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FILM MUSIC RECORDINGS REVIEWS
June 1999 Film Music CD
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|John WILLIAMS Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace London Symphony Orchestra, London Voices, and The New London Children's Choir conducted by John Williams SONY CLASSICAL SK 61816 [74:13]||
You have to be dead, deaf, or a hermit not to know Williams' scores to the original Star Wars Trilogy, so I probably could get away with just mentioning that "The Phantom Menace" is a throwback to the days of technically solid, emotionally thrilling, thoroughly entertaining film music. On the album, it is less dramatic than "The Empire Strikes Back", but more original than "Star Wars" and as colorful as "Return of the Jedi".
Williams has created a score that matches the power of his original trilogy without restating anything more than a few tantalizing, foreshadowing melodies most of us know so well. The new themes fall well into the leitmotif style of the "Star Wars" series; they give something unpredictable to listen for...
But the score deserves more than a one-paragraph review.
Nostalgia reigns supreme as 'Star Wars Main Title and The Arrival at Naboo' opens the album. The "Star Wars" theme receives a majestic performance from the LSO before segueing "Jedi"-style to a series of fanfares for the Naboo that would make Franz Waxman and Miklos Rozsa proud. The exhilarating 'Duel of the Fates' comes next, its somewhat Orff influenced choral bombast combating a persistent motif not too dissimilar to those of Philip Glass, punctuated by false endings. This is an arrangement done specifically for a music video (part of it does, however, appear in the film's musical narrative as part of a climatic lightsaber fight [duh!] and its themes are recurring elements of the score). The choir sings in Sanskrit the words "most dread, inside the head," taken from a Celtic poem translated by Robert Graves. Also a concert arrangement of one of the score's primary motifs, 'Anakin's Theme' is the soundtrack's gem, a work of sheer genius. The theme initially follows in the effective mold of other innocent Williams melodies, but it becomes chromatically unsure, ending in a deliciously devious take on Darth Vader's theme. For those who so identify the tune with the evil Galactic Empire, this may be almost too much of a darkly psychological tease. The musical premonition of things to come is nothing short of masterful. 'Jar Jar's Introduction and The Swim to Otoh Gunga' introduces
Jar Jar Binks' comedic theme (incorporating what appears to be a playful nod
to 'March of the Toys' from "Babes in Toyland"!), as well as a short, inspired tribute to Saint-Saens' 'The Aquarium' from The Carnival of the Animals and some light music to accompany the trip to the Gungan city. Those looking for the 'Mr. DNA' cue from "Jurassic Park" may finally have a close cousin of it in this track.
'The Sith Spacecraft and The Droid Battle' is the soundtrack's first wholly cinematic action cue; the brass writing provides plenty of trills and thrills. You must hear it to believe it! 'The Trip to the Naboo Temple and The Audience with Boss Nass' is basic traveling music, though it does have some succulent digressions. 'The Arrival at Tatooine and The Flag Parade' is not much at first (Jar Jar's theme again), but following a nebulously dramatic interlude the splendor in the track presents itself as an unmistakable homage to 'Parade of the Charioteers' from "Ben-Hur". Williams deftly works his fanfares for all the epic worth he can muster - a spectacular, surefire showstopper! As for 'He Is the Chosen One,' this spaciously misterioso track (complete with Force theme) fleshes-out the maturity of Williams' approach. It has a sweet theme hidden within.
'Anakin Defeats Sebulba' starts with an eerie quality, gives a candid rendition of the Force theme, and barks an ace arrangement of the aforementioned "Ben-Hur" fanfare (with a trace of Jabba the Hutt's theme) before moving into action of pure "Star Wars" proportions, closing with a triumphal statement of Anakin's theme. A wordless choir, high serial tones, and low rumbles typify 'Passage Through the Planet Core, a track full of underwater mystery and awe. A gorgeous French horn melody, hinting at the
"Star Wars" theme, leads to more dangerous music representing unknown watery depths. 'Watto's Deal and Kids at Play' perfectly captures the mischievousness of a disagreeable junk dealer as well as the loftiness of childhood. Two minutes in, it metamorphosizes into a heartbreaking symphonic meditation, a full statement of the Force theme conveying wonder before the childish games return. The splashiest track on the album, 'Panaka and the Queen's Protectors', gives us ersatz-Korngold (and the "Star Wars" theme). A great, if brief, declaration of the 'Duel of the Fates' motif, and the occasional slip into real "Indiana Jones" territory, propels the track alongside a frolicsome tune.
In 'Queen Amidala and The Naboo Palace' there is a sense of anguish and broad militarism, saved by the entrance of Anakin's theme and the grandiose Naboo fanfares. 'The Droid Invasion and The Appearance of Darth Maul' is a pulsing cue reminiscent of 'Belly of the Steel Beast' from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" until moments before Palpatine's theme from "Return of the Jedi" makes a chilling arrival. Williams uses two dramatic devices that ensure this is a highlight track; the first is an ethnic instrument that produces a very creepy moan, the second is the female chorus sounding more cryptic tones. 'Qui-Gon's Noble End' is another charging, percussive track. As it slows, the strings play a sustained cord as voices whisper a threatening chant; it then explodes into a tormented finale. 'The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral' is yet another album highlight, featuring both Yoda's and Darth Vader's themes amid formal writing highly representative of the style Williams opted for in "Saving Private Ryan". The London Voices then sing a stately dirge (more Sanskrit) as the Force theme bids a princely farewell and harp glissandos fade into the distance.
The album rounds out with a controversial oddity. 'Augie's Municipal Band and End Credits' opens with spirited source music from a Gungan band. Gloria Estefan reportedly served as a reference for this salsa-flavored cue, seasoned with bizarre electronics remindful of Danny Elfman's earlier film work, adolescent fanfares, and an upbeat variation on Palpatine's theme performed by The New London's Children Choir. Whenever the kids interject laughter the piece goes from bizarre to just plain silly, but the return of the familiar end credits hubbub is joyfully nostalgic. An interesting coda for the fanfare leads to 'Duel of the Fates' and 'Anakin's Theme,' quoted verbatim from the concert arrangements.
Recording engineer Shawn Murphy deserves kudos for continuing the rich, faultless sound of "Star Wars" established by Eric Tomlinson so many years before. The remainder of the production, however... The packaging is generously generic (excepting a pretty picture disc), the maudlin liner notes by George Lucas & John Williams may induce sporadic giggling, and the fact that little over 50% of the score is on the album is like seeing half the Mona Lisa. You admire the elegance, you cheer it up & down, yet you know there is an equally brilliant use of canvas you cannot see. Thus the disc feels incomplete and frustrating. The hodgepodge of tracks, which includes the aforementioned inexplicable double inclusion of 'Duel of the Fates' and 'Anakin's Theme,' undermines the impact further. This music deserves more than this horrendous Shake & Bake treatment. Presumably it is for a 'preferred listening experience,' but 'preferred listening experience' is a euphemism for 'degraded for the sake of the lowest common denominator.' Why not release the whole score, perhaps with a note by Williams listing his own recommended programming order, giving the listener the chance to judge for himself what he wants to listen to? The Force ought to be with the Jedi who have the credits, not the greedy Trade Federation.
