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EDITOR'S CHOICE - CD of the Month January 1999
|Randy NEWMAN Pleasantville OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5988||
It is always a pleasure to welcome a new score from Randy Newman, nephew of the great Alfred Newman. Randy Newman's credits include: Awakenings; Maverick; Avalon; James and the Giant Peach; The Natural; The Paper; and Parenthood. Composer of acerbic, satirical and witty songs, his scores often show a sardonic sense of humour and whimsy. For Pleasantville, therefore, Randy Newman was a natural choice.
Pleasantville has yet to reach the UK but I have seen trailers of this film in which a young couple suddenly find themselves transported from modern-day America with all its stresses and bickerings into the black and white, two dimensional, 1950s/60s period, TV soap opera "Pleasantville" where they are absorbed into, and commence to disturb, and literally bring colour into its continuing story line.
The opening cue immediately gives us a taste of the cosy atmosphere of "Pleasantville" with a big band rendering of its romantic theme - so very redolent of its period. "Real rain" is a magical cue - again we have this warm comfortable nostalgic glow; the scoring is principally for strings and piano with those tiny-tinkling-bells effect suggesting scatterings of fairy dream dust. It is all so very innocent and at the same time evocative of small town America - an enchanting track. "Bud's a hero" continues this local feel - a wittily bombastic but warm-hearted tribute to a local hero, beautifully scored especially for the percussion section. "In the bath" is hesitant and coy; enchantingly fairy-like music in which female voices add to its fantasy appeal. "Mural" is more of an ecclesiastical meditation with divided strings; it is a lovely creation - romantic, ecstatic, mystical.
The encircling music for "Make-up" is delightfully coy and feminine. "The art book" that brings colour into the lives of the citizens of Pleasantville is softly-romantic-tinged Copland. "Punch" is as busy as a bee and quite as stinging while "Together" seems to suggest practise for a brass band - all swagger and splendour. "Waking up" is nostalgia tinged with regret and a distant echo of "When You Wish Upon A Star." So too is the charming "No Umbrellas" but with a hint of tragedy stated by low woodwinds. "Burning the Books" ushers in violence and disillusion and, perhaps, acceptance of a changed order in the more peaceful "The Aftermath." that has some fine string writing.
"A New Day", at five minutes duration, is the most substantial cue in the score. It opens pensively but more stirring local band music soon follows plus a little more of the fairy dust material and some heroics. Then we have some folk song material which is reminiscent of the partridge in a pear tree theme from The Twelve Days of Christmas. Comfortable nostalgic music with tremolando strings follows with that "Wish upon a Star" feeling.
"Goodbye" is again nostalgic without contributing anything new and the final cue "Let's go bowling" after a tuba haunted short cue "Sweater" is a cheerful, exuberant rhumba-rhythmed ending to a marvellous score. Pure enchantment
|Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (World Premier Recording of the complete score) Carl Davis conducts the Munich Symphony OrchestraVARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5696 [65:35]||
Korngold's approach to his film scores was operatic and of all his scores, he regarded The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex as the one that could most easily have been developed into an opera. The film is very much a literal and theatrical treatment of Maxwell Anderson's original play with the emphasis on its two main characters and its limited scenic range (Indeed one only has to recall the "fog and bog" set designs for the Ireland sequences which reinforce this theatrical feeling.) Korngold cannily seeing the screenplay as an expression of timeless, universal ideas of love, ambition and duty and their interactive corrosive effects, elected not to use any Tudor-period source material or to write in the style of that period, but to employ a full-blooded, modern late Romantic score with a large orchestra that included three saxophones, two harps, a piano, a spinet, an organ, a vibraphone and a harmonium.
The film starred Bette Davis and to her dismay Eroll Flynn who did not particularly want the role fearing, rightly, that Davis would overshadow him (she would have preferred to have starred opposite Laurence Olivier but he was not a big enough name in Hollywood when the film was being made in 1939). Yet, interestingly, Davis, many years later, admitted that Flynn was better than she had thought at the time.
[In passing, here, I would make a plea to those who shape the policy for the Academy Awards. Surely, to celebrate the Millennium, there should be some recognition for the artists the Academy passed over during the 20th Century through, shall I dare say it, politics or prejudice? Why cannot the Academy give posthumous awards to these stars? I would nominate Errol Flynn to be one of the first artists amongst them.]
The play/film took certain liberties with the facts to make the dramatic points already identified.
It is unlikely that the Queen Elizabeth I and Robert Devereaux, the Earl of Essex were actually lovers as suggested. Essex was certainly a favourite and dallied with the Queen's affections but he was only 34 when he was beheaded while the Queen was 68 two years short of her death.
This is the premiere recording of the complete score which unfolds in the chronological order of the screenplay. It is presented on this disc in the form of six suites that broadly follow the main events of the film: Elizabeth and Essex; The Queen; Reconciliation; Ireland; Essex Returns and The Tower of London.
The Main Title, and the course of the music in the first suite, contrasts the Queenly majestic, with the swagger of the headstrong young Essex and the love theme for the romance between Elizabeth and her bold young hero. This is Korngold at his dashing and hauntingly romantic best. The March is one of Korngold's finest inspirations in this genre, perfectly capturing the character of the cocky Essex. The deeper more introspective music suggests Elizabeth's more considered view of Essex's empty victory over the Spaniards, but it is the absolute refulgence of the music for the royal romance that lingers in the memory.
