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FILM MUSIC RECORDINGS REVIEWS
July 1999 Film Music CD
© Film Music on the Web 1999. All rights retained. Reviewers retain copyright on their reviews. Disclaimer
COMPETITION WIN a CD of your Choice
Proceed to Part 2 Return to July Index
EDITORS CHOICE CD of the Month July 1999
The music of George and Ira GERSHWIN, IRVING BERLIN; JEROME KERN and COLE PORTER for:-
FRED ASTAIRE (1899-1987) - Let's face the Music and Dance - A centenary celebration. ASV CD AJA 5123 [77:52] Original Historic Mono Recordings
Irving Berlin: Let's face the music and dance; I'm putting all my eggs in one basket; Cheek to cheek; No strings; Top hat, white tie and tails; I used to be colour blind; The Yam; Change Partners.
George and Ira Gershwin: They all laughed; A foggy day; Nice work if you can get it; They can't take that away from me; Things are looking up; Let's call the whole thing off; Shall we dance; I can't be bothered now; Slap that bass; (I've got) Beginner's luck.
Jerome Kern: The way you look tonight; Pick yourself up; Never gonna dance; A fine romance; Dearly Beloved; You were never lovelier; I'm old fashioned.
Bernard Hanighen: Poor Mr Chisholm
Cole Porter: Since I kissed my baby goodbye.
Yes, it's 100 years since the birth of Fred Astaire. ASV's generous helping of the songs he made his own is therefore highly appropriate and makes this album self-selecting as my Editor's Choice of the month.
Everybody remembers Fred's grace on the dance floor through countless Hollywood musicals partnered by lovely ladies like Eleanor Parker, Rita Hayworth, Cyd Charisse, Audrey Hepburn and so many others. However it is his partnership with Ginger Rogers through that sparkling series of 1930s RKO musicals for which he is best remembered. And the music for those wonderful films was very special too and delivered in Fred's special eloquent laid-back style. As Peter Gammond says in his CD booklet notes, "He was a singer; a modest singer, some might say, by technical standards; but regarded by many, notably by the composers whose songs he sung, as a true craftsman of the art of putting over a popular lyric. He had songs written specially written for him by such illustrious composers as Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin, and all of them expressed their pleasure in the way he sang them.
I have listed all the songs in this collection above. The bulk of them are immediately recognisable as having been featured in those RKO musicals: Top Hat, Follow the Fleet, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, A Damsel in Distress and Carefree. With Fred's move away from RKO we have two numbers from the 1942 Columbia film You Were Never Lovelier.
I need add nothing further, the inimitable Fred says it all. Enjoy.
Don DAVIS The Matrix OST VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6026 [30:13]
After I listened to the break-neck paced music that makes up the greater part of this album, I had visions of the orchestra crawling exhausted, as though emerging from a desert, towards the nearest bar: those that blow, their tongues hanging out and eyes bulging; and those that banged and scraped with their arms in slings. This score must have been that kind of demanding!
Flippancy apart, this is a tremendously exciting score that must enhance this cyber-thriller box-office success with its extraordinary special effects and equally fast-paced action. Don Davis has delivered a very powerful score, very well constructed and superbly orchestrated that reaches out at you, grasps you by the throat and hurls you along with it. The music is often spiky and abrasive with some spectacular writing for the brass including some glorious long-sustained chords.
To mention just a few tracks: 'Welcome to the real world' brings a little welcome calm but it is a calm that keeps the listener on tenterhooks expecting an explosion any moment and there is an intriguing soprano solo wordlessly intoning as if in a trance or a dream. 'The Hotel Ambush' begins with an odd but effective mix of North African and Caribbean styles before the tempo picks up and the music proceeds with a strong rhythmic drive subtly picking up just sufficient of our old friend the Dies Irae theme as to be recognisable. 'Ontological Shock' introduces some attractive heroic and lyrical material and the final cue 'Anything is Possible' is meditative as well as being noble and aspirational.
Davis's score might falter in inspiration slightly in the middle reaches of this album but it is one of the best action scores I have heard for many months
and Paul Tonks adds:
Davis worked with the director brothers Wachowski before on Bound. That was an exercise in Hitchcock for him really, with some particularly nice nods towards Vertigo. There is such a distance from one project to another that it's almost impossible to link the two together. (Visual flair certainly carries across.) Davis' accomplishment starts at deserving credit for keeping up with the quantum leap, and grows exponentially from there.
With a budget he has been able to create what so many sci-fi projects have seen to a far inferior degree - a self-contained soundscape. It's a psychotropic aural experience that swells and pools from your speakers. Atonality and dissonances blur with re-phrasings to a point where everything is equally important.