It is fantastic music that counts, however. The musicianship of Williams as composer and conductor shines brightly, and the London Symphony Orchestra and choirs follow. For good music and performance, you cannot go wrong with this album.
Ian Lace briefly adds:-
Jeffrey Wheeler sums it up nicely when he describes this score as "less dramatic than "The Empire Strikes Back", but more original than "Star Wars" and as colorful as "Return of the Jedi".
I will act as devil's advocate for a moment and utter, what I believe, will be many people's initial reaction. Unlike the music for the original Star Wars trilogy, this new score does not have a big theme that touches the heart and the spirit. Instead, this is music that has a more subtle, understated appeal and its riches are revealed with repeated hearings.
The big stand-out cue is 'Duel of the Fates' which, though exciting enough, appeals more to the intellect than to the heart. As Jeffrey says it is somewhat Orff influenced with a nod towards Philip Glass but I also thought I detected the influence of the Nordic composers (Sibelius's Night Ride and Sunrise for instance); and one is also reminded of the headlong excitement of Borodin's Polovtsian Dances. Like Jeffrey, I was also moved by the beautiful 'Anakin's Theme', understated and compassionate. This is glorious contrapuntal string writing in the English tradition. 'He is the Chosen One' struck me as being quite Elgarian; it has that composer's brand of mysticism and 'nobilmente' fervour. I was impressed, too, with Williams's richly inventive impressionistic music for the 'Passage Through the Planet Core' cue and the affecting final cue before the end credits, 'The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral'.
Elsewhere we have tremendously thrilling chase and combat music and Williams, as ever, excels in his character sketches portraying the personality and gaits of the exotic creatures of Lukas's fertile imagination.
What a pity we have to endure the crass Augie's Great Municipal Band - almost as tacky as the booklet notes.
|Jerry GOLDSMITH The Mummy OST DECCA CD 466 458-2 [57:42]||
Jerry Goldsmith's music for this season's other big adventure blockbuster, boasting mind-boggling special effects, is fittingly garishly colourful and larger-than-life.
Right from the start, the slow quiet atmospheric opening evokes the parched Egyptian desert. The dust, sand, heat and the glare of the desert; plus the mystery and menace of the screenplay are powerfully conveyed with slow, heavy percussive treads, wordless choruses, oriental woodwind figures and high sustained screeching strings etc. So many influences parade by. All of them plus, of course, much more that is pure Goldsmith magic, are ingredients in a potent recipe for an emphatic and powerful score. One may recognise fragments, figures, phrases and allusions to scores by Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia); Williams (Raiders of the Lost Ark); and Yared (The English Patient). Then there is the North African tinged music by Holst (Beni Mora) and Albert Ketèlbey etc. Even Respighi's style is recognised together with many other threads spun in countless previous movies with the same setting and similar story lines.
The Mummy score may lack a really memorable theme, but Goldsmith's intriguing and richly textured harmonies plus his ever-resourceful and colourful orchestrations (particularly his intriguing and vastly varied battery of percussion instruments) more than compensate. 'Taureg Attack' plunges you in the path of a furiously charging band of camel-mounted, flowing black-robed marauders; 'Giza Port' evokes the sensuous and mysterious; and colourful trading along the quays; 'The Caravan' with its wordless choruses, hand drums, tambourines and small cymbals suggests dancing and other romances on the journey. Ancient rituals and regal ceremonies seem to inform 'The Sarcophagus' and 'Crowd Control'. Both tracks sound magnificent yet sinister too - a palpable sense of evil pervades them (the film has not arrived in the UK yet so I am making my assumptions based on the trailer and the notes supplied by Decca). Goldsmith uses what sounds like a block suggesting ancient bones for a recurring suggestion of the mummy plus, of course, slow, heavy percussive treads. The orchestra responds magnificently to this exciting music which contrasts fast moving chase-like material with slower darker music such as the choking, musty, malignant figures for 'The Crypt' - an extraordinarily vivid evocation with its creepy, sour brass figures. The textures and detail are all perfectly caught by a first class unnamed orchestra and we can marvel at Goldsmith's skill in creating music of wide dynamics and perspectives. You sit cringing wondering where the next menace will materialise. His sense of spatial relationships is dramatically acute. At one point conflicting sets of brass choirs and high sustained strings pass above and below, and by each other; at another point, a ppp brass figure hides and whispers furtively behind a forward string pattern before it grows in strength to overwhelm the sound stage. It is telling pieces of colour like this that arrest the ear continually throughout this score.
Like the film, this music is highly enjoyable hokum.
EDITORS CHOICE CD of the Month June 1999
|Collection: The Lion's Roar: M-G-M Film Scores 1935-1965 Turner Classic Movies RHINO R2 75701 [157:16]||
(*previously unissued selection)
Mutiny on the Bounty* (1935) - Herbert Stothart The Good Earth* (1937) - Herbert Stothart The Women* (1939) - Edward Ward The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Harold Arlen and Herbert Stothart The Philadelphia Story (1940) - Franz Waxman Random Harvest* (1942) - Herbert Stothart The Clock* (1945) - George Bassman The Yearling* (1946) - Herbert Stothart (based on themes by Delius) Madam Bovary (1949) - Miklos Rozsa The Prisoner of Zenda* (1952) Alfred Newman Lili (1953) - Bronislau Kaper Ivanhoe (1952) - Miklos Rozsa Invitation (1952) - Bronislau Kaper The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) - David Raksin Bad Day at Black Rock* (1955) - André Previn I'll Cry Tomorrow* (1956) - Alex North Lust for Life (1956) - Miklos Rozsa Designing Woman (1957) - André Previn Raintree County (1957) - Johnny Green Some Came Running (1958) - Elmer Bernstein Ben-Hur (1959) - Miklos Rozsa North By Northwest (1959) - Bernard Herrmann Home from the Hill* (1960) - Bronislau Kaper The Subterraneans (1960) - André Previn Cimarron (1960) - Franz Waxman King of Kings (!961) - Miklos Rozsa Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) - David Raksin Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) - Bronislau Kaper Bachelor in Paradise* (1961) - Henry Mancini The Prize (1963) - Jerry Goldsmith How the West Was Won ((1962) - Alfred Newman The Americanisation of Emily (1964) - Johnny Mandel A Patch of Blue (1965) - Jerry Goldsmith The Cincinnati Kid (1965) - Lalo Schifrin Joy in the Morning* (1965) - Bernard Herrmann The Sandpiper (1965) - Johnny Mandel Doctor Zhivago (1965) - Maurice Jarre
An M-G-M musical anthology without excerpts from M-G-M musicals? Yes, and certainly not before time! Too often, we forget that many of the other M-G-M films had excellent musical scores. This wonderful, generous collection comprises 37 selections - making up nearly three hours of music. Most of them, including early scores from the 1930s, have been re-engineered in very convincing stereo. I have asterisked the considerable number of selections that have hitherto been unavailable including Bernard Herrmann's music for Joy in the Morning and David Raksin's Two Weeks in Another Town as well as many scores from the 1930s and 1940s.