The Queen, suite two, is concerned with feminine politics. The music underscores the scenes in the palace. We first hear music for a military courier who has hurried to inform the Queen of defeat in Ireland we then have a theme that mocks the pomposity of the court - nice tongue in cheek Korngold this; but the main thrust of the music is with the Queen and her ladies in waiting. Lady Penelope (an unusually waspish and jealous part for Olivia de Havilland in a supporting role) who is a rival for the affections of Korngold goads the Queen to fury when she sings a song taunting her about her age. (The heavy irony is implicit in the stinging harpsichord part). The mirror scene confirms only too well that Elizabeth's charms are fleeting and one cannot help but compare Korngold's sad sympathetic music with that of Richard Strauss for his Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. Then there is the warmth of the Queen's consolation for the grief-stricken Margaret who has lost her lover in the wars. This is a sharply observed and beautifully designed segment of the score.
The third suite is called Reconciliation and it brings Essex and Elizabeth together again after the Queen had banished her young hothead from her court. The suite begins with exultant hunting music as Essex's friend, Sir Francis Bacon, finds him in full pursuit of his quarry. Bacon advises Essex to return to court to save the Queen from being misled by unscrupulous courtiers. The music thus speaks of furtive conspiracy but humour follows not far behind as Essex baits Raleigh by dressing the palace guards in the pretentious silver armour which Raleigh had assumed for himself. And, of course, with the lovers reunited the music also mellows and softens into the romantic again but beneath it all Elizabeth displays an iron will, she will not be duped into allowing Essex to ascend to the throne.
Suite four takes us to Ireland for Essex, despite the Queen's warnings has been coerced into taking command of the Irish campaign but the guerrilla tactics of the Irish under Tyrone (a miscastAlan Hale) and the weather prove too much and Essex's dreams of glorious victory end in an ignominious truce. After a swell of the romantic themes comes Korngold's battle music which is not quite so assertive, it's more subdued, swagger being displaced by a tired and tattered disillusion as his soldiers try to fight an elusive enemy hidden in swirling damp mists. To add to the misery Essex's letters to the Queen and Essex have been intercepted by Palace conspirators.
The music of suite five is very dramatic. Essex returns to London not in defeat but at the head of an army prepared to claim the throne. He lets his feelings for Elizabeth triumph and instead of riding roughshod he visits her and tries to persuade her to rule with him but although she undoubtedly loves him, she ultimately refuses and orders her guards to arrest him. Korngold's operatic gifts are in full flow here adding another dimension, there is the initial victorious music for Essex's arrival, then for the dignity of the Queen before her softening to Essex's ardour (three saxophones heighten the sweetness of his passionate pleadings) Then Korngold passionately emphasises the Queen's mental turmoil as she struggles between love and duty and you feel her attitude hardening as she sends him to his fate in the Tower.
The final suite is of course darkly tragic for it is set in the Tower as Essex awaits his execution.
A last minute attempt at reconciliation only confirms to Elizabeth that Essex would make a totally unsuitable monarch so, for the safety of her realm, she is obliged to sacrifice him. Korngold sympathetically illustrates her tragic dilemma, her conflicting emotions and loyalties in the most poignant music. The execution scene is starkly vivid: a dejected march to the scaffold accompanied with bleak drum rolls and trumpetings as the Queen mourns. The End Cast music brings the score to an upbeat and brilliant close.
Carl Davis, no stranger to the best of historic film scores, draws an inspired performance from the Munich players.
|George GERSHWIN The Ultimate GERSHWIN 4CD set PULSE/CASTLE PBXCD 407 [4hrs.52mins]||
I encountered this incredible bargain when I visited a local record store recently. My eyes nearly popped out of my head - four CDs of first rate Gershwin for just under £10 that's about two thirds the cost of one full price CD!. This collection is of recordings, beautifully refurbished, made in London and New York in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Here is some idea of the mouth-watering contents.
CD 1 begins with the Rodney Greenberg recommended (in his Phaidon book, George Gershwin) performance of Rhapsody in Blue (recorded in 1924) with Oscar Levant and Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Levant, a brilliant pianist, was a great friend of Gershwin and a great performer of his music. Levant's mordant wit and lugubrious wisecrackings are felt in his refreshingly unsentimental, rather droll interpretation of the Rhapsody. Listening to his rapid-fire quicksilver playing, he seems to inject many extra notes into the work and you could swear that there were more than two hands at work here. He is ably supported by an equally mordant but highly colourful accompaniment from Ormandy. Just listen to that waspish long-held trumpet call.
Levant and Ormandy also collaborate in a recording of the Concerto in F (recorded in 1925). Again they convey a world-weary cynicism, a hard-boiled yet not unattractive view of the exciting urban pulse that is New York. Again in the sparkling outer movements, Levant's playing is risky and breathlessly exciting; the orchestra more concerned with the softer more romantic elements. The Andante is very interesting. This time the nocturne starts as though narrated by a man-about-town; it's a tougher view than the norm. One might then imagine the city waking up at dawn, the violin solo has a steely ring, the trumpet reveille is a no-nonsense call to work. Then sentimentality and nostalgia win and the tone softens and the music is that more affecting because of what has gone before.
George Gershwin is heard playing his own three Preludes in his own inimitable style; it is as though he is improvising them for they have such freshness and spontaneity. Prelude No.1 is a tango powered tour-de-force, Prelude No. 2 is a wistful blues-based nocturne while Prelude 3 is an up-beat, fast tempoed flappers delight.
Gershwin, himself, plays the celeste, in a wonderfully vibrant and amusing 1928 recording of An American in Paris with the Victor Symphony Orchestra under Nat Shilkret. It is perky, alert, confident, delightfully cheeky and full of telling characterisation. This American is really homesick but he is jolted awake by the appearance of a particularly coy and appealing Parisienne who absolutely exudes jungle allure. The percussion here are prominent as if to suggest his excited, thumping heart.
The CD concludes with the Cuban Overture - a colourful evocation of a sultry night's entertainment in Havana by Paul Whiteman and his Concert Orchestra with Rosa Linda (piano) recorded in 1932.
