From the CD booklet I was amazed to read that the original music for this
film written only twenty years ago was lost and that significant time and
effort had to be invested in locating it. I have to say right from the start
that I am in two minds whether it was worth the trouble. After all, Warner
Bros records did issue a memorable two LP set of the music in 1978, in very
good analogue sound with the composer conducting (I think) the London Symphony
Orchestra in a marvellous performance. True, this new recording (in stunning
20bit digital sound) offers the most complete version of this terrific score
so far available on disc but it must be argued that Williams recorded (and
presumably chose) the best of the score.
We meet some of the new material right at the beginning in the Prologue which
is a sort of impressionistic picture of the depths of space set immediately
after the opening Superman. Listeners will be in two minds about this. After
several hearings one gets used to the interruption and will welcome it as
being valuable and interesting material, but on a first hearing it could
jar in that it blunts the impact and thrill of the unfolding of the thrilling
full Superman theme. The following two cues follow the original Warner Bros
recording closely, in fact Williams is marginally slower: "The Planet Krypton"
(Williams: 4:45; Debney: 4:35); and "The Destruction of Krypton" (Williams:5:58;
Debney:5:27). The new recording really scores in the next cue "The Trip to
Earth" revealing so much rich quicksilver detail; this is a sort of Holst's
Mercury-like scherzo. The same comment applies to "Growing up" that follows,
it is in much the same mood and underscores those early scenes as Superman
is growing up and discovering his phenomenal powers. (This track although
recorded by Williams and included on the LP and the two CD set was omitted
from the one CD reduction.) I was also impressed by Debney's moving rendition
of "Jonathon's Death" and "Leaving Home" the latter cue includes one of John
Williams's loveliest and most noble and poignant melodies. The stand-out
cue, for me, in the whole of the Superman score is "The Fortress of Solitude".
Williams's own reading was very beautiful - sheer poetry. Unfortunately,
Debney begins this track very well but then ruins it by allowing the inclusion
of what I think is an electronic instrument recorded much too far forward
so that it diminishes and ruins the effect of that gorgeous long-breathed
string melody that enters at about 6:00, which is a pity because the RSNO
strings are ravishing.
The second CD is good, especially the final two tracks but the level of
inspiration cannot match the first CD for themes already introduced are repeated
through many of the tracks albeit brilliantly developed. It is difficult
to make a close comparison with the Debney and Williams albums here because
Debney organises the music quite differently and the cue names are often
dissimilar. CD2 begins with some new material in "The Helicopter Sequence"
full of tension and drama, and disonant clashes until the Superman theme
enters first hesitatingly then resplendently to overcome them. "The Penthouse"
and "The Flying Sequence" sweep up some of the romantic elements very well
with the frisson of star/dream dust steeled by other figures that crackle
with vitality suggesting the thrill of Lois's flight in her hero's, Superman's,
arms; minus, thankfully, "Can You Read My Mind" which disfigured the original
Williams disc. Debney also scores in underlining the grotesque buffoonery
of Lex Luthor's bumbling assistants in "The Truck Convoy" and "March of the
Villains." But as I intimated above the real power is reserved for the last
two cues: "The Prison Yard and End Titles" showing off the Superman theme
in all its glory, and the full romantic treatment is accorded to the final
cue which is the "Love Theme from Superman." Debney and the RSNO really give
us full-blooded "all-stops-out" renderings of both. After several hearings
of this set I have grown to like it more and more but I would not swap it
for the original, wonderful Williams recording.
Paul Tonks adds:-
There has been a deal of controversy amongst listeners over this release.
Some of it rather specious. As a re-recording it has apparently let some
people down in not matching Williams' original 100%. What I noticed about
most such outbursts, is that they appeared rapidly following a first listen.
I wonder how many got so caught up in finding fault with the music that they
left no room for considering what possible reasons contribute towards two
recordings sounding different from one another. For one thing, this was crafted
in 2 days. Williams would have had more like 2 weeks back in 1978...
The most important aspect of this album should have gone a long way to quashing
such dissatisfactions (but perplexingly hasn't). The shocking truth is that
all the original score parts are lost; no-one knows where. That left only
the composer's sketches to work from. The re-construction therefore follows
those original notes before twiddles and tweaks were made by the director.
What's up there on screen ain't necessarily what's down there on paper. Apart
from the ingratitude displayed towards the album's efforts and intentions,
listeners should certainly be grateful that there now exists the hardcopy
parts available for live performances.
To get into what separates this from the Warner release, these are some of
the new cues: "Jonathan's Death", "Helicopter Rescue", and "The Penthouse".
There's the gentle tragedy of seeing off Pa Kent in the first. Full-on adrenaline
coursing through the second, and some wistful quietude in the last. You pretty
much have to know what you're getting coming in on an album like this though,
so I don't really feel the need to add to the reams of existing commentary.
This performance benefits from the great brass section within the RSNO. John
Debney couldn't hope to do more than justice to the piece, and indeed he
has. If you want more music - here it is.