While there are numerous potential motifs to be assumed from recurring acoustic groupings, there is only one vaguely traditional thematic device employed. Whenever one of the characters makes an eye-boggling leap between buildings Davis accentuates the dizzying feat with paired off brass swells that filter between the left and right channels of your speakers. It's exciting enough on the album - but was breathtaking with the film.
The triple credit of composition, orchestration, and conducting puts the whole congratulatory slap squarely on the Davis' shoulders. It doesn't take long to appreciate just how much work it must have been - not just with the basic writing, but with 11th hour AVID editing altering the picture's cut right up to release.
By no means an easy listening experience, this is high definition composition and recording that challenges your aural perception. What you pick up will most likely adapt from listen to listen. We can only pray this is something the industry will take note of...
EDITOR's RECOMMENDATION July 1999
Richard ADDINSELL Film Music Royal Ballet Sinfonia/ Kenneth Alwyn ASV CD WHL 2115
Blithe Spirit; Encore; Gaslight; The Passionate Friends; Parisienne; Scrooge; Southern Rhapsody; Waltz of the Toreadors; South Riding; WRNS March; Fire Over England
This fine collection follows ASV's 1997 recording of film music by Addinsell (CD WHL 2108). That album included music from Greengage Summer, Highly Dangerous, Under Capricorn, the Warsaw Concerto from Dangerous Moonlight, and 'Lover's Moon' from The Passionate Friends. This new collection includes an eight- -minute suite from the gloriously romantic music for this film and it is, for me, the highlight of this album.
The collection opens with music from Blithe Spirit. The waltz had previously been included on the 1997 recording but it reappears here in an extended format together with the Prelude. This Prelude is a lively, high-spirited, irreverent escapade that pokes fun at plot and characters especially the medium Madam Acarti (Margaret Rutherford) riding along on her bicycle to the séance. The waltz, romantic yet mischievous, perfectly captures the capricious nature of Elvira, Charles's (Rex Harrison) first wife - or rather her ghost. The music is sensuous, gossamer-delicate and ghostly.
The Miniature Overture from the portmanteau production Encore (1951) sparkles. The contrasting Prelude to Gaslight (1939) has a much darker edge. The music saws at one nerves - very effective material for a drama about a vulnerable wife (Diana Wynyard) whose sanity is threatened by her murderous husband (Anton Walbrook).
Parisienne-1885 music is all glamour and glitter with a waltz that would not have ashamed Waldteufel. The WRNS March was composed in 1942 and is dedicated to the Women's Royal Naval Service. It is exuberant and heroic, and more femininely tender, by turn. It is influenced by the style of Eric Coates. Southern Rhapsody written in 1958 for the opening of Southern Television, has a pronounced coastal atmosphere, evoking waves breaking over beaches and seagulls flying overhead. It is very much of its time; cosy and old-fashioned, with a nostalgic glow.
Scrooge, the most extended suite at 13 minutes, disappoints it relies too heavily on folk song and carol source material at the expense of sufficient character building and ghostly atmospherics.
The Peter Sellers film, Waltz of the Toreadors (1962), is represented by a march full of bluster, 'The General on Parade'; and a romantic 'Waltz' that has a rather world-weary violin solo suggesting that the general's spirit may be rather more willing than
Fire Over England (1937) was an Elizabethan adventure starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. Addinsell opts for more intimate, more authentic Tudor music than the more inflated romanticism of Korngold for the equivalent Flynn/Hollywood swashbucklers of the period.
Finally the music for South Riding includes a strong main theme based upon a Northumbrian folk song. This is a fine score for the 1937 gritty drama of corruption in northern England starring Ralph Richardson and Edna Best as the schoolmistress who exposes the crooked councillors.
A very attractive compilation played with energy and conviction
EDITOR's RECOMMENDATION July 1999
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD's arrangements of Mendelssohn's music for Max Reinhardt's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Celina Lindsley (Titania); Michelle Breedt (Fairy); Scot Weir (Demetrius and Lysander); Michael Burt (Oberon); Rundfunkchor Berlin; Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Gerd Albrecht. cpo 999 449-2 [59:58]
Klauss P. Hanusa worked with George Korngold, the composer's son to produce recordings of Korngold's works, in Germany, such as Die tote Stadt and the Sinfonietta. In the CD booklet notes, Hanusa describes how he had tried to interest George in recording his father's work for A Midsummer Night's Dream. George was not keen enough to prioritise such a project because he reckoned that it was more Mendelssohn than Korngold. However, I feel quite justified in expressing the heading as above because Korngold's contribution to Max Reinhardt's film of his stage production of Shakespeare's comedy was, as I think you will agree, when you hear this marvellous album, very significant. In typical modesty, Korngold chose not to be credited at all in the film's titles leaving all the glory to Mendelssohn.