Beginning in 1935 the Lion's Roar introduces Herbert Stothart's lusty score for the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (the one with Clark Gable and Charles Laughtan). The sound is very good revealing plenty of detail of this proud, rousing score for the famous 18th Century seafaring adventure. Stothart is revealed as another front-ranking, pioneering composer for the screen. This collection also includes his highly evocative and colourfully orchestrated music, complete with huge gong strokes etc, for The Good Earth, a film set in China; his well-loved, enchanting score for The Wizard of Oz; the sweeping romantic music for that famous war-time weepie Random Harvest and his sensitive arrangements of Delius's Music (from Appalachia) for The Yearling.
Edward Small is a name that is all but forgotten today. Included is his sweeping, full-blooded romantic score for The Women. The Main Title is a really grand peroration and the seven minute suite sounds terrific and crams in a multitude of styles - jazzy, witty, sensuous etc. George Bassman is another forgotten name. He is represented by his score for The Clock another wartime romance that starred Robert Walker and Judy Garland. Bassman's music is another unashamedly romantic wallow.
Franz Waxman contributed some important scores for the studio and helped to establish standards of excellence at M-G-M. Disc one includes his music for The Philadelphia Story; this original soundtrack recording is even more vibrant that the Charles Gerhardt reading on the Sunset Boulevard tribute to Waxman album in the celebrated RCA Classic Film Scores series. It also includes an additional piece of music the nocturne-like, sweetly romantic cue 'Tracy in Love'. On disc two, is Waxman's music for the western, Cimarron, specifically the cue 'The Land Rush'. Here Waxman is in his Taras Bulba, 'The Ride to Dubno' mode. He creates an exciting study in crescendo as the mass of settlers race over the plains to claim their land.
Miklos Rozsa's music, of course, lifted many M-G-M films. The waltz from Madam Bovary is a tour-de-force piece of narrative/descriptive writing. Like Ravel's La Valse, it is unsettling. It is sensual and dreamy like the heroine of the story but it is also bitter and ironical, pointing to the eventual disillusionment and downfall of Madam Bovary; the music working up to an almost hysterical and dizzy climax. Rozsa's thrilling music for Ivanhoe captures the atmosphere of medieval romance and chivalry. Lust for Life, Vincent Minnelli's remarkable portrait of the painter Vincent Van Gogh inspired Rozsa to compose a deeply-felt and passionately committed score full of fine, noble melodies. The unforgettable Main Title theme for Ben-Hur is included on disc two and so too is Rozsa's 'The Last Temptation' from King of Kings - the whiff of fire and brimstone is palpable as Christ confronts the temptations of the Devil.
Alfred Newman contributed an exciting Richard Strauss-like (in Don Juan mood) score for The Prisoner of Zenda and the rip-roaring, virile music for How the West Was Won
Bronislau Kaper was another favourite M-G-M composer. For the adorable Leslie Caron starring as Lili, he wrote an enchanting fragile score (remember - 'A Song of Love is a Sad Song '?) which contrasted starkly with the bombastic and lusty storm-tossed music for the 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty. Kaper's surging music lifted the 1960 production Home from the Hill. This powerful score is given an eight minute suite which includes not only the broad sweeping main romantic melody but also material that is malignant and eerie; Kaper gives full rein to the melodramatic elements of the screenplay and screws up the dramatic tension. His earlier score for Invitation combines the creepy with the sweetly sentimental. The haunting main theme lets all the tortured romantic stops out with sobbing strings and sighing woodwinds.
André Previn was an important member of the M-G-M music department and he contributed some potent scores. For the first time, we can enjoy his hard-edged uncompromising Main Title music for the equally powerful screenplay that was Bad Day at Black Rock; his fetching melody for Designing Woman showing off his talent in a lighter context; and his vibrant jazz-based score for The Subterraneans.
Alex North composed another jazz-based score for the gorgeous Susan Hayward brilliantly cast as the alcoholic singer Lillian Roth in I'll Cry Tomorrow . North's music contrasted the sleazy with softer more romantic material that had more complex shading than most in this genre.
Elmer Bernstein is represented by his abrasive jazz-based score for Some Came Running. His brutal, squalid music was ideal for this tale of disillusionment and tortured love. The pursuit music that accompanied the final chase of Shirley MacLaine by her estranged, psychotic lover is frightening indeed - full of sneering, braying brass figures and pounding rhythms.
David Raksin's lovely theme from The Bad and the Beautiful is included (Raksin's own reading of his haunting score included with Laura and Forever Amber in RCA's Classic Film Scores series is outstanding.) From the sequel picture, Two Weeks in Another Town we have Raksin's bittersweet 'Generique' and 'Via Veneto' themes.
Johnny Green played an important role in M-G-M 's music. His lush Entr'acte from Raintree County reminds one of John Williams's five alien notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind only here there are just four! Two scores from another Johnny - Johnny Mandel are also represented: the appealing smoochy music from The Americanisation of Emily; and the lovely 'The Shadow of Your Smile' theme from The Sandpiper. Another composer of light music, Henry Mancini wrote the music for the Bob Hope vehicle, Bachelor in Paradise in the inimitable Mancini style, relaxed and elegant. Lalo Schfrin wrote an exuberant, racy, jazz-based score for The Cincinnati Kid.
A young Jerry Goldsmith contributed a promising score for The Prize; fast-moving, hard hitting and tense. Also included is Jerry's homespun music for A Patch of Blue - a delectable, fragile score.
The great Bernard Herrman is represented by his well-known Main Title music
for North by Northwest and by his music for Joy in the Morning. Alas, it is really a retread of his score for Vertigo.
The album concludes with Maurice Jarre's End Title music from his exceedingly popular score for Doctor Zhivago.
The 48-page booklet that accompanies this 2 CD set is a sumptuous production. The notes give fascinating glimpses into M-G-M's music department and the work of the composers. All the film scores on the album are covered and there are many photographs, including film stills.
I can't wait for any succeeding album taking presenting music for M-G-M films from 1965 to the present day. No serious student of film music should ignore this important release. Heartily recommended.
|Max STEINER They Died With Their Boots On Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg MARCO POLO 8.225079 [70:07]||
Probably more than that of any other old Hollywood film composer, Max Steiner's music continues to divide opinion among film music fans and historians. No other composer from his era was as overworked or as revered. He is often credited for developing the art of scoring motion pictures into something more than source music being played in the background of a scene. His music to Gone With the Wind is arguably the best loved film score from that era and undoubtedly it epitomizes the old Hollywood sound for most people. Steiner has also taken some knocks from today's historians for his tendency to write music that mimics rather than enhances the action on screen. Whatever your opinion of his music might be, I suspect this new recording of his score to They Died With Their Boots On won't sway your opinion one way or the other.
