty Joe Young arrived in December, it was thought an admirable opportunity to include an additional retrospective look at four of Horner's previous scores dating from 1988 to 1995 to survey the progress of the composer who scored such a gigantic hit with his music for Titanic in 1998
|James HORNER Mighty Joe Young Conducted by the composerHOLLYWOOD HR-62172-2 (73:06)||
Mighty Joe Young was originally released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1949. Produced by the same studio that made King Kong, Mighty Joe Young is described by Halliwell as a rather tired comic-sentimental follow-up to King Kong with a tedious plot and variable animation but a few endearing highlights. The new remake has not arrived so I cannot comment on its quality and I have not noticed any reviews yet but if Horner's music is anything go by, it should prove big on thrills. It is interesting to note from the album booklet - sparse on information as usual - that the old well-loved RKO trademark has been partially restored for this Walt Disney production (that is without the 'Radio' component on the right hand side of the radio mast which straddles the globe)
This album does little to dispel the disappointment of Horner's bland score for Deep Impact in fact the usual Horner weaknesses manifest themselves and, for this reviewer, there are too few strengths. The biggest disappointment is the lack of a really memorable theme.
A recent article in Soundtrack magazine defended Horner's borrowings making the point that all composers are influenced by other composers and borrow from time to time; this is true and inevitable; however, when a composer is so consistently accused of borrowing one is forced to take note and when one is only too well aware, too much of the time, of such borrowings and has a nagging feeling of "where have I heard that before" at too many other points, notice must be taken of such criticism.
In this new Mighty Joe Young score the borrowings are, as usual, frequently from Horner's own preceding scores. Reminders of the metallic Titanic clashes are much in evidence and those Gaelic pipes occasionally peer out. The choral music reminds one too much of John Williams's Amistad, there are echoes of John Barry's Out of Africa, and there are those clap-clap rhythms of The Truman Show.
On the credit side the music is often very thrilling and sometimes quite overwhelming and scary. Undoubtedly it serves the screenplay very well in screwing up tension and excitement. Horner's richly textured score, written for a large orchestra includes the use of a vast array of drums - ethnic and conventional - spread right across the sound stage to wonderful effect with plenty of variety, and the sparingly used electronics nicely evoke the sounds of the jungle. One of the most attractive cues is the relatively calm "The Trees" which has an attractive veneer of primitive innocence and evokes all the colour and life of the rain forest; again this is a tribute to Horner's (or his orchestrators') evocative skills.
Once again Horner is generous with the quantity of music - its just a pity that we don't hear something fresh and original that will engage our attention and linger in our memories.
|James HORNER Willow (1988) The London Symphony Orchestra and the Kings College Choir, Wimbledon VIRGIN CDV 2538 (73:17)||
|James HORNER The Rocketeer (1991) OST music conducted by the composerHOLLYWOOD HR61117-2||
|James HORNER Legends of the Fall (1995) OST music conducted by the composerEPIC 478511 2||
|James HORNER Braveheart (1995) OST music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer LONDON 448 295-2 (77:00)||
The CD of Horner's score for the 1988 plodding sword and sorcery film, Willow, has turned up in the shops again in the UK to present a good starting point for this admittedly very brief and incomplete retrospective assessment. Horner's well-crafted and splendidly orchestrated score is one of the best elements about this muddled George Lucas production. It has excitement, wit, drama and atmosphere. It lifts the weak screenplay and adds some credibility to it. The opening cue "Elora Duran" immediately provides an other-worldly fairy tale atmosphere with tremolando high strings, a sort of quiet sea-lapping on-shore electronic effect and choral writing that pre-echoes that of Alan Silvestri in his score for The Abyss (1989). The lower bass figures that immediately follow are the seeds from which the Legend theme from Legends of the Fall will grow. This first cue contains very sinister and threatening material - the brass figures have real sting and bite and the clangings and clashings remind one of the Nibelungs at work in their subterranean caverns. Further on, there is comedy even trombone/tuba buffoonery while more tender women's chorus music is associated with the baby around which all the conflict rages. The most important and most memorable theme is associated with the diminutive hero Willow which we hear first in the second cue "Escape from the Tavern" which, as the title suggests, is full of swashbuckling heroics which Horner provides in full-blooded measure with steel hammering on duelling steel. A number of writers have criticised Horner for having borrowed his Willow theme from Schumann's Rhenish Symphony and it is true that there is a more than passing resemblance to the opening theme of the first movement of that symphony, but Horner embellishes it and quickens its tempo to change its character significantly. "Willow's Journey" contains some bagpipe music that anticipates Braveheart and "Canyon of Mazes" contains material which Horner will revisit and adapt for his Titanic score as the big ship races towards disaster. The remainder of this imaginative score has material very much as I have already described but with some interesting variations.
Moving onto 1991 and The Rocketeer. It is very seldom that I am impelled to immediately rush out to buy a soundtrack recording but I was so with The Rocketeer! This is a tremendously exuberant and exciting score with Horner really letting his hair down and entering into the spirit of this comic books caper. The main theme is strong and memorable and it persisted in my head for days afterwards. This theme is very well developed and embroidered throughout the score Horner also has fun with his wryly comic, tongue-in-cheek villain music as epitomised by Timothy Dalton escaping from his brief James Bond career to play the Errol Flynn-like Nazi spy but its is also suitably darkly sinister when required too. The romantic music nicely turned too; you even get two ballads sung in the style of the late 1930s/early 1940s: Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" and E. A. Swan's "When Your Lover Has Gone." Horner would revisit his Rocketeer music when he assembled his score for Titanic.