Reinhardt, who had worked with Korngold before, did not hesitate to invite the composer over to Hollywood from Vienna to arrange and supervise the music for his film. It was Korngold's first visit to the film capital but Warner Bros were impressed enough with his commitment and talent to summon him back to score other films notably the swashbuckler romances of Errol Flynn beginning with Captain Blood. His Hollywood contract undoubtedly saved him from the clutches of the Nazis.
Korngold at work on A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ever the perfectionist, Korngold went to extreme pains over the music for A Midsummer Nights Dream. As soon as he arrived at Warner Bros., he asked a technician how long one foot was; "Twelve inches", he was told cynically. "No", Korngold insisted, "I mean how long does it last on screen." Apparently nobody had asked this before but when the answer came back - two thirds of a second, Korngold was delighted. "Ach exactly the same length of time as the first two measures of Mendelssohn's Scherzo!"
Victor Jory (who played so many villains in the 1930s and 1940s) played Oberon. He remembered how Korngold carefully rehearsed him in the precise rhythms that he wanted for the famous speech which begins "I know a bank where the wild thyme grows " When it came to the actual filming Korngold lay in some bushes out of camera range and literally conducted Jory's performance as though he was singing his lines. This sort of meticulous care and resourcefulness soon established Korngold's authority over director (William Dieterle who was in full accord with Korngold's wishes) and actors in matters as they might affect the music. Such a practice had never been encountered before but Korngold, on this film, established procedures that would influence the medium right up to the present day. He also steadily built up the Warner Bros orchestra, which at this time, was merely a glorified dance band into a proper symphony orchestra.
The film of A Midsummer Nights Dream had 114 minutes of music. Clearly Mendelssohn's composition of the same name had insufficient material, so Korngold supplemented it with quotations from many other Mendelssohn compositions. It is testament to Korngold's skill and sympathetic treatment that the integration of all this extra music is so seamless and sounds so natural. In places where new adaptation occurs, Korngold expanded the orchestra to include saxophones, piano, guitar and vibraphone plus extra percussion and harp. He also thickened Mendelssohn's textures especially in the lower strings to compensate for the limitations of the monaural sound recording where the altogether more delicate scoring of early 19th century orchestration would have been lost. The additional instruments are used almost exclusively for the 'magical' effects which were necessary to match the exotic scenes on screen. A wordless chorus, for the fairies, is also added.
Let me start by saying that the playing of the Berlin Orchestra is simply glorious; beautiful phrasing and textures clear and transparent. The sound engineering is excellent. The recording opens with a seven minute Overture instead of the Title Music. This Overture was played in theatres before the opening credits during the film's initial release and then discarded. It includes music from Mendelssohn's original Overture, Op 21 as well as from the Nocturne and the music for the Rustics.
Every one of the following 25 tracks are enchanting. I will mention just a few. 'Theseus-Hymn' begins as a stirring fanfare and then proceeds into an exhilarating choral adaptation of the finale of Mendelssohn's Third 'Scottish' Symphony. Then there is Korngold's ravishingly beautiful arrangement for tenor and orchestra of On Wings of Song transposed up from G flat to G major. Scot Weir sings what becomes the lovely song 'O Live With Me and Be My Love' most beguilingly. 'The Fog Dance' for fairies' chorus and a gossamer delicate orchestra is sheer magic. 'Oberon's Plan' (referred to above in the context of Korngold conducting Victor Jory's spoken lines) is underscored by a beautiful arrangement of the song An die Entfernte. Titania, as sung with bell-like purity by lyric soprano Celina Lindsley, sings her lied to Mendelssohn's lovely Lied Ohne Worte Op 67 No. 6. The ravishing Intermezzo is taken directly from the Entr'acte between Acts II and III of the original incidental score. 'Wedding Waltz', in three quarter time and newly and wittily orchestrated, includes a buffoonish use of three jazzy saxophones. 'Titania's Song' is an enchanting arrangement of the so-called Venetian Gondola's Song from the Lieder Ohne Worte Op. 19, No. 6. The famous Nocturne is played transposed down a semitone into E flat major because Reinhardt's conception was set in darkest night. Of course, the suite would not be complete without Mendelssohn's famous 'Wedding March'. The finale ingeniously and touchingly blends foregoing themes.
Not for Mendelssohnian purists but then I prefer Korngold's stronger, brilliant colours For me, this is an album to treasure - a CD that will be a strong candidate when Film Music on the Web Awards come round again.
But Norman Tozer is not so keen:-
Max Reinhardt's film vision of Shakespeare's play was visually a cross between the drawings of Arthur Rackham and Disney. Conventionally, he chose Mendelssohn's stage music to give the cohesion his high profile foray into the world of the talkies. Playing safe he called in his trusted musical collaborator, Erich Korngold to arrange the 90 year-old theatre score.
Intriguingly, this CPO disc of music Korngold intended for the film is a careful reconstruction and performance - suggestive even of a tribute - but it does raise more questions than answers.