As with all their recordings for Marco Polo, conductor Bill Stromberg and arranger John Morgan have done a superb job in reconstructing this huge score and coaxing a sympathetic performance out of their Moscow Orchestra. The recorded sound could be warmer and less strident but the overall production is first class. The liner notes are superb (another characteristic of this series) and short of having had a world-class symphony orchestra to work with, this is the best production this team could have expected to achieve. The devotion to this music is obvious from all involved but I can't help thinking that a more representative Steiner score could have been chosen for this recording.
The film was made in 1941 and is the story of George Armstrong Custer's (played by Errol Flynn) graduation from West Point, his romance and subsequent marriage to Libby (played by Olivia DeHaviland), his involvement in the American Civil War and finally his fated encounter with Crazy Horse at the Little Big Horn. The film is well regarded for Raoul Walch's direction and Flynn's charismatic performance as Custer. The liner notes also state that the film was one of the first to portray Native Americans in a more realistic and humane way.
What is uncanny about Steiner's music is how remarkably descriptive it is. It has been many years since I last saw this film but listening to this CD prompted many recollections of the film. All the Steiner trademarks are there including the rousing fanfares and marches, a charming polka, the gorgeous melody representing Custer's romance to Libby, the fierce music depicting Crazy Horse and the Sioux Tribe as well as some frantic battle music that weaves all the major motifs along with popular tunes ranging from the Battle Hymn of the Republic to Rule Britiannia! Morgan has stated several times how difficult Steiner's scores are to reconstuct due to the very intricate writing. Steiner was undoubtably a peerless technician but even after hearing this disc, I continue to have my doubts about how well his music stands away from the images that inspired it. For me, only a few of the cues seem to stand on their own as fully developed structures that can enjoyed for their own sake. The scores of Waxman, Rozsa, Herrmann and Korngold are filled with such excerpts and that is why, I believe, their scores have survived so well and have developed a following independent of the films that inspired them.
This is all very subjective and I will admit an irrational dislike for scores that quote a lot of unoriginal material or mimic the action on screen too closely - both trademarks of Steiner's western scores. Perhaps this is why I prefer his scores to the great romance pictures where his unrivalled lyrical gifts were put to such good use. Still, there is very much pleasure to be gained from this charming and energetic score and fans of film music are again indebted to Stromberg, Morgan and their impressive Marco Polo team.
Ian Lace adds a short footnote:-
I will confess that I greeted this album with less enthusiasm than other Marco Polo classic film score recordings. I had been wearied by the tedious repetitions of the Sioux Indian war-whoopings and the Garry Owen theme that dominated the 8 minute suite from this score in Charles Gerhardt's album, 'Captain Blood, Classic Film Scores for Errol Flynn', in the RCA Series (GD80912). To endure 70 minutes of this kind of tedium seemed daunting indeed! However I found much to enjoy in this new Marco Polo album including the lovely theme for Libby and the dramatic juxtapositioning of this theme with the military calls to battle in the cue 'The Final Goodbye'. Steiner was a master at musical character study - he could paint a detailed portrait in the space of a few bars - 'Meeting Father' is a vivid evocation of Libby's crusty cantankerous father. The battle music really thrills; this is very much due to the incredible virtuoso playing of the Indian war drums.
Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967) Goyana; Carmen Fantasie for Trumpet and Orchestra ; The Charm Bracelet; Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1; Introduction & Scherzo; Auld Lange Syne Variations; Sinfonietta; Tristan and Isolde Love Music Christina Ortiz (piano); Mark Kaplan (violin); Vincent Ellegiers (cello) Rodney Mack (trumpet). Lawrence Foster conducting Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona í Nacional de Catalunya. KOCH International 3-7444-2H1 [71:32]
Franz Waxman composed scores for 144 films, was nominated for twelve Academy Awards and won twice in 1950 (Sunset Boulevard) and 1951 (A Place in the Sun).
This is a collection of works for concert performance. Some were derived from Hollywood studio-style material.
Goyana: Four Sketches for Piano Solo, Percussion and String Orchestra (1960) is a collection of musical sketches - referred to by Waxman as "quick illustrations and impressions, rather than long pieces with elaborate development sections." As might be expected they are mostly, appropriately, Spanish in colour and rhythm, and highly evocative. The opening movement, 'La Marquesa de Santa Cruz' represents the subject of Goya's painting posing as Erato, the muse of the love song. Waxman's music is sensuous, delicate and fragrant with a brief passionate outburst. 'Country Dance', is Waxman's response to the painting, reproduced on the cover of the CD booklet, of couples dancing under a tree to the accompaniment of village musicians. Waxman gives them a merry yet elegant dance punctuated by castanets.
The third picture 'The Miracle of St Anthony' is a mural depicting St Anthony bringing a dead man back to life and thereby clearing an innocent man of a murder charge. Heavy bells and low anchoring piano percussive chords open this dramatic episode with music that recalls Respighi and the ancient Gregorian Church modes. The concluding movement inspired by Goya's 'The Witches Sabbath' that shows a group of witches seated around a giant demon-goat, prompted Waxman to use Scarlatti's "Cat Fugue" as a basis for this Tarantella-like composition. It is a sly tongue-in-cheek horror comic - great fun. Christina Ortiz clearly relishes these diverse vignettes and plays with panache and conviction.
The Charm Bracelet (1949) was, originally, a composition for solo piano. When he realised that this version was too difficult for non-professionals, he started to orchestrate these charming little children's pieces for chamber orchestra. They were intended to be played by young people. (Waxman's arrangement was completed by Arnold Freed in 1990.) In 'The Little Shoes' we can imagine a little girl skipping, and dancing. 'Four Leaf Clover' is classical ballet music. 'The Little Soldier' seems to be striding up and down brandishing his wooden sword and wearing a paper helmet. 'The Golden Heart' is a sentimental little salon-style piece. 'The Pony' trots proudly and merrily with some imaginative rhythmic writing for the percussion.
Sinfonietta for String Orchestra and Timpani (1955) is more dark-hued and reminiscent of Waxman's film noire scores although no programmatic intent has been revealed. The opening Allegro movement is intense with powerful contrapuntal writing for the strings. The Lento second movement is a dirge-like song with violas and celli mourning alone without violins and basses. The astringent, edgy Scherzo is spiky and sinister.
The Tristan and Isolde Love Music for Violin and Piano (1945) based on the Love Duet in Act II of the Wagner opera comes from the period when Waxman was working on the Warner Bros. film Humoresque. Waxman invited Heifetz to play on the soundtrack and the virtuoso played this work many times but never recorded it. This is its premiere recording. Ortiz and Kaplan are sweetly passionate.