In 1995 the soundtrack recording of Legends of the Fall was released. The film itself divided the critics; many panned it others thought it to be a classic western. It was forged on a grand scale. A retired US Colonel (Anthony Hopkins) retires to build himself a new life on a Montana ranch after leaving the army when he cannot stomach the way the Indians are being treated. The story develops around his three sons -Brad Pitt and Aidon Quinn playing the eldest two who are compelled to go off to battle in World War II to protect their younger brother; and their rivalry over the woman (Julia Ormond) who the youngest son had brought home to marry. The sprawling story takes in bootlegging in the Prohibition era after the war and jungle exploration, madness, sadism and much more. One critic aptly described it as a horse opera with the emphasis on opera. Its broad sweep clearly struck a chord with Horner for he seems to have been moved by the screenplay to create a score that has dignity and sincerity. Take for instance, the highly evocative yet tastefully sympathetic music he writes for the scenes in war-ravaged France. Horner finds glorious music to describe the simple homestead set in the beautiful Montana countryside, for the family Indian guardian, and all the screenplay's emotional turbulence. But, above all, the main theme is excellent and again it persists in the mind. It has a life of its own and stands proud away from the context of the film. I remember the Academy Awards presentation, I think it was in 1995 when Sigourney Weaver recalled for us the Hollywood greats who had left us during the previous year. Horner's theme was used as we saw images of the stars on-screen - it was a most moving tribute made exceptionally poignant with the inclusion of this Horner theme. For me, Legends of the Fall is Horner at his best.
In the same year as Legends of the Fall Horner was commissioned to score Braveheart which won him an Oscar nomination. It certainly is a powerful, rugged score. You can feel the cold, misty-laden atmosphere of the glens; and there is a feeling of authenticity about the pipes-and- drum-led folkmusic. Horner's music for the impressive battle scenes is quite stunning in its raw impact, it has a tremendous impetus with brilliant writing for brass and drums. There is a primitive savagery and violence that adds tremendously to the excitement of these thrilling conflicts. The violence is offset with one of Horner's best romantic cues, "For the Love of a Princess". Poignancy and heroic defiance inform the final cues of the score and again Horner impresses with his capabilities for pointing up drama and emotion. Once more Horner mines deeply from this Braveheart score for his epic Titanic music. But this CD is truly a sonic spectacular.
In conclusion and returning to the much vexed question of Horner's borrowings, it is interesting to notice that Horner's is frequently borrowed from too. I was forcibly reminded of this when I was listening to the music which scored a TV dramatisation of Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek lately. They say imitation is the best form of flattery. It would be interesting to have visitors views about these and other Horner scores. Why not drop us a line?
Legends of the Fall
|JOHN BARRY: A Life In Music By Geoff Leonard, Pete Walker, & Gareth Bramley Sansom & Company ISBN 1 900178 86 9 £24.99||
Thereís quite a history to the production of this book. It came so close so many times. It is a testament to how worthy an end result it must be for the authors to have kept working at it for so many years. OK so they are fans, but as soon as you hold the thing in your hands you just know it has to be a pretty definitive piece.
It can be broken down as a non-personal biographical account of Mr Prendergastís musical career. There is a large leaning toward his film work (including a fascinating chapter devoted to the Bond years), but initially we take a stroll through the hits and misses he experienced in the Ď50s and 60s. It makes for humbling reading, since itís all too easy to place someone of such notoriety on an unfailing pedestal. The simple truth is that he worked damn hard to make it into film, and we follow each important step carefully enough to understand both the time in which they happened and why they led onto the next.
One of the major attractions of the book to fans will be the huge number of photographs.
Many have never been seen before, and itís always worth having a giggle at someone trying a beard out (circa 1976 for The Deep). There are snapshots of backstage functions alongside record company publicity shots, concert performances, and record sleeves too. The feature that will cross the fan / student line is the all-inclusive discography at the back of the book. This is 19 pages all by itself !
The actual text makes for absorbing reading. Only very occasionally do you detect a shift between one writer and another, but obviously one pool of knowledge is making way for someone elseís. The most respectable aspect of the book is that it never delves into the manís private life. There is Eddi Fiegelís A Sixties Theme if you want to get into family and the army, but while it details motivation, it neglects the music itself all too often. Which is never the case here. The music is the sole focus of he book and all it wants to do is impress upon you how much of an influence it has had along the way.
If there is one thing against the book, it is in having to taper the information from padding out to unwieldy lengths. Moving closer to present day, the wrap up on films is tighter and tighter to the point itís noticeable that something like Dances With Wolves should have warranted a couple of pages to itself. This is simple economics however. So pray for the "Editorís Cut" in the future.
Actually, there is another niggle. With so many terrific pictures throughout, surely there could have been at least one of the heroic authors themselves ? Where are the square-jawed triumvirate ? Perhaps so much effort left them un-photogenic at the appropriate time. So take heart, and go purchase this magnificent doorstop.
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