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FILM MUSIC RECORDINGS REVIEWS
July 1999 Film Music CD
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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 WILIAMS 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 -
Collection THE SNOW FILES - the film Music of Mark SNOW SONIC IMAGES SID 8902 [70:43]
Clearly, this album has been produced to showcase the talents of the composer of the music for the fabulously successful TV series, The X-Files. Indeed, the most substantial track on the album is a 31+ minute suite of Snow's music from that series produced, arranged and performed(?) by John Beal. I insert the question mark after 'performed', because I am not sure just what function Mr Beal performs in the performance process? Surely he can't keep running around all the ensemble from instrument to instrument? (John, I'm pulling your leg!)
In this site's review pages I think I have expressed my aversion for the dragging chains and escaping steam effects of much of the genre of synth music so I approached the X-Files track with some trepidation. Yet, actually I was quite agreeably surprised. I qualify the statement with the word 'quite' because, for me, 31 minutes was rather too much and I think the suite would have been more effective for some snipping away of less interesting, more clichéd material. Having said that, the combination of Snow and Beal has produced music that has plenty of imagination, ingenuity, and variety of texture, timbre and tempi. I liked the way, for instance that Beal builds up an atmosphere of mystery and apprehension and the way he suggests an alien abduction as the music gathers to whoosh skywards before he introduces Snow's famous "whistling" main X-Files theme, which he then proceeds to develop at some length. Elsewhere one can appreciate the debt Snow must owe to John Williams's score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The opening Main theme - La Femme Nikita again employs synth music imaginatively in a tense Gallic-flavoured essay with interesting urban effects like police sirens to the heighten atmosphere.
Four tracks follow under the collective title 'Darkness and Desire.' 'The Dark Waltz' from Seduced and Betrayed dances uncomfortably close to Jerry Goldsmith's sensuous lines for Basic Instinct. I enjoyed the sultry ballad that is the love theme from Conundrum with the smoky voice of Cassandra Crossland. An imaginative dark use of the harp lifts the music for A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story. Jagged outbursts effectively penetrate the textures of the score for Caroline at Midnight.
A further four tracks are gathered under the umbrella appellation of 'Love and Hope.' Snow's high-strings orientated music for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea score echoes John Barry's style. I liked the more tenderly romantic folksy material for The Substitute Wife. Oldest Living Confederate Wife is even more folksy and reminded me very much of David Mansfield's score for Heaven's Gate reviewed above. (Some of these films have the most extraordinary titles - many of these TV films never cross the Atlantic to us here in the UK; or maybe they change their titles half way over?) Smoke Jumpers, a 1996 TV movie about a crew of parachute fire-fighters, has a rather routine heroics score.
The collection closes with three diverse tracks. Dark Justice is gothic and zombie-like; Max Headroom is headache-provoking heavy rock and Pee-Wee is sheer comic madness in the Danny Elfman tadition - a quirky piece of music using speeded-up vocal samples.
and Paul Tonks adds
Snow is now instantly bagged and tagged with The X-Files, and naturally that is this disc's selling point - a half hour suite from the show. It is this that makes and breaks the album. It'll be exactly what fans of the show were expecting. It's also a great departure from the other material on the album. Unfortunately, it's almost too much of a departure in that the downbeat downturn it takes detracts from the chirpier surroundings. Right after you get bonus tracks which include Pee Wee's Playhouse and Max Headroom. They're light-hearted enough to almost rightside the disc after the 30 minutes of gloom. Since it was all preceded by so much warm, it's possibly just a wee case of ill-advised sequencing.
The preceding high spots include A Woman Scorned, Conundrum, Caroline At Midnight, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Substitute Wife. The surprise instrument voices, and mellow timbres indicate there's so much more the Muldur & Scully fans need to appreciate. So all in all it's an album with the potential to impress most of its listeners for one reason or the other. Just remember that most CD units have the capacity to re-order tracks !
Collection: Great Movie Classics - GERSHWIN/MORRICONE/ROTA I Camerata Di Roma AGORA MUSICA AG205 [61:10]
I Cameristi di Roma are a rather bottom-heavy (two horns and two bassoons) wind octet. This perhaps tells against this disc where the performances are often rather ungainly - sloughed in a treacly slow motion. This is a pity because the first track begins with an agreeably cheeky Gerhswin arrangement which rapidly comes apart as languid treacle rather than slow burning fire runs through the veins of Summertime. The other tracks are arrangements of classic Italian film music. The Morricone tracks come over very well with that sense, Morricone could capture, of time suspended in a tear drop.