CD 2 is a compilation of 25 songs recorded between 1922 and 1945 all charmingly rendered in the styles of their periods. All are pearls. I would just mention a few. The laid-back Mr BingCrosby crooning "Somebody Loves Me"; George Gershwin, himself playing "Fascinating Rhythm" to accompany Fred and Adele Astaire; Sophie Tucker's assertive rendition of "The Man I Love"; the extraordinary, inimitable and enormously expressive Whispering Jack Smith singing "Clap Yo' Hands"; Gershwin playing "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "S'Wonderful"; Peggy Lee wondering "How Long Has this Been Going On?"; Judy Garland's radiant singing of "Embraceable You"; and Fred Astaire's wonderful, own way with "They All Laughed", "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "Nice Work if You Can Get It."
CD3 is devoted to the Gershwin of the Jazz bands with recordings made between 1928 and 1937.
It opens with a shortened version of the Rhapsody in Blue without piano. It is a hoot! 'Totally irreverent and incredibly cheeky and blowsy in the wild style of the 1920s. In short it is hysterical and bloody marvellous. Again we have 25 tracks; most of them little gems. To mention just a few: Fletcher Henderson swinging "Somebody Loves Me" and "Liza", the latter very joyously and infectiously; then Art Tatum (piano) plays "Liza" in contrasting poetic, dreamy mode before he too races off with it at a breathless pace. The incomparable Fats Waller really goes for it in "I Got Rhythm" and Benny Goodman's Trio relaxes with "Lady Be Good"; The Inkspots sharply realise the rhythm of "Slap that Bass" - mmm, mmm, mmmm; zoom, zoom, zoom; and Tommy Dorsey's ringing and delightfully strident brass sound out "They All Laughed" while Billy Holiday and her orchestra "They Can't Take That Away from Me".
CD4 takes Gershwin and the jazz bands from 1939 up to 1947. I would single out from these 25 tracks: Doris Rhodes singing the slightly risqué "Lorelei" with the Joe Sullivan Septet; "The Man I Love" played by the Quintette of the Hot Club of France featuring Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt; Louis Armstrong with that golden trumpet and that gravelly voice in his rendition of "Love Walked In"; The Benny Goodman quartet - wonderful in guess what - "S'Wonderful"; Felix Mendelssohn and his Hawaiian going wild Hawaiian style for "I Got Rhythm"; and the Art Tatum Trio hotting up and racing away with "Liza."
The debit side is that there are no notes to speak of; just track listing and dates and locations of recordings. But who cares? What does it matter? Notes are widely available elsewhere.
Verdict: rush, rush out and buy this one before all the copies are snapped up!
|Alex NORTH 2001 (the Unused Score) Jerry Goldsmith conducts The National Philharmonic Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5400 [35:39]||
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  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  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.
|John WILLIAMS Superman John Debney conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE 2CDs VSD2-5981||
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.
|Alex NORTH A Streetcar Named Desire Jerry Goldsmith conducts The National Philharmonic Orchestra VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD 5500 [46:48]||
Since hearing the superb Rykodisc reissue of North's score for The Misfits I have wanted to explore and share more North. The December 1998 issue of Gramophone with outstanding contributions from reviewer Paul Tonks has offered even more tantalising information and I am certainly keen to review North's scores for Spartacus and Cleopatra.
North was active in the field of popular music and wrote at least one major hit. This background often shows in the film scores with jazzily symphonic inflections. The present music reminded me of another of my 'discoveries': Michel Legrand's The Thomas Crown Affair. There are quite a few stylistic parallels between the two although Legrand's jazz has a Gallic element absent from North's.
The disc opens with a track deep in the jazz melos. Swirling clouds of sound, screaming brass and woodwind and a jazzy piano solo grab the foreground. In the second track roulades of dark piano notes concertina across keyboard to the accompaniment of satisfyingly chuntering jazz brass. You can see where Bernard Herrmann may have found some of his inspiration for Taxi Driver.
The waterfront smog evokes the world of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe as well as having a Transylvanian-Gothick gloom. This is moodily threatening and at the same time comfortably enfolding you in the 1940s mist.
Track 4 offers an unsettling serenade of liquorice-sweet quality and 'Gershwinnying' brass seeming to limn a negro spiritual. As a contrast track 5 has the sedate music-box tinkling of the 'Warsowiana' collapsing into a traditional Friedhofer-type grand score redolent of classic Hollywood.
The Stan and Stella track is slow and sexily wayward with ululating clarinet, dark blues, all delivered in a sensuously smoking, lazily sizzling accent. This style carries over into Blanche .
Blanche's psychological meltdown is represented by a quasi-atonal high string serenade lapsing back into her fantasy world evoked by an easy summertime serenade: 'Fish are jumpin and the cotton is high.'
Track 9 begins as a continuation of its two predecessors but darkens with echoes of Borodin's lyricism and the greater complexity and Shostakovich's scorched and blackened edges. Khachaturian's lyricism should not be a surprise visitor to a North score. North had strong family connections with the USSR and also spent some time there early in his career.
Track 10 delivers some very powerful emotional shudders and wails. There is a sense of a great unfolding and steady tearing between the high and low strata of sound as Blanche's own Blanche begins to come apart.
In track 11 punchy Stravinskian and rather desiccated music predominates. In Soliloquy  subtle hints and suggestions are presented in a tone of jazz impressionism like a three-dimensional mosaic jangling and shaking. The music uncannily catches C S Lewis's descriptions of Perelandra in his sci-fantasy Out of the Silent Planet. Recollections and shards of ideas crowd in with a giant music box quality.
The next track  continues in this vein but is not quite as lyrical. It several times hints at Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird with creeping nocturnal noises. Out of mystery there is a scream of the high brass in spasm at the end of the cue.