At the time of Waxman's death at age 60 on February 24th 1967, he was working on a Cello Concerto for Pierre Fournier. The Introduction and Scherzo for Cello and Orchestra was orchestrated and it is included here in an adaptation from Waxman's score by Patrick Russ. It is a bittersweet taste of what might have been accomplished. Its hot-house, eerily dramatic opening grips the attention at once with the cello moodily ruminating over darkly sinister material before the music develops into a highly colourful march with the cello pompously marching off to war
Auld Lang Syne Variations for String Orchestra, Violin and Piano (1947) is a cheeky parody of various musical styles. 'Eine Kleine Nichtmusik' has typical Mozartean decorations, 'Moonlight Concerto' has the theme mimicking Beethoven, Bach is lampooned in 'Chaconne à Son Gout'; and in a wickedly witty 'Hommage to Shostakofiev' the styles of Shostakovich and Prokofiev's are exploded.
Roumanian Rhapsody No.1 in A Major for Violin and Orchestra (1947) is a brief two-and -a half-minute opportunity for Kaplan to show off his virtuosity again. This was intended to be used for Humoresque but the scene was cut from the film. The music is, of course, based on Enescu's music.
Waxman's famous Carmen Fantasie for Violin and Orchestra based on themes from Bizet's opera is played here in a transcription for trumpet and orchestra. Rodney Mack displays much virtuosity and in the more macho episodes his trumpet does sound effective. A trumpet, however, is hardly a romantic instrument and so, personally, I can only regard this concept as an incongruous miscalculation.
The solo artists and the Barcelona orchestra are all consistently splendid.
An album that should be in every Waxman enthusiast's collection.
|Collection: THE TOWERING INFERNO - and other disaster classics. Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Joel MvNeely and John Debney; plus OSTs VARÈSE SARABANDE VSD-5807 [69:37]||
John Williams: The Towering Inferno; Earthquake; The Poseidon Adventure
Jerry Goldsmith: The Swarm
James Horner: Titanic
Alan Silvestri: Volcano
James Newton Howard: Outbreak
John Frizzell (theme James Newton Howard): Dante's Peak
David Arnold: Independence Day
Mark Mancina: Twister
Quoting Robert Townson's headline to his enjoyable booklet notes, 'Earthquakes and Fires and Floods, Oh My!' - and Oh My! how splendid are the majority of the tracks on this album. Needless to say, the work of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri are the highlights. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra shine brilliantly under the batons of both McNeely and Debney.
The opening twenty-minute or so collection of excerpts from John Williams Towering Inferno score have tremendous impact. The five-minute 'Main Titles' are tremendously exciting and exhilarating - a real sense of occasion is communicated as VIP guests foregather to celebrate the opening of the huge new San Francisco tower block. But it is the wonderful 'Planting the Charges' sequence that really impresses. This is an object lesson in building up tension over a significant time span using imaginative and immensely varied specks of orchestral colour, complex harmonies and beautifully balanced dynamics in wide perspectives.
John Williams is also represented by his thrilling and urgent Main Title music for Earthquake and his magnificent Main Title music for The Poseidon Adventure (a personal favourite of mine). How evocatively Williams pictures the proud ocean liner coursing over the sea - you can see the movement of the waves and sense the ocean's dark depths.
Urgency and growing danger is implicit in Jerry Goldsmith's fast-moving and astringent music for The Swarm. Small but multitudinous menaces (this time viruses) are also represented in James Newton Howard's 'They're Coming' music from Outbreak. His music is quietly reflective and brooding as well as being compellingly forward-driven. Newton Howard knows very well how to build-up suspense.
Newton Howard helped promising newcomer, John Frizzell in creating the music for Dante's Peak. The Main Title embraces the story's human dilemma and heroism as well as evoking the sizzling heat and violence of the eruption. Volcano the other movie had another blistering score from Alan Silvestri with braying brass, percussive piano and hammering timpani ostinati all combining to represent the unstoppable red hot 'March of the Lava'.
Mark Mancina's score for Twister places us squarely in its location: the vast flat-lands of the mid-west. Rodeos and country and western celebrations are suggested and a sense of pride in this homeland is communicated before we are aware of the threat from hostile elements. David Arnold's heroic music carries the intrepid flyers in their assault on the alien space crafts in 'The Day We Fight Back' from Independence Day
John Debney sensibly opted for an arrangement of James Horner's Titanic by now over-exposed score in the 14 minute suite that closes the programme. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra respond splendidly but the unimaginative use of the (wordless) choir - they have some really grotesque and jerky lines - mars this final track forcing me to award the album just ****
|Collection: John WILLIAMS - CLOSE ENCOUNTERS - The Essential John Williams Film Music The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; Crouch End Festival Chorus conducted by Paul Bateman and Nic Raine. SILVA SCREEN 2CD FILMXCD 314 [150:32]||
Excerpts from: Excerpts from: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Saving Private Ryan; Hook; The Cowboys; Born on the Fourth of July; Family Plot; JFK; Empire of the Sun; The Rare Breed; The Towering Inferno; Amistad; Superman; The River; Black Sunday; Jaws; Star Wars; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Presumed Innocent; and Schindler's List.
When looking over my notes after giving Close Encounters: The Essential John Williams Collection a first listen, I realized 'capable' was the word I repeatedly leaned on to describe the vast majority of the orchestra's performances. There are dozens of brass blunders, sometimes the woodwinds and percussion are a tad stale, the strings seem unable to inject an urgency when needed. One can find several better performances scattered elsewhere, yet for this album, and to add my say to a tired critic's cliché, I will argue the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Much has to do with the music itself, which is diverse, incredibly memorable, and accessible without ever pandering to a pop mentality. When industry professionals refer to John Williams as the Dean of Film Music, it is easy to see why. It is this blend of familiarity, innovation, and sheer emotional pull that defines John Williams as my favorite contemporary filmcomposer. I say this not to expose a personal bias (surely I am as objective as can be!), but to qualify my fondness for the music represented, and underrepresented, here. To have so much of his fine music in one set could be reason enough for one to praise Silva Screen's effort.
The discs depend heavily on previously released material, so there is little present to interest those who already have a sizable Williams collection. Some tracks are simply duplicates from past Silva Screen releases, and these generally suffer the weakest performances. However, tracks such as the end credits from "Born on the Fourth of July" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and the 'Main Theme' to "The Towering Inferno" receive performances that are about as choice as the originals. One of John Williams' most requested unpublished scores, "The Rare Breed," is a primary cause to purchase this album -- at nearly 20 minutes of previously unreleased, superb-rate filmusic, this is a genuine highlight. A few rarities liven the mix.
I do hear some specific problems. The disc suffers from the same predicament as the Goldsmith and Herrmann 'Essential' discs: the composer's quality output is far too large to limit to two discs. The City of Prague Philharmonic desperately needs a less lethargic and wheezy principal French horn, or someone to tell him to remove the carpet tacks from under his tongue. One may question the ideology behind having the Crouch End Festival Chorus perform 'Dry Your Tears, Afrika' from "Amistad," what is essentially an African anthem. The "Rare Breed" suite omits the delightful 'Main Title' -- with the obvious effort put into the suite, it is disappointing to see the cheery march cut...