First, it made me ask again, why listen to film music? Divorced from the picture it can only be because I want to know if the musical ideas can stand by themselves - either in the soundtrack form or as concert arrangements or suites.
In this case the concert arrangement would be the original Mendelssohn and not quite relevant, so what of the soundtrack? But this disc is not the soundtrack. It is a compilation of pieces both used and CUT from the film (such as a lovely Serenade and an enjoyable Fugato). Confusingly, even the pieces claimed as being used in the film when run against their sequences do not seem to fit. So what are the contents of this disc meant to represent?
The sort of archeology used for this compilation seems inappropriate. Art is a combination of creativity, craft and commerce. An artist's work has to be judged by what he agrees to deliver, not the excisions or the notes from which it was created. Special pleading won't wash with posterity. The bottom line in this case(excuse the pun) surely must be my other reason for listening to film music - that it serves as a souvenir of the original.
For this CPO disc I can say 'yes' because it reminds me of the Mendelssohn "Dream" and all the other pieces Korngold culled from him to make up the score. I can say 'yes' again, because Gerd Albrecht and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin do recapture moments both of the Korngold sheen and the heroic bombast. But also a 'no', because it has neither the rough energy nor the anachronistic, populist scoring (like the cabaret-style used for the puppet band sequences) which characterise the film. What the disc has is a symphonic approach to the music, oratorio- style singing and the careful verse speaking reminiscent of a 1930s musical.
I looked forward to hearing this recording and I am grateful that it made me think again about why I listen to film music. Although easy on the ear, the somewhat staid performance doesn't strongly recall either the film or its brilliant composer.
EDITOR's RECOMMENDATION July 1999
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Songs and Chamber Music Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg 2CDs DG 459 631-2 [119:15]
4 Lieder Des Abschieds Op.14
Quintet for 2 violins, viola, cello, and piano
Songs of the Clown
4 Shakespearean Songs
3 Lieder Op. 22
Suite for 2 violins, cello, and piano (left hand)
Marietta's Lied (arr. Forsberg)
How times change! Who would have guessed, ten years ago, that DG would devote a 2CD album to the chamber music and songs of Korngold. The fortunes of Korngold (too often referred as "more corn than gold" in the not-too-distant past) have certainly changed since the 1997 centenary celebrations and the untiring championship of individuals like the composer's biographer Brendan Carroll (see review of his book on this site). (The activity of the independents, like Chandos and Naxos, have also forced the major record companies into being more adventurous in their releases too, of course.)
This welcome new addition to the Korngold discography includes some valuable première recordings: the two Simple Songs; the Four Shakespearean Songs and the Three Songs of 1928-29.
Soprano Anne Sophie Otter delivers all the songs in this collection with impeccable diction, style and technique, respecting Korngold's melodic lines and breathing real life into them - wonderfully expressive singing. Bengt Forsberg provides unobtrusive yet exceedingly telling and sensitive accompaniments
The programme opens with the Abschiedlieder - the Four Songs of Parting. This work is already available in Korngold's transcription for voice and orchestra on Chandos CHAN 9171 with Linda Finnie, in fine voice, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Sir Edward Downes. If anything the reduced forces on this new album focus a purity on these beautiful, evocative but melancholy melodies, particularly 'Requiem', based on the work of Pre-Raphaelite poet Christina Gabriel Rosetti and 'Moon, thus you rise again' a setting of a poem by Ernst Lothar. The beauty of these two songs is quite breathtaking. 'Dies eine kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen' (This one thing my longing can never grasp) is a turbulent and defiant/despairing song that wondefully captures the essence of Edith Ronsperger's lines. Finally, 'Resigned Parting' to lines again by Lothar, tells of a soldier's parting from his beloved - a sad acceptance lifted by a more joyful anticipation of future reconcilliation.
'Songs of the Clown' were composed for Max Reinhardt's 1941 production, Shakespeare's Women, Clowns and Songs. For this production, Korngold reconstructed his Shakespearean songs that had been confiscated and destroyed by the Nazis when they entered Austria and raided his property. 'Come Away, Death' is an expressive elegy of which one of my fellow reviewers has observed - "it is Mahleresque to such a degree that one feels Korngold was making a sad farewell to Vienna." 'O Mistress Mine' and 'Hey Robin' are jolly contrasts; but, for me, the most memorable number is 'For the Rain, It Raineth Every Day.' Sophie-Mutter grasps every expressive opportunity offered in the amusing refrain, " every day, every day, every day."
The two Simple Songs without op. no. date from 1911 and 1913. 'At Night' is a lovely, fragrant nocturne with a ravishing impressionistic part for the piano. 'The Gifted' is a high-spirited, merry wedding celebration.