Next comes a low temperature romantic interlude with further suggestions of The Firebird. Excellent stereo separation of harp and piano display the fine qualities of the recording. Blanche's deeply romantic self-delusion is a delusion of great sweetness. In track 15 Blanche is clearly in love with her dream-delusions even in the moment of her brush with reality and of her retreat into them again. The music rises from a Mahlerian neurosis and settles back into Khachaturian and Borodin territory.
North, in this very fine score, demonstrates a restrained, ineffably effective, lyric genius. He can mobilise Hollywood gaudy when he needs to but he is never cheap and the final track glows with affirmation and ends with a snatched climax and not even a rose-blush of cliché. This is music of great and challengingly lovable distinction and has 12 pages of liner-notes to match.
|Bruce BROUGHTON The Master of Ballantrae Bruce Broughton conducts the London Sinfonia PROMETHEUS PCR 501 [49:19]||
Bruce Broughton is probably best remembered for his scores for Silverado; Young Sherlock Holmes; Honey; I Blew Up the Kid; and Tombstone. The Master of Ballantrae, set in 18th Century Scotland, was filmed in 1953 starring an ageing Errol Flynn; but this is the music for the 1984 TV mini series that starred the rather wooden Michael York (no Flynn, he). Broughton used a small orchestra to generally splendid effect, to add atmosphere and thrills to this swashbuckler of the glens, the high seas and India.
Broughton did his homework in London researching hundreds of old themes to use as his model eventually choosing to weave two Scottish themes through the score. The first, complete with bagpipes, is strong and full of swagger and the promise of adventure. The second theme first appears in the cue Rowan Tree and it is softer, more tender for the more romantic and intimate scenes.
Much of the music is darkly dramatic. "The Battle at Sea" cues are unusual. Beginning with a quiet remembrance of home, the music broadens and hints at salty seas and exotic locations with music that has a definite oriental/Indian tinge and grows more and more sinister. Intrigue is clearly afoot. Some of the material is very reminiscent of the more violent moments in Vaughan Williams 4th and 6th Symphonies and the influence of Herrmann is quite apparent too. Turbulent seas are portrayed and hand-to-hand combat between colliding ships' crews suggested. Broughton uses his spare orchestral resources imaginatively but their thinness does not have the power of a full symphony orchestra to really convey thrills and menace.
[This brings me to a pet hate. TV drama serials (and I am pointing the finger mainly at UK productions), some years ago, used source music from the classics by Wagner, Richard Strauss or Nielsen etc - i.e. - full-powered, full-blooded, Romantic music played by large orchestras which added much to enjoyment and credibility of the programmes. Now, too many of these programmes employ anaemic scores (that are often poor plagarisations of well known classics) played by ridiculously small ensembles and the effect is that they not only don't add excitement, romance or atmosphere but (for me at any rate) they positively work against the TV screenplay. Yes, I do understand there are budgetry difficulties but if programme makers can pre-sell their product to many countries why can they not remember the musical requirements a little more? End of sermon]
The Far Eastern exotic influence is strongly developed employing ethnic instruments in the cue "Closing In" that has a quiet furtiveness. An attractive "Colonial Minuet" features flute, strings and harpsichord. Broughton employs the harpsichord and harp to considerable effect throughout - in "Trouble Sleeping/Dead Man Gone", for instance, to create an eerie, ghostly effect as memories disturb the sleeper.
An unusual album, worth exploring
And Rob Barnett writes:-
This is one of those scores which would have benefited from more variety. It is quite individual in style, blending Scottish, Moorish and symphonic elements. However, after the first 20 minutes, it began to pall for lack of contrast.
The first track opens with a stentorian horn call topped off with salty sea-spray and Scottish-inflected phrase. This is delivered complete with braying symphonically caterwauling bag-pipes. I am usually allergic to this instrument but it fitted very well here. Let the wild adventure begin!
This is followed by a moody serenade and a hint (in the Caledonian elements) of Percy Grainger's wild Strathspeys and Reels and Malcolm Arnold's poetry (third Scottish Dance) and phantasmal humour (Tam O'Shanter). The music has none of the somewhat stuffy atmosphere encountered in some folksong adaptations.
If you are weary of commercial minimalism and the blandness of the many John Barry sound-alikes, give Broughton's score a spin. The music is gamely flavoured, and thank the Lord, it avoids bland tartan Scottishry. Instead it suggests a more essential Scottish mystery stretching back into prehistory (track 5) reaching deep into Celtic root-territory. The Moorish element is the paprika in the music and with it the oatmeal, whiskey and crowdie melt well together. Track 5 and 6 (Battle music) recall Rózsa's El Cid and Holst's Beni Mora as well as Shostakovich and Nielsen (the fifth symphonies of both).
Following track 6 Broughton, previously quite tough and bursting with swashbuckling invention, loses some of the initial drive and inspiration begins to dissipate.
The remaining highlights include the Adirondacks (8) sounding like a self-absorbed Indian dream dance, the Stewart elegy of track 9 with its acutely accented skirl of the brass and the reek of Whiskey fumes and peat-smoke and the final track which captures some of swooping ragged energy of the first track.
The plaintive voice of the oboe is strong in this score which reminded me of John Wilson's music for the BBC Scotland adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's 'Cloud Howe'. Now THERE is some music which deserves a concert piece to be made from it and a recording is greatly needed.
The goodish booklet is well stocked with photos and there is a modestly helpful bit of commentary. The strong photos seem splendidly to recall the original production.
I want to review more Broughton scores but this one would have benefited from representation through a suite. The sound is not ideally refined but is vivacious enough. Recommended for the adventurer. Prepare to be rewarded.
|Barrington PHELOUNG (with music by ELGAR [Cello Concerto] and Bach, Haydn and Dvorak) Hilary and Jackie OST and source recordings SONY SK 60394 [49:22]||
The story of Jacqueline Dupré is well known in musical circles. Du Pré a brilliantly gifted young pianist was strongly identified with the Elgar Cello Concerto although she recorded much of the cello repertoire. She rose to an early maturity and sustained that attainment until her premature death. Her story has been recounted in a recent biography by Hilary and Piers Du Pré.