Nonetheless, Close Encounters: The Essential John Williams Collection is the best John Williams compilation readily available today. It has my recommendation.
and another view from Rob Barnett
First and foremost this is an enjoyable and generous selection of life-enhancing music from Hollywood's most successful classic film music composer. The scores are melodious, memorable and often an ikon for their times. I cannot comment on the technical aspects of the orchestra's playing (and I have seen Ian's review of the same set) but I can speak about my response to the music and the pleasure these discs deliver. I will not tackle all the tracks but concentrate on the ones that made most impact.
Indiana Jones And the Temple Of Doom is given a beefy muscular performance with a nice sense of derring-do. The choral/orchestral 'Hymn' from Saving Pvt Ryan is classic stuff and emotionally done by the Praguers. The church hymn which I associate with the words 'The Head That Once Was Crowned With Thorns' is almost quoted directly and I cannot believe that this is just coincidence. The brass choir is dignified and the paean of the strings adds a dimension of delirious sadness to the proceedings. His piece and the film will always have very personal associations (long night drives from Cheshire to Ullapool, seeing the intensely moving film by myself one cold and black November afternoon at the UCI Westbrook Centre in Warrington, Ian Lace's kindness in introducing me to the piece) for me. This eloquent performance brings it all flooding back.
Hook is represented by the big theme (a track previously included on Silva's Swashbuckler's album) with its hushed urgency and intoxicating enchantment and by When You're Alone. The Cowboys I found too pobvious as music though the performance seems engaiging. In the Far West vein the freshly recorded suite for The Rare Breed seems more interesting - subtle even.
Towering Inferno is has a 1970s frenetic drive, Coplandian outdoor spirit and some of Leonard Bernstein's exuberance. Parts of this reminded me of the Dynasty theme. Amistad seems to emerge from the world of Portuguese Renaissance music and (if you remember it) the Missa Luba. The choir sound good. There are - no-stylistic clashes over the accent. The Superman theme is succulent and in quality and memorable impact is up there with John Barry's King Kong love theme. If Walton and Korngold haunt its pages that is no bad thing. They are benevolent ghosts.
I did not warm to The River though it has a compelling liquid slow-moving warmth and a trumpet solo of proto-bluesian somnolence. Black Sunday opens with a big-band Regerian fugue though perhaps fleeter of foot than the often ponderous Max. It is grandiose, grunting, crashing (startling clarity from the brass), Rite-influenced, very dense. The scherzo comprises some serious modernistic music. It is touched with the alert complexities of Alex North. The finale is a string anthem with plush Baxian and Sibelian overtones. This suite is the only track conducted by William Motzing. Speaking of which, I wish that Silva would make it easier for us to tell who conducts what for each track by perhaps entering this key detail against the annotation for the film in the booklet. Jaws clatters, moans amidst the rosiny vibrations of the double basses. The performance is alert as a whipcrack and points up its relationship with Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring.
The Star Wars suite opens with an unsubtle celebratory march over which a Korngoldian smile beams. The strings seem perhaps a bit thinner than on the other tracks. Holstian rumblings of Saturn and Mars resonates at end of the march. Superb stereophonic antiphony at the close - oh, those horns! Han Solo And The Princess misfires a little with a more liquid than ideal solo french horn. Here I could have wished the horn was less warbly (less slavonic) and more secure and 'clean' in tone. The black-hearted march that follows is a blacksheep cousin of John Ireland's Epic March (film music enthusiasts should hear this either on the Boult Lyrita LP or the Chandos CD). Here the horns sound more impressive despite a few dangerous moments.
The deep brass are well recorded in CETTK - characterful and tubby. I was not entirely convinced by the synthesiser which seemed lightweight by my recollections of the film. The Straussian (Richard) high meadows of the main title are well caught and the voices bring us to a Delian 'High Hills' ecstasy.
Presumed Innocent is somewhat gooey with Richard Clayderman solo piano but most un-Clayderman contributions from the strings. We should also note the string anthems of Born On the Fourth Of July and the French 1960s feel of the score with its rather strange synthesised piano. The Schindler's List music makes for a tender, boundlessly sad, lullaby - love story. The disc ends in the rather overlong and brash music from Indiana Jones And Last Crusade. It has its moments but is not out of the Williams top-drawer.
Silva have again chosen well in using a single width CD case for two discs. Good notes - these (and all Silva's other notes) should be published with Silva's other notes or even added to the Silva website for easy reference. As mentioned above it would have been nice if in the booklet each track would have been list identifying the involvement of Raine or Bateman. You can find this information in small print inside the back cover but they make you work hard. It would be better if this was done on a basis more explicit and user friendly.
A yea-saying and feel-good collection which I recommend.
And Ian Lace adds a sting in the tail:-
This review of Silva's John Williams collection sits nicely between the two new albums from Varèse Sarabande. For me, it is inferior to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's collection; but vastly superior to V.S.'s Superman collection.
I urge Silva Screen to follow the practice of the majority of recording companies by stating on its packaging when selections are reissued. A significant number of them, on this 2CD set, had previously appeared on earlier Silva albums. This is where the difficulty rises. The Prague Philharmonic has gradually been improving the quality of its playing over the last few years until they are now beginning to become quite proficient in the world of film music. But some of the selections on these discs - recordings which are now several years old - show many earlier weaknesses in respect of tempi and suspect intonation and ensemble. Superman's love music, for instance, sounds rather turgid. To expand the metaphor I used in the Superman collection review below it hardly floats or flies, and surely Superman and his Lois would have crashed into the same skyscraper but a few stories further up?
John Williams is the master interpreter of his own music. Readings from other conductors face extreme challenges and many fail conspicuously. It therefore begs the question why bother to issue such a collection anyway when 80% of this material is available conducted by the Maestro himself? One could argue that a collection of this kind is a valuable introduction to the composer's music for people new to film music but again I must question the term 'Essential' in the title of this album. From this assertion, I infer it is a representative collection. Nowhere, however, do we have any music for the smaller scale romances - for the more intimatedomestic dramas such as The Accidental Tourist and Stanley and Iris - both wonderful scores and both conspicuously missing.
Of course, on the positive side, this collection does include some material which would be impossible or downright difficult to obtain elsewhere such as music from The River, Black Sunday Family Plot, The Cowboys and The Rare Breed.
'Sorry Silva, but you can't win them all.
Jeffrey Wheeler adds a further comment
'I agree with Ian on all his points, but I postulate that anyone who knows and enjoys Silva Screen's past compilation work is aware of the propensity for flaws, so they come as absolutely no surprise. Those who are unaware probably have little interest in the technicalities anyway. And emphasizing the strengths of this set (which, in my mind, outweigh the weaknesses) is the only critical avenue available considering that no matter how Silva Screen produced the album they would still need The Essential John Williams Collection Vol. 2, 3, 4, and 5 to start scratching the surface. It is less a matter of what it could have been or what it intends to be than it is a matter of what it simply is. (If that makes any discernible sense.)