The Four Shakespeare Songs (1937-1941) commences with Korngold's 'Desdemona's Song' with its desolate refrain "Sing willow, willow." It is, for me, every bit as successful as the celebrated Verdi aria. 'Under the Greenwood' restores good humour and an admonition to enjoy life with a sunny "Come hither, come hither " refrain. 'Blow, blow, Thou Winter Wind' is a strongly rhythmic song of defiance while 'When Birds Do Sing' is a playful setting of the famous lines beginning "It was a lover and his lass " Sophie Mutter seems to enjoy both of these songs particularly for she delivers them with great relish.
The Three Lieder date from 1928-29. The beautiful 'What are you to me?' is one of Korngold's loveliest romantic melodies. 'To be silent with you' is another softly romantic and plaintive melody while 'The world has silently gone to sleep' is another haunting nocturne with ravishing piano writing.
Anne Sophie Mutter completes her contribution with Forsberg's arrangement of the famous 'Marietta's Song', the highlight of Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt. This is singing to cherish.
To the chamber music. The Piano Quintet was written in 1920-21 shortly after Korngold had completed Die tote Stadt. Its heroic romantic style echoes that of the opera and anticipates his later Hollywood romances. You can visualise the merry men of Sherwood and Errol Flynn romancing Olivia de Havilland. As Brendan Carroll observes, Korngold's complex writing and wonderful sonorities make you believe you are listening to a much larger ensemble than a quintet; the demanding string writing is complemented by a virtuoso piano part. The work brims with ideas. The opening movement is bold and intensely romantic with themes that leap skywards contrasted with material that are touching in their simplicity. The extraordinarily beautiful Adagio, is a set of nine variations based on the Abschiedslieder with emphasis on the lovely 'Moon, thus you rise again.' The Finale is strident, exuberant and merry. Bengt Forsberg is joined by Kjell Lysell (first violin), Ulf Forsberg (second violin) Nils-Erik Sparf (viola) and Mats Lidström (cello) and together they play their hearts out for Korngold's vibrant composition.
The Suite for 2 violins, cello and piano left hand was completed in 1930. In 1923 Korngold had written a piano concerto for left hand in response to a commission from the celebrated one-arm pianist Paul Wittgenstein. This concerto delighted Wittgenstein so much that he commissioned a second work - this composition for a chamber ensemble. The opening movement is troubled and darkly dramatic with some disturbing dissonances and an eerie fugue. The second movement is a beguiling Waltz - wistful, nostalgic and very Viennese yet there is something of the darker Ravelian view too with its surprising dissonant interjections. The 'Groteske' scherzo is relentless and devilish, the slow movement relaxes into another glorious Korngold melody based on the song 'What are you to me?' and the finale introduces yet another gorgeous melody suffused with a golden autumnal glow. Again Forsberg's ensemble delivers a peerless reading.
An album that will richly reward the more adventurous film music enthusiast who wants to explore the further reaches of the art of one of the greats of Hollywood's Golden Age.
EDITOR's RECOMMENDATION July 1999
Nino ROTA Il cappello di paglia di Firenza (The Florentine Straw Hat) A comic opera in 4 acts Daniella Mazzuccato; Viorica Cortez; Ugo Benelli; Mario Basiola; Alfredo Mariotti. Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma directed by Nino Rota BMG RICORDI 74321551092 2CDs [104:46]
Nino Rota (1911-1979) is, of course, remembered for his scores for such films as The Godfather; La Dolce Vita; Il Gattopardo (The Leopard); Waterloo; War and Peace and La Strada.
Rota based his comic opera on Eugène Labiche's celebrated farce set in Paris in 1850. He composed The Florentine Straw Hat between 1944 and '45 to a libretto, written by Rota himself (aided by his mother). It was then put aside, perhaps, because of more urgent business. It might have been forgotten except that the conductor Cuccia, who had heard the material that Rota had completed in 1944, scheduled a performance of the complete work in Palermo in 1955. It proved to be a great success.
Labiche's play had already been made into a memorable film in 1927 by René Clair under the title An Italian Straw Hat (a vital fact not acknowledged in the booklet notes). This film was received rapturously by the critics who were unanimous in voting it one of the funniest films ever made - an opinion which persists to this day.
The plot like all good farces revolves around a series of misunderstandings. There are mistaken identities, mistaken hats, mistaken shoes, mistaken apartments, mistaken bridegrooms The opera begins with bridegroom Fadinard racing in his horse and carriage to his apartment at daybreak on his wedding day to ensure that all is in order to receive his bride after the ceremonies later in the day. He does not spare his horse but his whip becomes snared in a tree. He stops to retrieve it only to discover that his horse has eaten a lady's straw hat. When its owner, Anaide, a young married woman, discovers the wreckage she, together with Emilio her illicit lover pursues Fadinard to his apartment. She bewails that she dare not go home to her brutal jealous husband without the exclusive straw hat from Florence. Emilio demands that the hat is replaced or he will challenge Fadinard to a duel. He does not care a jot that Fadinard has to leave for his wedding. The quick tempered Nonancourt, father of the bride (Elena), then turns up to place orange blossom in the bridal chamber where Anaide and Emilio are hiding. The plot becomes ever more convoluted as poor Fadinard endeavours to get him to leave then chases all over Paris trying to find a replacement straw hat. He is closely followed by Nonancourt, Elena and the wedding guests who become more and more bewildered and sozzled as they all lurch from one hysterical predicament to another.