This collection of about 15 minutes of original music by Barrington Pheloung and music by Elgar, Bach and Iris Du Pré is doubly attractive. The Pheloung music is strong and memorable. The Elgar Cello Concerto performance is gripping and real in a way that many `perfect' studio events can only weakly aspire to.
Barrington Pheloung's tracks 2, 4 and 6 use a long silky cantilena on highest violins with harp lighting the path and woodwind entries lightening the atmosphere. Sibelius Rakastava, Mahler's Adagietto (Symphony No 5 - Death in Venice being rather an apt echo here) and Barber's Adagio are all clear influences. The music also has some of the atmospheric pastoral requiem atmosphere of Geoffrey Burgon's music (available on Silva Screen) for BBCTV's 1980s adaptation of Testament of Youth. The music inhabits a quiet still world singing with that special blend of sadness and beauty.
Track 5 offers Iris Du Pré's Holiday Song for cello and piano. This is a dream-serenade with a strong whiff of salon charm. A Day on the Beach  is strikingly attractive - a marine picture breathing the deep surging currents of the sea. The cello cries heart-achingly above the waves. Pheloung has certainly heard Granville Bantock's Hebridean Symphony and the cry of wave and of Delius/Whitman's Sea Drifting, bereft and `solitary guest from Alabama' call out across the seascape. There is a pulsing passion here that is quite overpowering. This soon subsides and returns to the atmospheric and entrancing world of tracks 2, 4 and 6.
Track 7 is the undoubted highlight of the album. Utterly beguiling playing by Caroline Dale and the orchestra.
You are not getting much of Pheloung's original music but what there is definitely worth hearing. It can be appreciated and enjoyed with no knowledge of the film.
You get the most characterful performance of the Elgar concerto and you get it complete on tracks 8-11. For me this performance, first issued on CBS LP in the late 1970s, has spoilt every other performance I have heard, even the rightly-vaunted Barbirolli studio performance. For all Barbirolli's glowing embers and EMI's refined sound it cannot hold a cool candle to the torch-like intensity of Du Pré, Barenboim and the fabulous Philadelphians. This is a Hall Of Fame performance. When you get tired of clean all-star performances - ultimately transient delights - then turn to this for emotion and (to date) the best approximation of the concert experience. If you are allergic to the odd cough and must have the best sound then you will be disappointed. If you love the Elgar and can live with perfectly respectable 1970s sound then go for this CD.
|John CORIGLIANO The Red Violin OST, Joshua Bell (violin) Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra SONY SK 63010 [66:12]||
Some years there was a vogue for what were termed portmanteau films - films that were composed of two or three or more separate stories linked by a single theme that might have been quite tenuous such as passengers on a train or ship or visitors to a holiday camp; or it might have been an object a valuable possession passing through several owners and generations such as a Yellow Rolls Royce. Here we have an obvious choice - a valuable violin - the sort of possession that just cries out for the portmanteau treatment. Maybe it has been done before? I am not sure. Anyway it gives the producers and Joshua Bell the excuse - pardon me, the opportunity - to play music from many different periods and many styles as the violin passes through many hands through three centuries, beginning in Cremona where the violin is made, thence to Vienna at the height of its musical fame and then on to Oxford; next comes modern-day communist China and, finally, Montreal. On the way Corigliano ensures that Bell has plenty of opportunities to display his considerable virtuosity with the usual pyrotechnics.
I have to say that this score, for me, is a perfect example of the old adage, the whole is better than the sum of its parts. I am therefore taking the unusual step of splitting this review into two parts. First I will review the underscoring music and then the 17 minute composition, The Red Violin, Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra, which appears to have been assembled (an unkind word because as you will note this is a worthy composition in its own right) from the OST music.
The score, for solo violin and strings with spare use of percussion, starts with a female voice wordlessly intoning Anna's Theme which reminds me very much of Alfred Newman's love theme from Love is a Many Splendoured Thing. For a moment, I thought I was back aboard Titanic with James Horner and when Bell enters beneath in support and continues alone before being supported by the strings of the orchestra I felt I was in Schindlers List country. The music here is reflective and towards the end, beautifully rippling, but rather melancholy. The slow Main Title music written for strings prolongs and intensifies this feeling of melancholy rising to a tragic/passionate reiteration of Anna's Theme. "Death of Anna", placed on high strings suggests something profoundly evil or tragic. I have not seen the film (to the best of my knowledge it has not arrived in the UK yet) but it suggests to me thousands of bats screeching in a cave but it might also denote death from a plague? "The Birth of the Red Violin" is another cue that begins in the shadows which gradually lighten as the strings ascend; and one can guess at the skill and dedication invested in the creation of the violin. "The Red Violin" cue which ends the Cremona sequence is Bell's chance to show off some virtuosity.
The Vienna music opens in a more cheery mood. The style is Haydn or Mozart. Bell is allowed once more to do some double stopping and other technical displays as he stands in for Kaspar's audition and then we have a gently ornamented Baroque evocation of a "Journey to Vienna." A ticking metronome dictates the pace and development of "Etudes" (which is intrusive for repeated playings; this is a bad production judgment because this track contains some of Bell's most impressive playing). Appropriately mournful music accompanies "Death of Kaspar".
The Oxford sequence begins with the most extrovert and cheerful music of the whole score. "The Gypsies" gives Bell the opportunity to play gypsy-style and he clearly enjoys himself here. Ethnic instruments used in the backing help sustain an authentic feel and the music is influenced by Bartók and Kodály. "Pope's Gypsy Cadenza" speaks for itself. "Coitus Musicalis" wistfully recalls Anna's Theme with Bell pensive against high strings, then long held cello and middle string chords. Thi is one of the warmest and most appealing tracks with a lovely solo cello meditation.