Side Note: Most of the orchestrations on the album are John Williams' only, a point of some confusion that apparently led to some credit errors. This is ridiculous, with items like Herbert Spencer orchestrating "Amistad" seven years after his death, for example.'
RIGHT TO REPLY
While not necessarily agreeing with all the views I feel that some fair points are made in the basic review, although calling the Orchestra in the footnote, "quite proficient" I feel is rather harsh! I certainly do agree that over the years the orchestra have been getting much better, having now been able to select the players I want, and that some of the older recordings are not up to the superb standard shown in THE RARE BREED, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and AMISTAD.
On a factual note, I did not include the "Main Title" of THE RARE BREED in the "symphonic suite", as this is really a piece of "source music" composed by Williams for a small marching band which just did not sit easily with the rest of the material.
James Fitzpatrick, SILVA SCREEN
OK - I relent and will say that the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are much better now Ian Lace
|Collection: - SUPERMAN - the Ultimate Collection. Themes from: Superman: The TV Series; Superman - The Movie; Superman II and III; Superman: The Cartoon; It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman (The Broadway Musical) VARESE SARABANDE VSD-5998 [55:23]||
The booklet proclaims that these are 'all new digital recordings not from the original recordings.' Then we read - orchestrations (by Donald Johnson) - so immediately my critical senses are stimulated. Before we leave the booklet there are informative notes (probably the best thing about this whole production) by Jon Burlingame who writes about film music for the Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety. There is no indication of the name of the orchestra (presumably a contract ensemble - maybe some of the players may have wanted to remain anonymous after encountering some of this material?) and there are no track timings given.
First the good news - well the fairly good news. This comprehensive survey of the caped crusader's exploits through the media, includes music from Superman: the Columbia serial; from Superman: the TV series; from the musical , It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman! and from Superman: The Max Fleischer Cartoon. I cannot vouchsafe for the accuracy of all this music but it all sounds very energetic and enthusiastic. The Phantasmagoria on themes from the musical is quite the best thing on this album together with Ken Thorne's bossa-nova-type material that is 'Honeymoon Hotel' from Superman II.
The bad news? The insensitive and at times embarrassingly bad arrangements of John Williams's brilliant original Superman music. 'The Trip to Earth' and 'Leaving Home' from Superman are particularly inept and the love themes are drained of charm and this sort of 'Flying' would surely have sent Superman and his Lois colliding with even the shortest skyscraper. Similarly, Jerry Goldsmith's Supergirl arrangement is clumsy and graceless. The only track that I think vaguely benefited from such interference was the craziness of 'The March of the Villains' from Superman.
If you must have this album, then I suggest that you program out the John Williams arrangements. Definitely a case of the curate's egg - good (or fairly good) in parts. 'Sorry Varèse but you can't win them all!
|Sir William WALTON Spitfire Prelude and Fugue (The First of the Few) etc Peter Donohoe (piano) English Northern Orchestra conducted by Paul Daniel NAXOS 8.553869 [52:52]||
This new recording follows quickly upon the heels of the Naxos recording of Walton's Hamlet and As You Like It scores that was reviewed on this site in April. This is a splendid and thrilling account of the 'Spitfire Prelude and Fugue' which was used in the film The First of the Few. Daniel's reading has plenty of attack and he adopts a faster tempo than most competing conductors. The sound is up to the best from Naxos.
It has to be admitted that film music makes up only a fraction of this enterprisingdisc but lovers of Walton's music will be rewarded by first class renditions of the Sinfonia Concertante with its powerful, astringent figures and its syncopations and the colourful Hindemith Variations. Adventurous students of film music may also be seduced into wanting to discover more Walton.
Note: A fuller review of this release will appear on Classical Music on the Web later this month
|Sir William WALTON and Ron GOODWIN Battle of Britain OST Enhanced CD-ROM RYKO RCD 10747||
Generous thanks to all involved in this Ryko project. Especially worthy of recognition is Eric Tomlinson whose forethought, as the engineer for the Walton recording sessions meant that backup copies of the original (and now lost) studio master tapes were available. They were not however in pristine condition and the booklet makes some defensive comments about technical quality. In fact the sound is fulsome and although nowhere near as rich as the best studio digital is more than adequate. Oddly enough it sounds more handsome and with a deeper 'pile' than the accompanying Ryko release of A Bridge Too Far!
On this disc (running just short of an hour) are preserved the OSTs of the score used in the film and of the one written for it but tragically discarded by the producers. Goodwin's score was used. Walton's was not. The stellar cast-list included Laurence Olivier. Olivier had worked with Walton in Henry V and Richard III. Olivier suggested Walton and the studio were happy to go with the flow. An already self-critical Walton was becoming, in the 1960s, even more demanding of his writing. He worked painstakingly and, so far as the studios were concerned, slowly. What he produced was circa 20 minutes of music. According to the booklet the Walton score was rejected because it was too short for a soundtrack album. This seems suspect to me. The LP could, after all, have been fleshed out with Prelude and Spitfire Fugue, the concert work carved from the very much earlier First of the Few score.
One part of the score was retained in the film. This is Battle in the Air, a five minute helter skelter scherzo. This vividly depicts (over no sound-effects) the tumult of the skies as warring planes criss-cross the British heavens in victory and defeat, flames, explosions, agonising and instant death and very little vainglory - although Walton can do vainglory better than most when he wants to. The fact that Battle in the Air survives in the film soundtrack is down to Olivier. He was horrified to hear that the score was to be dropped and threatened to have his name taken off the opening credits unless at least some of the score was used. The studio relented but only for this segment.
The orchestral contribution for both scores is spot-on and you have the bonus of sound as used in the original ST. So much of the atmosphere can be drawn from the very specific studio sound world. Here you do not need to imagine. It is instantly on tap.
While we are on the subject of the orchestra, does anyone know which orchestras were used for these recordings? The Goodwin one is conducted by himself while the Walton is conducted by his friend Malcolm Arnold. Given the Arnoldian hallmarks on the Walton score we can be very confident that Arnold, ever the practical musician, discreetly supportive and self-effacingly professional in his assistant work for his distinguished friend, wrote more than a few bars of the score. As conductor he must have been the ideal choice with Walton (miles away in Ischia) knowing that Arnold would be his very best advocate in the sessions. Arnold's standing as the leading British film music composer also helped greatly although by 1969 he had largely withdrawn from the film music scene and, settled in Cornwall, was facing his own tragically debilitating personal problems.
The notes are very Walton-centred. This is a pity as Goodwin's score is never less than bull's-eye apt for the film. The music, as ever, gives a large jolt of character to a film. Goodwin's music is much more upfront and degree or two less subtle than Walton's but it is extraordinarily imposing. Goodwin had of course already established his strong air-war credentials with the score for 633 Squadron (a George Chakiris vehicle) - a slice of film hokum if ever there was one.
There are 19 Goodwin tracks - well 18 actually as Battle in the Air is included followed by nine Walton tracks.