Rossini's influence is apparent. The composer's impressions from visits to both France and America are also evident; so, too, is something of the circus and farcical styles Rota brought to his scores for the films of Felini. Added to this brew one might also detect some Puccinian and Verdian seasonings. Needless to say, the music is high-spirited, playful, irreverent and satirical.
Rota cleverly, spontaneously, closely contrasts or mixes buffoonery with the warmer genuine feelings of his characters. Tenor Ugo Benelli, in the demanding lead role of Fadinard, exchanges, with easy aplomb, his buffo style required for his many farcical situations, for an appealing 'straight' lyric tenor voice, whenever he declares his fidelity to his bewildered new wife. Alfredo Mariotti's bass Nonancourt is perpetually on short fuse as he fumes after his son-in-law with the orchestra rudely scoring points off him. They are slightly more sympathetic with Beaupertuis, Anaide's cuckolded husband, sung by rich-voiced baritone Mario Basioli, who rants and rages but also feels rather sorry for himself in Act III. Of the ladies, Viorica Cortez is outstanding as the Baroness who mistakenly believes Fadinard (who thinks she has an Italian straw hat) is the Italian violinist she has hired to entertain her guests. The Baroness is an incurable romantic infatuated with the idea that the Italian violinist wants to play for her with a single rose as his sole reward. She sings as though she was in a world of make-believe and Rota wickedly gives her a saccharine sweet violin solo to lead the accompaniment. Lyric soprano, Daniella Mazzuccato as Elena, Fadinard's young bride is the only straight character. Her romantic duets with Fadinard are a highlight of the work. Rota delights in blowing orchestral raspberries at his characters and his score often has some delighful touches such as the vivid portrait of the horses drawing the carriages of the wedding guests - and their horse laughs! - and the storm music of Act III as well as being remarkably vivid also pokes fun of the weary, lost, drunken wedding guests.
A delightful and amusing entertainment.
EDITOR's RECOMMENDATION July 1999
John WILLIAMS Jane Eyre OST SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 204 [33:51]
Once you are reconciled to a CD running 33:51 you can relax in the opalescent light of this classily romantic pastoral score. This is not Williams the heroic comic-book dramatist but the painter of subtle water-colour shades.
Most of the tracks fall easily into two categories: eerie and breezily romantic. The Mozartian string quartet depicting Festivity at Thornfield is the one exception.
The nightmare tracks are neatly represented by the mists of Lowood reminiscent of the Cornish Dances (Malcolm Arnold). This and other tracks explore Schoenbergian territory. Grace Poole is all batwings and net curtains blowing out gently in the whispering night-wind. The Thwarted Wedding resounds to material influenced by the bird-shrieks of Herrmann's score for Psycho (1960).
To Thornfield is a scherzando recalling one of Alan Hovhaness's sword-wind dances but brisk with Northern moorland sunshine. A reserved romance hangs over many tracks. This is especially prominent in the Jane Eyre theme, the Overture and Across The Moors (worthy to stand alongside the effulgence of Sarde's Tess score). Restoration is a string paean: part-Sibelian and part-Elgarian. The final Reunion at first sounds suspiciously like the Fauré Pavane from Pelleas but having turned that dangerous corner explores with subtle emotion surge and undertow of joy in sadness; sadness in joy.
The atmosphere of much of this score (well the pastoral bits) drifts agreeably from the soft supplicatory music of Gerald Finzi (now popular but hardly heard of in 1970) to the soft focus anguish of Stanley Myers' Cavatina from The Deerhunter; one voice predating the score; the other succeeding it. Fans of Herrmann's score for The Trouble With Harry will want this disc.
This film is the version with Susannah York (Jane), George C Scott (Edward Rochester), Nyree Dawn Porter, Kenneth Griffith, Jean Marsh, Ian Bannen, and Michele Dotrice.
The notes by George Curry are from the original LP. For such an Anglophone score we should not be surprised that it was recorded at Anvil Studios, Denham. The contract orchestra is warmly and closely recorded in an often reverberant ambience.
The tray insert warns us that the CD has been re-mastered from the original tapes, now almost 30 years old, and that 'some distortion is still evident'. This is not at all dramatic and can be heard on the more climactic moments for the strings and the higher register notes of the piano. There is nothing here to put you off.
The total timing is not listed on the back of the tray. Was no other suitable (even contrasting) score available? I recommend this album warmly and have only moderated the score because of the short playing time.