"Victoria's departure" throws us into sadness and despair once more. "Pope's Concert" is impressive fast-tempo virtuosity. In "Pope's Betrayal" Bell develops Anna's theme disconsonantly then rebelliously for much of its length before an abrupt crescendo suggesting Pope's betrayal brings in the orchestra.
The China sequence opens quietly with the soloist playing long held chords in the violin's high register. Again the mood is sad and reflective in the "Journey to China" as though the music is weighed down by so much sorrow. "People's Revolution" is a modern Chinese (political?) folk song for children's voices and accordion seguing into a plaintive and infinitely sad comment by the strings reflecting on the way the tune was originally treated in years gone by and the feeling is intensified by another recollection of Anna's theme as the cue's second half, "Death of Chou Yuan" is reached.
The music grows darker and more tragic yet in the Montreal sequence for the "Moritz Discovers the Red Violin" cue - ghostly string slitherings give an eerie effect. "Moritz's Theme" is sadly but beautifully reflective - the Bartókian influence is here again. "The Theft" uses low strings and harp in suitable sinister, tension-filled mode with percussion punctuation. The final cue "End Titles" recalls the main theme as another Bell cadenza before the strings creep softly in with consolatory and compassionate commentary. A nice affecting ending to a score that demands some commitment from the listener. I have enjoyed it more on repeated listenings. But be warned, this music is preponderantly dark and melancholic.
The Red Violin - Chaccone for Violin and Orchestra.
Corigliano's 17½-minute work drawn from his music for the film is much more impressive. It is more richly scored, more varied in its emotional range and more colourful in its orchestration. Once more Bell meditates with a solitary female voice on Anna's Theme after a powerful orchestral opening. Then a sublime episode speaks of pastoral serenity; it is as though a flock of birds has risen abruptly skywards after feeding on the ground, disturbed by grumbling bassoons and bass drum before the violin and strings, and, later, woodwinds enter in Lark Ascending mode to restore peace. An ecstatic climax is reached rejoicing Anna's theme. As the brass enters the tempo quickens and the colours intensify as excitement mounts and the brass chases the strings with laconic, often violent, percussion punchings. A huge frightening climax is reached and the music fractures like shattered glass, an amazing moment this. Now we enter a remote and quite chilly fantasy region, the violin morosely reflecting at the top of its register, the orchestra's deeper voices maintaining an eerie low pedal point. Again the writing, in this part of the work, is imaginative with some very interesting touches - slightly atonal (I was reminded a little of Gary's abduction music from John Williams's Close Encounters at one point.) The music gradually regains its warmth and becomes more romantic and ardent. A harsher, crueller tone sometimes interjects. The music continues through another impressive show-piece cadenza for Bell and on through some very colourful and bizarre territory to reach a blazing conclusion.
|Geir BØHREN & Bent ÅSERUD Sista Kontraktet (The Last Contract) Terje Mikkelsen Conducts the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra MTG MTG-CD 58585 [52:00]||
There is as much suspicion and theory about the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986 as there ever was about JFK. This film tackles the subject bluntly, adapting an anonymously written book. For such a politically hot potato, you might expect some punches to be pulled. Though while the score is for the most part insinuatingly subtle, it saves some surprises for brief outbursts of tension.
The compositional duo of Bøhren and Åserud is very well known in Europe, and particularly in their Norwegian home. Exactly where the line splits as to who does what differs with every project. Since the collaboration produces consistently excellent material - so what ?
It took me some while to work out what the film's main theme reminded me of. In its most developed state, such as in "The Tragedy", it has a regal nobility. With that, the slight similarity to Morricone's Hamlet presented itself. It has that slow tragedian quality, even if in a more truncated fashion here. A more complex variation features in "The Contract", where a funereal beat underlines the theme alongside a lethargic tambourine. Like several of the cues, it erupts for a short with some furious energy. There is a secondary dramatic motif that bursts in and out with trumpet fanfare and the quickening pace of kettle drums. It makes its first impression with the overture-like initial cue "Olof Palme, The Uncompromising Statesman".
In the main, this really is a textbook example of unobtrusive underscoring. Throughout there are magnificent uses of footstep-like harp chords ("Two Steps Behind"), and gentle cello swirls ("The Puzzle"). "Planning The Attack" is a terrific 6 minute cue which sustains the interest through a series of gentle passages for string and harp. Despite the histrionics of a title like "Heavy Pressure", the cue is a spotlight for gentle bassoon and clarinet playing.
The last cue of the album is of a different style entirely. "The Family's Theme" is a solo trumpet speaking of Americana and humble folk. Concentrating on the piece, it really is hard to equate it back to the massed snare drumming and racy pulse of "The Assassin" or indeed the one-off use of a synth beat under nervy strings in "Robber At Large"
Overlook any doubts you may have about a CD with subtitles, and this will be a very pleasing surprise. The packaging is great, with composer photographs and a complete listing of the entire orchestra. This won't take you any closer to a solution of the Palme mystery, but it will have you wondering why you don't have more by these two fantastic musicians.
|Jordi SAVALL Marquise Savall's original music from the film, but mainly arrangements of music by Marin Marais; Luigi Rossi; Guillaume Dumanoir; and Jean Baptiste Lully. Le Concert Des Nations directed by Jordi Savall ALIA VOX 097 01 [68:09]||
This CD is a complete delight and a pleasant change from the normal OSTs sent to us for review.
Marquise is a French film set in the 17th Century France of Louis XIV.