Trovajoli's music for Nell' Anno del Signore has a sad-eyed dignity and Morricone's for Investigation of a Citizen Beyond Suspicion is cheeky and exudes the vernal freshness of a Canteloube setting. A Rossinian wink and a sly jab in the side occasionally takes the listener by surprise but the tendency to languor, for me, simply undermines this selection and makes me long to hear these pieces in full orchestral garb.
Mike POST NYPD Blue - The Best of Mike Post OST SILVA SILVAD3511 [63:12]
This is what it appears to be: a selection of Mike Post's themes for TV and all apparently from the original soundtracks and, in that sense, fully authentic. The range is wide. The memorably gnawing dawn drums, quiet elegies and menace of NYPD Blue contrasts with the less likeable Blossom Street, Hardcastle and McCormick, Hunter; Stingray (not the animation) and The White Shadow - all the latter being examples of forgettably sleazy rock trivia. Strong tracks include Hill Street Blues with its gloriously evocative spirit of made-anew mornings. Also notable are the cool themes from L A Law, Law and Order and Top of the Hill. Tale of the Gold Monkey has clear classical influences: Copland and Stravinsky. Contrast this with Sonny Spoon with its 'down and dirty' harmonica. B L Stryker is all slouching urbane confidence and a similar feeling pervades Hooperman (with prominent sax part), Doogie Howser MD and Studio 5B (heartbeat at start). Commercial rock (and often deeply unattractive) tracks include Magnum PI, The A-Team, Riptide and The Rockford Files. Good to hear the icily amiable theme from Quantum Leap.
The medium (TV) is ephemeral and themes tend to be written to match. Post (and a few others) confound low expectations with more memorable music than average. Quantum Leap, Hill Street and NYPD Blue are classics to be enjoyed in their original guise here. A great souvenir (though no notes).
Joseph LoDUCA Xena - Warrior Princess Vol 4 VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6031 [71:32]
As far as TV mythological heroes, are concerned, our household has split loyalties. The ladies swoon over Hercules' biceps while the feisty Xena can throw her discus, or any other part of herself, in my direction any time! What a woman!
Joseph LoDuca's busy and versatile pen greatly assists in enhancing the thrills, building the atmosphere and lifting the credibility of this TV fantasy hokum. His richly textured scores and inventive orchestrations impress too. At over 70 minutes duration, this is a very generous helping from Varèse. The booklet notes are sparse almost non-existent with only track titles to guide the listener. It appears that music for four stories is included plus two bonus cues.
Chin: The Debt, comprises seven cues of exotic oriental music with, in the first exciting 'Caesar's Mark' cue, a choir in virile Carl Orff mode. 'Flying Ninjas' is a rhythmically stimulating cue featuring an array of percussion and woods. 'Execution of Xena' has a woman's chorus chanting over menacing brushed cymbals and bells. The score for this episode also contains music that is more sympathetic and compassionate with elegiac strings for 'Visit to the Damned.' Extraordinarily, 'The Bath' with its soprano solo, again wordless, sounds as much Gaelic as oriental with a nice evocative wash of harp strings. In 'Taking Flight' the music does just that; again, with the soprano against feathery upper strings - it's as though we are about to embark on a magic carpet ride à la Miklos Rozsa/Thief of Baghdad.
The Destruction of Hope:Family Affair music is less interesting. 'Lambikin's Missing' is an exercise in sub-Herrmann menace with heavy snarling brass and 'Who's Who' is a creepy cue with some interesting writing for snare drum and strongly accented hand drum figures. 'Hello Beautiful' has chill winds and menace lurking behind the high strings' sweet pleasantries and the soprano's yearnings.
The most substantial part of the album is devoted to India: Devi/Between the Lines/The Way. LoDuca has clearly done his homework for he uses the Indian ethnic intruments: the sitar etc to impressive effect through the twelve cues. The music ranges from the ethereal and elegiac to the usual menacing and combative. There is plenty of dance music with sinuous, seductive rhythms. A male chorus is prominent.
Turangi: Adventures in the Sin Trade seems to evoke the heat of Africa. Voodoo ceremonies can be imagined too. I was impressed by LoDuca's multi-part choral writing for women's voices in 'Released/Spirit Dance' opening over serenely cool woods and strings, and opposing the mystical with ethnic dance figures.
Of the two bonus tracks, 'Everybody Dance Now' is a mix of country and western and Riverdance; while 'I'm in Heaven' is an incongruous crooning-style song for soprano and tenor in the style of the 1920s or '30s.