Ian Lace is even more enthusiastic:-
I would just add that it is little wonder that John Williams, himself, is so fond of this score, one of his most beautiful, so eloquently played here under the composer's direction. As for the playing time, I am reminded of that old adage - 'less is often more.' Just one other observation, I was struck by the opening Jane Eyre theme. It sharply anticipates John Williams's own score for Presumed Innocent. I wonder if he made some mental connection between the sufferings of Jane and that of the wife turned justified(?) murderess?
Collection: I SALONISTI play Film Music SONY ASK 61731 [65:56]
This is a classic selection of midfield popular music drawn from the film world. The 16 tracks include bon-bons from Zorba the Greek, Titanic, La Strada, Schindler's List and so on. Its distinction is that rather than full orchestra we are treated to arrangements for the crystalline clarity of a quintet. Mind you this is no conventionally constructed piano quintet. There are the standard piano, two violins and cello but in place of a viola we get a double bass. This small ensemble lends a stark but romantic clarity to the music. Every track is done with a deft hand, engaging style and an eye to politically incorrect indulgence. Bravo to that! My Heart Will
Go On is splendidly done with pacing judged to perfection. Equally fine is their treatment (listen to the oleaginous slide of the violins) of How Is the Weather in Paris? from M. Hulot's Holiday. An unbuttoned indulgence and well worth the investment of the lover of undemanding light classics.
Collection: Amazing Stories John WILLIAMS Amazing Stories - main title and end title (1985-1987), The Mission, Georges DELERUE Dorothy and Ben Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Joel McNeely (Williams); John Debney (Delerue) VARESE SARABANDE VSD 5941
Two grand names from the world of film music lavishing their artistry on a TV series! Well, that would not be the first time. In this case however the results confounded my prejudices. I was expecting forgettable 'conveyor belt' stuff. In practice, although the Delerue tracks (12-17) are pretty inconsequential in a winsome 'Deerhunter' way, the Williams tracks are strong bread and vintage wine. The Jinxed One (3) has fluttering flutes almost tangibly conveying the sensation of feathers floating down a dark chasm. Listen to the golden glories of the horn section in The Parachute (6). Perhaps the inspiration falters in the Elgarian farewells of Goodbyes (9) but The Landing is something very special with its Sibelian woodwind writing flowing into the sheerest gauzy spiderweb enchantment. Williams writes with luminescent feeling in his pen. Glorious!
The Williams' main and endtitles are also good with the latter swooping through sunlit dappled carefree meadows and optimistic dazzling uplands.
Good notes by Robert Townson and a complete Season 1 and 2 episode guide listing titles, original broadcast dates and composers.
Classic stuff and too easily overlooked!
John WILLIAMS The Missouri Breaks OST RYKO RCD 10748 [44:21]
At the heart of the gritty soundscape of "The Missouri Breaks," and the occasional explosion of grassroots pickin' and a-grinnin', is a well-crafted score... That is, when it is an actual score. "The Missouri Breaks" is a remarkable change from the average Williams soundtrack, but the release of this soundtrack on compact disc is primarily of interest for the ease in which one can skip the horrific tracks and get to the strong material quickly.
There are some expectedly 1970s Williamsesque moments: A recurring love theme awash with '70s schmaltz, the obligatory melodic nod to Aaron Copland, creepy legato melody lines representing danger. Various themes and textures demonstrate what Williams did before ("The Reivers," "The Cowboys," even "Earthquake") as well as what came after ("The River," "Rosewood," even "Presumed Innocent").
The music comes from bluegrass territory. Perhaps because I was raised around this style (I grew up around countless styles of music -- as good an excuse as any to like so many of them!), I have a certain admiration for Williams' effort. He captured the approach to perfection. When I first heard the LP some years ago, I did not know he was this prolific. This is a fine example of his diversity.
And here is where the trouble starts. Williams' adds inharmonious, sometimes truly atonal, writing to the variance of his score... He knows excellent atonal music ("Images" comes to mind), but with "The Missouri Breaks" it is derivative and shallow, sounding like his ensemble desperately needs an oil checkup and a new muffler. The dissonance contrasts nicely with the lush melodies, the folksy tunes, and the atonal rubbish, but the combination of the four has the potential to spawn a few headaches.
The disc is typically well produced by Ryko, although Jeff Bond's notes are abnormally choppy. Harmonica player Tommy Morgan performs (uncredited) on the film and album tracks. The original mixing (which helped garner the LP repeated praises on The Absolute Sound's Best Sounding Records lists) remains, remastered beautifully. In addition to being the first CD release of the original soundtrack album, it adds the film versions of the main title, the train robbery, and the love theme -- more roughly performed, but in some ways more interesting than their re-recorded counterparts.