King Louis had a discerning taste and sensitivity for music which encouraged the evolution of music at his court and in the theatre. When appointed into Louis XIV's service, composer, Jean Baptiste Lully, helped to establish more firmly a musical style à la français which proved influential in the theatrical, and even more so in orchestral spheres during the Baroque era which had hitherto been extensively dominated by Italian repertoire. With the collaboration between Moière and Lully, the association of music and theatre found a new impulse - a true union between French and Italian styles, the one gracefully and gently enhancing the other.
The film. Marquise, traces the rise of Marquise, a courtesan from the streets of Paris into high society, working as an actress in the theatre where she is befriended by both Molière and Racine.
The music for Marquise is by 17th Century composers: Marin Marais, Luigi Rossi, Guillaume Dumanoir and Lully together with some anonymous compositions. Of the 31 short numbers in the programme, arranged in four suites to make varied and interesting listening, many have been arranged by Jordi Savall who directs Le Concert des Nations. Savall has also composed three numbers in the style of the others. In depicting the life and rise of Marquise, music from the streets, from Molière's theatre (Preludes, Sarabandes and Gavottes) and from the King's court is employed through the score. The well integrated ensemble playing of Le Concert des Nations, on what sound like period instruments, has verve and virtuosity. Most pieces are strongly rhythmical and attractively melodic. I would just mention a few. Imposing stately court music is heard in "La Marche Royale" and a short "Fanfare" composed by Savall; another original Savall piece emanating from the streets, is "Musette" which has a distinctly North African bazaar atmosphere. Then there is the delightfully feminine and graceful "Sarabande la Marquise". "Charivaris" is a delightful, high spirited dance, so too is another street piece "Marche" which despite its title is a very lively dance, while "Echos" has trumpets on and off-stage playing in canon. Darker, more sinister music (by Savall) for the more dramatic elements of the screenplay, comes in "Les Ombres" all low drum rumblings and deep viol dronings.
|John BARRY The Beyondness Of Things English Chamber Orchestra LONDON 460 009-2 [55:18]||
It is best to ignore the rumours that some of this album came about from rejected material (The Horse Whisperer) since it is a guessing game that detracts unnecessarily. What is unavoidable however is the realisation that John Barry writes music that just happens to perfectly suit film. It is impossible to imagine that the style we hove come to know and love would not have made it into the world in some fashion. Directors can count themselves lucky that film is the idiom in which Barry came to write his music.
So for the first non-filmic disc of his in 22 years (Americans), we are presented with music indistinguishable from his filmic style. This is who he is. About all that can be noted technically is that cues average out at around 4 minutes - a luxury most composers don't get with the increasingly mad-dash editing styles of recent years. Having said that, Barry certainly loves to carry a tune in his films, and his albums do usually feature at least one development of a theme that stands concert performance consideration. That of course became the selling point of this album earlier this year - that it would get a live performance.
The title piece commences proceedings at an atypically sedate pace. Something that is the key to 'getting' the feel of the man's music. A deliberately mellow rhythm that in film allows you time to think about its meaning. With no such visual stimulus, this disc is actually even more fun. As stated, there is an unavoidable conclusion that he creates pure cinema in music and the fun is therefore in creating the images yourself. I cannot recall ever having a collection of tunes ever insisting itself upon the imagination so much. Even obtaining a disc before the release of the film will at the very least have a booklet with pictures to suggest the look of it. Here we simply have the enigmatic titles to go with. So "The Beyondness of Things" is the first chapter of the film without a film, and its long-line melody speaks of an introduction to a land of breathtaking scenery and colour. Barry's omnipresent flute creates a midway melancholic breakdown, so obviously this is a land with a tragic tale.
The humble daily life of this land's people is communicated by Tommy Morgan's Harmonica in "Kissably Close". There's a casual jazziness in the piece, mainly from the flexible piano line. We are obviously taking a pleasant stroll through the aspects of commerce that introduce the innocent lovers to one another. As we roll into "The Heartlands", the first of use of choir soothes a potentially tragic string motif. The lead into Harmonica re-assures us that the lovers are safe for now, and some contrapuntal brass hint at the noble loftiness of their great love.
"Give Me A Smile" is the affirmation of their fate to be together - a montage of sea walks and hilltop picnicking. Small solos make for a particular tenderness in an otherwise predictable arrangement. Part of their courtship evidently calls for a wavy line dissolve to earlier times as they recall "A Childhood Memory", and indeed the (Born Free) innocence seeps out until suddenly - oh no ! - some snare drums lead into a family tragedy. Was Father killed defending the home perhaps ? Moving up and down between the upbeat and the solemn, this cue seems to want the extremes of joy and sadness from us. Once back to the present day timeframe, our lovers take an evening stroll with "Nocturnal New York", and here the day's activities in the land are contrasted with the night's (Body Heat). A sultry saxophone from David White paints our couple against a moonlit shoreline, and is sad enough to hint at never having got over the earlier memory. Thank goodness then for the joyous journey through "Meadow of Delight and Sadness". The racy drums and brass (Dances With Wolves), put them on horseback for a prairie dash across the lush scenery.
Taking a breather, they exchange "Gifts of Nature" with a flute and trumpet speaking to one another. Leaves drift on by in slow motion. They lean in, and finally kiss - to which the music swells. Something always has to go wrong of course. Once home to announce their feelings to family and friends, they are paid a visit by "The Fictitionist", a scallywag intent on muddying the waters of true love. He rides in atop sinisterly sustained strings, and tells his lies
punctuated by hard edged piano chords and a saxophone's subtle warning cry. By the time the couple return all is lost. No-one will take them in, and they are left pouring their hearts out aimlessly. The warmth of the strings brings no succour, and still the sax goes unheeded. Arising to the "Dawn Chorus" of a land outraged by the lies they've been told, it's a do or die decision before the lovers. How can their chorus of love communicate the truth under the piano and flute of disbelief. They are lambasted on all sides by the sadness of strings. Yet is there some hope in the theme's development towards sunnier sounds ?