A fascinating, fun album
Joseph LoDUCA Hercules - The Legendary Journeys Vol 3 VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-6032 [68:12]
I will confess I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the music on this disc and the Xena album reviewed above. I had only come across LoDuca in reviewing his music for Young Hercules on this site last year - a young people's pop-based score which I did not rate highly at all. [As a family we have only enjoyed Digital TV and therefore Hercules and Xena for the last eight months or so].
Again Varèse have served up a generous helping with nearly 70 minutes of varied material. The notes are threadbare with only cue titles as guidance. Do the four collection titles refer to separate episodes of the fantasy TV series based on the Greek mythological hero?
The album opens with five selections from Sumeria: Faith/Descent. The opening cue opens in very dramatic fashion with a strong, thrusting rhythmically vital theme with chorus again, as in the Xena opening track, in Carl Orff mode. LoDuca uses his predominantly male chorus a lot in these Sumeria selections: in 'Zombie Fight' they spit out their words with malevolent relish over a suitably trudging mindless Zombie-like orchestral accompaniment. In Sumerian Boat Song they intone in time to their oar-strokes over a controlling rhythmic drumming. Later in this cue ghastly screechings and moanings leave us in no doubt about the horrors 'Up River'. It is a tribute to LoDuca that he rarely uses synthetic music to get the effects he wants.'Rebuilding' is a very colourful cue: noble heroic material is contrasted with swirling, voluptuous belly-dancing type music.
From Sumeria we go to ancient Ireland for 'Eire:Resurrection/Render Unto Caesar'. Opening with the haunting, plaintive 'Faith's Song' we pass through several cues that have much Gaelic charm and delicacy as well as more cloudy and threatening material. Some of this harsher brooding menacing adversary-type material is given to high strings in sour mode. Those pipes, which James Horner seems to have made obligatory these days, are much in evidence. There is also much of what you might call 'ancient' Riverdance material. The Druid Chant sounds odd - not very Gaelic more Afro.
'Norseland: Norse by Norsewest (ouch!)/Rainbow Bridge', takes us northwards with icy, trilling strings and crystalline harp figures etc as LoDuca evokes the shadowy menaces of more Northern climes. Subtle influences of Sibelius, Atterberg and Hanson are discernible.
The collection is completed by isolated cues from other episodes. 'Hunk O' Herc' nods towards John Williams's Superman theme. 'We Go Now' is reminiscent of Holst's Mars. 'Flying Machine/Believe in Yourself' reminds one of those aerial dog fights, all dodgings and tracer bullets. 'Air Herc' is incongruous modern rock. To an accordion and string accompaniment, a contralto sings sultrily of how she has 'fallen so low with no place to go in 'One Dinar a Dance'. The album closes with an appealing heroic/elegiac track, 'Works of Art Pt. 1' No mention of any other parts?
Again, as for Xena, colourful and interesting music -
Another look at a favourite James Horner score:-
James HORNER Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan OST conducted by composer GNP Crescendo GNPD8022 [44.56]
Horner's full symphonic music for the second Trek film is amongst the strongest of the six Trek (ST1) scores. In case you have forgotten, this is the film in which the Genesis Project features, Spock dies in the Warpdrive chamber saving everyone and Chekhov's brain is manipulated by a Ceti eel.
The score has moments of fragile beauty (enhanced here by very decent stereo separation) and Ligeti like string rustling (track 5). The bubbling excitement as the USS Enterprise clears her moorings is very fine indeed - like the intoxicating emerald-green sea evocation of Sainton's Moby Dick (Marco Polo).
The main Trek theme was introduced on television by quiet violins singing in chaste innocence. The introduction here is similarly by the violins but here they are heavy with menacing dread and the creepy crawly strings reminded me of Sibelius's En Saga and Pohjola's Daughter (try the Horst Stein Decca recording). The battle scenes have lashing strings and crackling brass.
All in all the score is one of saturated romance, visceral renewal and valorous endeavour. A great score then - even if there is a hint of indebtedness to the John Williams Superman theme. The disc's final track (after giving us Spock's voice-over recitation of the famous Trekkie mantra) ends in whooping confidence.
The music was orchestrated by Jack Hayes and we acknowledge the work of Mr Hayes whose contribution is a significant part of the magic of the score.
A fine disc and score though the printing looks decidedly budget quality.