It is a solid recording as a whole, but if more traditional music is your interest then you might do well to stick with Ryko's other current release,
David Mansfield's "Heaven's Gate."
David MANSFIELD Heaven's Gate OST RYKO RCD 10749 [54:45]
There are people who may say the unwavering spirit of a community is in its folk music. One can find glimpses in the popular fads of a nation, and in the serious composition of its social elite, but only in the old-fashioned music for the people, from the people, does one begin to gain insight into another world. For some, it offers insight into their own world. It is fundamental. It takes a culture and reduces it to clear, basic musical biography, cutting the chaff from the wheat.
Of course, sometimes there is only so much community spirit one can take, and the music should know what community it belongs to. Mansfield's adaptation score to the infamous box-office dud known as "Heaven's Gate" is a gorgeous retrospective of American folk music, including nods to the transformation of Old World music into the New via arrangements of Johann Strauss' 'By the Beautiful Blue Danube' and several of Eastern Europe's own folk songs. In so doing the American stylings skirt precariously near to being lost and confused, as Mansfield switches the cultural roles like a sidewalk magician (at one point owing more to Nino Rota than anything period, possibly prompting an observant listener to ask, "Is he going to make me an offer I can't refuse?") I suggest that Mansfield could have made this already above-average score a classic had he focused on diversifying the folk techniques themselves before experimenting with cultural styles, allowing his arrangements to suffer an identity crisis, or two, less.
That is a moderately forgivable mis-step.
The majority of his score is full of minor innovations, powered by an obvious emotional investment. His original compositions are not too shabby either; from the 'Slow Water' theme to the end credits version of 'Ella's Waltz,' there is an appropriate and satisfying traditionalism to the creative approach.
The production values are good, with crisp and informative liner notes by Bruce Lawton and David Mansfield, fine sound, and a series of remarkable production stills (possible spoilers for some). Well worth a look & listen.
Ian Lace raises some other points
Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980) must be one of the most reviled films of all time. The critics were merciless in their condemnation. It was so badly received that it was withdrawn and re-edited so that its running length was reduced from 219 minutes to 140 minutes. Since 1980 there has been something of a re-evaluation and the film's strengths are becoming increasingly recognised. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the film. I appreciated the wonderful photography and some of the set pieces like the long dance sequence, but I was not impressed with its plot incoherence (why bother, for instance, to include the relatively meaningless and inflated Harvard [shot in England] Prologue and the Yacht Epilogue) and the shameful waste of acting talent (John Hurt particularly). I will remind readers of some of the critics' comment:
"Totally incoherent A vital turning point in Hollywood policy, hopefully marking the last time a whiz kid with one success behind him is given a blank cheque to indulge in self-abuse." - Halliwell's Film Guide.
"Photographed in majestic locations with incredible period detail all to little effect since the narrative, character, motivations and sound track are so hopelessly muddled" - Matlin
"One of the ugliest films I have ever seen a study in wretched excess formless at 4 hours - insipid at 140 minutes...the most scandalous cinematic waste I have ever seen." - Ebert.
But, to the music. From Bruce Lawton's erudite booklet notes we learn that John Williams was first approached and had originally agreed to score the film. However, when he was offered the Boston Pops that year he had to cut down on his scoring commitments. I will therefore begin by playing devil's advocate. I suggest that although Williams was saved the ignominy of being associated with this perceived turkey, his music might have just saved the film because it could well have illuminated plot and character and added just that bit more coherence. The folksy, intimate music of David Mansfield, pleasant as it is, certainly did not.
Lawton tells how Mansfield's score developed on the hoof so to speak much like, one suspects, the rest of the production. Mansfield remembered that he did some instrumental arrangements of some of the Eastern European folk songs that were sung, and played by the Heaven's Gate band in various scenes in the film. Cimino was impressed and asked for more and felt that this small intimate score was working more effectively than the orchestral temp music they were working with. Mansfield, therefore, continued to assemble music, primarily simple folk tunes; arranging this material, sometimes changing time signatures and modes from major to minor etc. The result is a delectable collection of lovely, intimate, atmospheric and romantic melodies. The titles say it all - 'Slow Water'; 'Snowfall', 'Sweet Breeze'; 'Moonlight'; 'Morning Star' etc. The 'Heaven's Gate Waltz' is the best remembered; the sort of tune that runs around in the head for days. All are scored for a small ensemble including a classical guitar, violins, mandolins and mandocello (a guitar turned to a cello range). Listening to the music, on this album, one would never guess that the film contains scenes of the most harrowing violence. The only cue that has any hint of real darkness is one of the twelve so-called bonus tracks, 'Champion's Death.'
The biggest drawback about this album is our age-old complaint - lack of variety. If it were not for the delicious Heaven's Gate Waltz (which is reprised and slightly modified a number of times) I would have awarded this CD just three stars; so -
Proceed to Part 2
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