It seems the lies will never be curtailed, and on "The Day the Earth Fell Silent", our lovers paths seem never to cross again. The stand poles apart and we catch the trails of their tears in musical close ups, which carry the discs' most affecting string movements. This being a an imaginary Hollywood movie, there is of course a happy ending. Once the truth of their love is revealed, everyone is called together for a "Dance With Reality". The jazziness of "Nocturnal New York" is recalled as the piano weaves in and around the brush of a drum, the sax's calm, and even a guitar's strumming. All is upbeat and jolly. Fade to black and cue Harmonica to carry the end titles.
There were a few bracketed nods toward Barry scores above, and it really is the case that this album would have done a film proud. The real origins stem from the possibilities afford by signing to the Decca label, and some pent up poetical cravings of the composer. Throughout the packaging are mini stanzas of poetry. The photo shoot used to promote the disc of Barry by sea just reeks of the romantic soul. Since the result is 12 prolonged pieces of romanza, this is the best Barry soundtrack in years.
|Michael KAMEN What Dream May Come OST DECCA 460 858-2||
Sweet-toned (and occasionally nightmarish) music from Michael Kamen. What Dreams May Come is a film of a romantic tale about the afterlife. It stars Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr, Annabella Sciorra and Max Von Sydow.
Kamen has clearly been influenced by Gerald Finzi. Finzi's music has been extremely successful in the USA - perhaps more so than that of Vaughan Williams. Finzi's Introit, Eclogue and New Year Music are distinctly echoed in many of the tracks. Listen to track 2 for example. You can also catch the occasional reminiscence of Edmund Rubbra's style in the slowly unfolding mystery of many of the cues.
The rise and leisurely fall of the big theme is a footstep away from Basil Poledouris's Lonesome Dove music. it also catches the spirit of revivalist hymns sung in sepia-toned hues by the oboe. There are also some similarities with Nyman's music for The Piano.
The Eclogue atmosphere of track 2 is mixed with `Indian spirits' music rising to a clangorous and fearsome climax (like something from a symphony by Allan Pettersson). At 4:28 the solo flute evokes birds flying out of some nightmare into someone's dream. The steadily creeping magic of this section of the score is quite striking. It is like a slow motion film of a flower unfolding. This pacing carries over into track 3 with an easeful sense of release; answer and question; echo and sound.
Track 4 burst onto the scene with `Pines of Rome' freshness. Respighi in full sunlit glory. This is contrasted with a much quieter track  with a sombre sad song in keeping with Fauré's Ballade for piano and orchestra. The next track is a whisper-quiet harp dance like the harp concerto by Boieldieu. As a total contrast track 7 (In Hell) is all discord and cross-currents - a modernised whirling blast furnace comparable with Tchaikovsky's Francesca Da Rimini. It however strikes me as rather repetitive. Kamen next triumphs gloriously in track 8 with all the stops pulled out and French horns in full-burnished glory (1:20). Tracks 9-11 are moodily undulating music substantially recalling earlier tracks.
The final track  has Mick Hucknall sensitively singing `Beside you'. While the music matches the spirit of the soundtrack, the words fall short of the music and of the singing.
Largely a very pleasant souvenir album but in tracks 1, 2 and 8 Kamen offers music of remarkably fresh imagination and occasionally glorious sweep.
And Paul Tonks thinks:-
Understandably, Kamen states that he responded to this film as a family man; the idea of not getting to say 'goodbye' properly to a loved one. In many ways, this is also true of one of his earliest scores for The Dead Zone. The idea of such a personal loss is hard to deal with. As a musician required to express that, you are going to be visiting some unpleasant places in order to draw it out. For What Dreams May Come, it sounds like he travelled to the very extremes. This is a very large score in every sense appropriate. It contains the most beautiful passages I have heard from him as well as some of the very darkest. This will most certainly become a part of his concert repertoire.
Densely orchestrated throughout, what most impresses is how the by now familiar Kamen sound always sounds best at its grandest. In recent years, only Mr Holland's Opus has given him the full-blooded opportunity to write large scale. 101 Dalmatians was mostly too kiddie, Jack was mostly too intimate a film, and Event Horizon was frankly a lost score (although the album does show that something quite decent was struggling to be heard). The scale of most of this album pretty much dwarves all these others however.
With the sense of size (overly) impressed upon you, the nitty gritty is that through the hour's length a close study reveals more subtlety than a first listen suggests. Alongside the dazzling sounds for dazzling visuals are gorgeous passages of underscore. Every cue is of generous length, and none sustain one mood for very long, so we will have to make do with a here and there approach. Guitar is a dominant instrument for the introspective remembrances, and opens "When I Was Young " as well as "Seas Of Faces". The regular Kamen harp offers the occasional glissando, and there's always his penchant for piano proving itself the most affecting of all ("Longing"). Flute and oboe both vie for sweetest solo at various stages.
I have to carp on about the bombast though. This is a movie about death after all, and in visiting Hell you have to expect a thunderous approach (unless you're Bill & Ted). "In Hell" is absolutely furious at the off, with an explosiveness of Herrmannesque proportions. There is something of the grand OTT style from Baron Münchausen here. Earlier in "Children's Melody", the lullaby gives way to heavy drum rolls and a sustained cymbal crescendo. It is that seaward sensation of moving up and down that carries everything along. There is never respite in the softer passages - after a while you know a passionate flourish is due.
So in all - thank goodness for the large canvass style picture. Someone like Kamen absolutely thrives in its environment. The catch ? That would be the "Beside You" finale if you don't happen to be a Mick Hucknall fan. The Kamen + artist + guitar approach is becoming almost predictable now. At least this one's a change from Bryan Adams...
|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 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 0777 7 86066 2 8 (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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