Bruce MONTGOMERY and Eric ROGERS - THE CARRY ON ALBUM -Music by from the Carry On films 1958-1975 (Camping, Sergeant, Teacher, Nurse, Cabby, Cleo, Jack, Behind, Convenience, Khyber, Doctor, Doctor Again) City of Prague PO/Gavin Sutherland ASV CD-WHL 2119 (51:12)
Here is the music for the Carry On films and heard as never heard before. The soundstage is not quite natural with a fair amount of (well-judged) spotlighting of instruments. The music is lightly entertaining when it is not brash. When it is brash it is the essence of 1950s kitsch and makes no impact on me except an adverse one. It is however a reminder of those films.
Most of the tracks are by Eric Rogers and the others by Bruce Montgomery are instantly recognisable as they are scored for military band. The Rogers tracks are for full orchestra. The music is very much of a piece: jazzy, brash, Poulencian and the occasional subtle touch of George (Gershwin) in the night as at 4:20 of Montgomery's
Carry On Suite. Some of the quieter interludes have some magic (middle section of Carry On at your Convenience). Oddly enough that piece of Gershwiniana evolves into a rather nobilmente bit of Walton which soon lapses back into absurd seaside trivia. Walton is also a noticeable presence in the Anglo-Amalgamated Fanfare No 1 and the Khyber theme.
The Carry On theme has a touch of Coates at his most vulgar and unsubtle. There is a bit of middle eastern Rózsa in Carry On Cleo - quite Biblical really - in the Charlton Heston sense! For the most part this is cheeky chappie, wink and a nod, sly humour which now comes across, despite classy and zestful advocacy by conductor and orchestra, like congealed horlicks, flat pommagne or tepid Asti.
The notes run to 6 pages and are in English only. They give plenty of information on the films and the two composers. There are also rare photos of Rogers and Montgomery.
A worthy addition to the growing library of British light music and a real feather in the cap of ASV whose catalogue is a national asset. Intermittently enjoyable music then and bliss if you go for the style. You will know. Great performances. It is probably my loss that much of the music leaves me cold. I speak as an enthusiast for some of the films including Carry On Screaming and C.O. Cleo. A dead cert guv' for Carry Onners. As for the rest of us . I suppose I must confess to a po-faced review!
MAME - Music by Jerry Herman. Angela Lansbury and the original Broadway Cast SONY SMK 060959 [65:47]
Big, brash and wonderful, Mame sparkles. Its music races along, full of fun and high spirits. It opened on Broadway in 1966 and ran for five years collecting eight Tony Award nominations with wins for Angela Lansbury, Beatrice Arthur and Frankie Michaels. Jerry Herman, himself, was rewarded with a Gold Record and a Grammy for best show album. The film version appeared in 1974 with Lucille Ball in the Lansbury role.
Mame is the incorrigible and irrepressible Aunt to orphan Patrick Dennis. She plays the horn, she holds wild parties serving bathtub gin. She shows Patrick much of her eccentric world as she becomes involved in nude art classes, fires, nightclub raids and a 'visit' to the police station. In a play, she takes the part of a lady astronomer and straddles a crescent moon as it rises wobbling for the climax of the last act. She takes job after job, marries, becomes widowed, rides a wild stallion (side-saddle of course) and that's just for starters, as young Patrick grows up.
The jubilant, breathtaking overture sets the pace and we are treated to a whole series of good tunes the most memorable of which are the title song Mame; and the celebrated bitchy duet between Mame and her friend Vera (Beatrice Arthur), 'Bosom Buddies' in which they promise eternal friendship yet tear each other's character into shreds: " your sense of style is as far off as your youth "; " if I kept my hair like you do yours I'd be bald " etc. Then there is the lovely sentimental romantic waltz 'My best girl' and Mame's poignant 'If he walked into my life.'
There are five interesting bonus tracks of the composer Jerry Herman singing songs from the show to a piano accompaniment.
Quoting the title song - "You coax the blues right out of the horn, Mame we think you're just sensational, Mame!" A fun 65 minutes.
[N.B. Rosalind Russell appeared in the title role of the 1958 Warner Bros.film, Auntie Mame, from the book and play that pre-dated the film. Rosalind Russell was Oscar-nominated. This film picked up many other Oscar nominations for: best picture; cinemaphotography; supporting actress (Peggy Cass); art direction and editing. In the event it won no Oscars. Bronislau Kaper wrote the music]
Anna Russell Encore? Anna Russell - Comedienne, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano; Tenor; Baritone; Pianist; Guitarist, Autriculatrix Extraordinary. Jimmy Carroll and his Miserable Five José Rodriguez Lopez (piano) SONY SFK 60316 [76:46]
Madame Anna Russell first revealed these pearls of musical wisdom to New York audiences in 1958.
On this occasion, she begins her oration by covering Poetry in the Cellar with Jazz. "They read all kinds of way out poetry with the musicians clinkering behind," states Anna. "I imagine it is done by the angry young men or possibly the beat generation I thought that meant beat-up but I am told that it doesn't mean that at all; it means beatific. Of course, I suppose if you get sufficiently beat up you could become beatific from the point of view of being slap-happy However the whole thing is very existential" So, wearing her existential glasses Ms Russell proceeds to read two such poems: 'My Ear', about a well adjusted young lady who nevertheless has a left ear that behaves strangely - it changes into a gardenia but when it turns into a cauliflower she has to consult an ear and throat specialist who runs screamimg from his surgery and joins the used car business. The other poem asks the question who killed 'The Rubens Woman' and Where is Whistler's Mother?
Madam Russell then turns her attention to Backwards with the Folk Song. She reminds us that the definition of the folk song is "Uncouth vocal utterances of the people about the cares and joys of ordinary life extemporised by the singer accompanying himself on a simple instrument." Anna then goes on to observe: "I don't see this going on, do you?. Researchers dredge the Kentucky Mountains, and pry into the archives of the museums and libraries and then they accompany themselves on dulcimers and lutes - anything but simple instruments. They have to because (a) they can't find the simple instruments - or (b) if they do nobody can play them - or (c) if you do find out how to play them they're so antique they fall apart on you . Then people start societies for the protection of this sort of thing which the general public refuse to go to on account of it all being too arty. So the folk song has now become the complete opposite of what it started out to be namely - the uncouth vocal utterances of the people !" Madam Russell then assails our ears with five typical folk songs: 'A Lily Maid Sat Making Moan' ("I am the Lady Fripple - Frop and my husband did me dirt ); 'Old Mother Slipper Slopper' whose milk keeps turning sour; 'Ricky Ticky' with advice on how to carve up the family belongings through divorce; 'I'm sitting in the bar alone', described as one of the "self-pitying- ---school" songs ("I was once a movie star now I sit alone in the bar"); and finally 'Jolly Old Sigmund Freud' in which the singer tells why she killed the cat and blackened her husband's eye.
We then have two lectures on instruments. We are told everything about the French Horn including how to blow down it - "make a raspberry or Bronx Cheer at one end." We are also told it is not a very nice instrument for ladies because it could skid on their lipstick "but if there is one lying around the house it makes a very smart hat!" The Bagpipe comes under scrutiny next. "Once I asked audiences to guess what it was but I had to give that up because some of the guesses, well "
The grand climax of the programme is a detailed description of Verdi's Hamleto (or Prosciuttino). Madam Russell begins by admitting, " Now Verdi has made operas out of many of the Shakespeare plays. He has not as a matter of fact made one out of Hamlet but I am not, for a moment going to let that stand in my way." She tells us that Hamlet is a fantastically complicated story but there would have been no story at all had Hamlet avenged his father's death at once instead of hinkle pinkling around.
"Which just goes to show if you don't behave as you ought to you are liable to be terribly interesting!" Anna then spends nearly half an hour analysing this production singing all the parts on the way. We learn for instance that Polonias like Wotan (remember him from The Ring reviewed last month?) is also a crashing bore and that Ophelia is a little weak in the head - " so naturally she is a coloratura soprano. We also learn about the Queen's big Arras.
Zez CONFREY (1895-1971) Piano Music Eteri Andjaparidze (piano) NAXOS American Classics 8.559016 [62:29]
ZEZ CONFREY (1895-1971) Piano MusicKitten on the Keys 1921
Dizzy Fingers 1923
African Suite 1924
Jay Walk 1927
Sparkling Waters 1928
Wise Cracker Suite 1936
Blue Tornado 1935
Three Little Oddities 1923
Coaxing the Piano 1922
Moods of a New Yorker 1932
Rhythm Venture 1935
Fourth Dimension 1959
Zez Confrey was born Edward Eleazar Confrey in Peru, Illinois on 3 April 1895.
Confrey is the Transatlantic counterpart of Billy Mayerl. If you like Mayerl you will certainly like this.
The famous Kitten is a celebration of scatty, jazzy, high speed prestidigitation. Skimming pianism and impressively whispered dynamics are memorable elements of Dizzy Fingers. Then comes the more reflective though still faintly jazzy Meandering where pacing is plastic with many shifts and changes of gear. The African Suite is not at all an evocation of the jungle: High Hattin is a jazzy saunter, Kinda Careless a Gershwinian blues drone, Mississippi Shivers is over-shadowed by the influence of Gershwin but has something of the great river in it.
Jay Walk is a light fingered wander; Sparkling Waters a Lisztian essay with silvery runs. Yokel Opus is light and easy; Mighty Lackawanna is the first seriously impressionistic piece on the disc. The surface of the piece is undisturbed and although a rippling pulse keeps things mobile the atmosphere is placid. It glows in a heat haze. The Sheriff's Lament is back to Confrey's accustomed Keystone Cops scattiness (just as suggested by the liner notes).
Amazonia is initially only very slightly Latino despite the protestation of the liner notes. There is a rhumba-Havanaise trill to the piece. Blue Tornado displays Confrey, the light as air prestidigitator. The Impromptu from Three Little Oddities (and they each have a salon-style title) is rather Ravelian and definitely the serious Confrey. The notes suggest the influence of Grieg and Macdowell on these pieces and that parallel is spot-on. The final Novelette is almost complicated enough to be Medtner but stops well short of that most of the time.
Coaxing The Piano starts storm-goaded and soon settles into the hectic fists of notes we know from Kitten on the Keys. The largely placid Stumbling was much admired by Copland who wrote of it that it typified the jazz age with its independent rhythms spread over more than one measure.
Moods of a New Yorker's At Dusk is a tentative exercise in half lights, rather like some uncertain grey evening by Frank Bridge. Movie Ballet reminds us of some Russian ballet, perhaps by Glazunov. Relaxation is a tender golden dream (which I recommend as a sample track). The final Tango is slinky with a slippery reference to the Carmen 'Habañera'. The Rhythm Venture is earnestly jazzy - an escapee from Constant Lambert's Rio Grande. The final Fourth Dimension jumps with electricity.
The Three Little Oddities and Moods of a New Yorker are much more serious than Kitten on the Keys and Confrey's reputation might hint. For anyone who thinks they might be allergic to 'home fires' piano stool virtuosity try these two suites first. They are not desperately profound, but no matter; this music entertains and delights.
Confrey would, I am sure, be delighted with Eteri Andjaparidze's zippy and zestful performances which, in addition to their glitter, also articulate the poetry of a number of the pieces.
I suspect there will be a band of Confrey enthusiasts who will be buying this disc in quantity. Quite how the performances stack up against Confrey's own 78s I do not know. I had not heard Confrey's music until I put this disc in the player. Now at least I know that Confrey has a place in the history of music. It may not be a very exalted one but he is a composer who has genuine humour, zest and feeling for people and place. A definite discovery.
The English only notes are by Marina and Victor Ledin. They are specific, informative and generally add to the musical experience.
The treasure of a thousand thousand piano stools! Recommended.
THE SECRET POLICEMAN'S THIRD BALL - Amnesty International (UK)RHINO Home Video R3 2563 $14:95 and available through retailers or through the Internet at www.rhino.com
Rhino is well known for its film soundtrack and pop CD releases but the Company also releases the occasional video. This programme, in aid of Amnesty International, and originally filmed in 1987, features many stars from the pop, TV and film worlds. It is well worth considering. Rhino is releasing it now to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the human rights organisation.
The line-up of talent from the Pop world is impressive: Kate Bush; Joan Armatrading, Duran Duran; Mark Knopfler with Chet Atkins; Bob Geldorf; and Peter Gabriel.
The there are the comedians. John Laurie and Stephen Fry swop roles as shopkeeper and customer over a transaction involving a hedge (small, standard or Imperial, sir?), because they keep forgetting their lines and get hopelessly muddled when they try to prompt each other. John Cleese receives the Rubber Duck Award, and Ruby Wax is ticked off by Sir Bob Geldorf for not curtsying to him. But it is Lenny Henry who steals the show. He is absolutely hilarious in mile-wide padded shoulders, heavy shades, loud check suit and wide brimmed pork-pie hat as 'Low Down, Left-Handed, Hound-Dog, Blues Singer' " abandoned on a doorstep by my foster parents ' ' singin' on vocals.. with Mike 'no-fingers' McGinty on piano in a group called the beautiful people ' His song includes such fine classical lines as " cabbage- patch baby, I've got a great big hose for you.."
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