GOODWIN: The pronounced Battle of Britain theme is punched out with prize-fighter pugnacity. The theme his endurance and will have many variants wrung from it by the end of the score. The air-valour RAF (and Allies!) theme is contrasted with the Aces High march: full of hot air and glitter. The chests-out bombastic glitter of the typically Teutonic march rises on hot air and the stentorian brass choir is helped along by the jingling of the stahlspiel. Attack  marks the return of the theme but this is by no means the last we hear of it. It returns in sombre reflective half-lights for Absent Friends  and in shards of its previous splendour during the closing track when it is swept away by the snorting confident heroics of the main theme before even that melts away into resplendently striving strings and the all-conquering sun.
The Lull Before Storm has distantly rolling thunder and otherwise a placidly Waltonian atmosphere (viz Henry V's running flutes and birdsong in the introduction to the film). Work and Play warmly adumbrates Berlin's glamorous warm nights, evening dresses like sprayed on silver, neon lights and café restaurants, uniforms everywhere, victory and not a worry in the air. The street scene (again evoked in Threat) has a touch of Lili Marlene about it. A suggestion of Smetana's liquid sliding theme from Vltava is also there. Civilian Tragedy also recalls the same Czech work with the massed violins coursing up and down scales in flowing tragedy.
Defeat is an evocation of falling and diving stricken fighters and bombers. Offensive Build-up's stertorous little figures cross-hatch each other building tension through great string landslides and slammed fragments of the Battle Of Britain main theme
Death and Destruction's uneasily bubbling theme has dark and deep current continued into the atmosphere of Briefing. Prelude To Battle is all blazing blue skies, dazzling sun, white cliffs, verdant green countryside and the return of the confident Battle march. There are even some hints of RVW's style. Victory Assured is odiously pompous with Aces High returning. The role played by Aces High is comparable with that taken by a similar tune (sung in that case as well as treated orchestrally) in Frankel's still largely unrecognised Battle of Bulge score (a score that will be released by CPO in 2000).
WALTON (9 tracks). The March Introduction and Battle Of Britain march has horns shouting and trumpets piercing the heavens. The march is a cousin to Walton's 1953 Orb and Sceptre Coronation march. Young Siegfrieds (the blonde übermensch) of the Luftwaffe are depicted through Weberian woodland horns and bruisingly squat brass chords then surprisingly contrasted with a Gallic lightheartedness. Silverpoints are touched in by the harp and a disconcerting jollity enters the scene with hints of the 1st symphony. Luftwaffe Victory has a suitably pompous little tune and imports mosaic shards from Young Siegfrieds. Did Walton intend to suggest the tune Boys And Girls Come Out To Play in this track or is that just coincidence?
The Few Fight Back and Dogfight are archetypically rushing, scurrying helter-skelters on which zest Walton had been able to draw ever since the overture Portsmouth Point. The mortal combat of hide and seek in the clouds is conveyed through Cat and Mouse which again recalls the first symphony and the Henry V music. Gay Berlin is humorously suggested through a polka-hoedown! Here Goodwin is much more successful.
Scramble / Battle In The Air is a hectic scramble with recollections of Dogfight and the First Of The Few. The atmosphere quickly becomes deathly grim and this is aided by straight into the grim as death aided by Sibelian (En Saga) underworld gurglings. Tubby-toned rasping horns burred with excitement catterwaul and the trumpets shriek. There are many indications of Malcolm Arnold's composing hand on these pages. Try 2.08-2.30 with its skirls and whistles. This coexists in happy alliance with some strong and lean Walton.
The finale and Battle Of Britain march seems to combine tension, sturdy energy and a bubbling brighteyed zeal with Coronation march splendour. All is resolved in the spreading span of the glory-filled skies.
I would not want to be without either score.
The disc is an enhanced CD-ROM. Played on most modern suitably kitted-out PCs you will be able to access the sound and video of the theatrical trailer for the film.
Criticisms? The timings of the individual tracks are not listed. No total time is given anywhere on the packaging. There is no need for this coyness and it may provoke some to wonder why such details (found on most other film score albums) are omitted. That is about it.
Also Ryko, after criticising you over the last 12 months for your unsuitable and fragile mini-poster folded leaflets, can I now praise you for producing the notes in well designed and completely legible booklet form. The notes, by the way, are by Richard Ashton, James Fizpatrick and Silva Screen's David Wishart. They are generous in length (16 pp) and well decorated with stills, poster art and superb colour shots.
A wonderful release. A compulsory acquisition for film score collectors (and listeners!), Waltonians, Goodwinites, British music enthusiasts and anyone who cares for the musical heritage.
And Ian Lace writes:-
I am going to be controversial. There is a danger that we can regard composers - even our favourite composers as gods, thinking they can do no wrong. As much as I adore Walton's music, I cannot in all honesty say this is his best work. Film producers/directors are often cast as villains when they reject scores from first rank composers. But the evidence of my ears, at any rate, listening to the many new recordings of such rejected scores, that have come to light recently, leads me to feel that often those executives were right. I believe Hitchcock was right to reject Herrmann's score (except for the farm-house murder scene) for Torn Curtain; and I believe Kubrick was right to reject Alex North's score for 2001. So where does that leave the Walton music? I can understand Olivier's indignation; but was his loyalty over-coloured by friendship? We know that Walton had, for whatever reason, difficulty with this score and we know that the input from Malcolm Arnold was significant. There is no denying 'The Battle in the Air' was brilliant (how well Walton evokes the propeller screws and whirring of the planes by his imaginative use of lower strings). The producers showed taste in choosing to include this material; however, I have to say, that, overall, I prefer Ron Goodwin's music. His Battle of Britain theme is very stirring and the Aces High march is fabulous - quite the best thing on the disc (well they always say the best tunes are given to the devil!) I think that the controversy surrounding the Walton elements has tended to completely overshadow Ron Goodwin's contribution and I was shocked and disappointed that RYKO chose not to include a track by track analysis of his part of the score.
RIGHT TO REPLY
I felt compelled to respond to a couple of the points Ian Lace raises:
(1) Battle of Britain notes: The reason why the focus is on the Walton notes is obvious. David Wishart also indicated to me during production that he covered the Goodwin score quite thoroughly in the notes for his early '90s CD production of the score for EMI (which I must add I have not seen).
Space did not permit me to cover both in detail; no disrespect was intended for Mr. Goodwin's work, which I believe is every bit as good as Sir William's collaboration with Sir Malcolm.
(2) [This note refers to the review of A Bridge too Far - Ed] The change in booklet design: Ian, if you prefer the awkward fold-out road map, you are in a tiny minority, which is entirely your prerogative. I had COUNTLESS complaints from consumers and reviewers about their illegibility, and I myself found them to be a monumental pain. I'll also take the opportunity to thank David and James for their exemplary work on this; they honestly deserve most of the credit.
MGM Product Manager
|John ADDISON A Bridge Too Far OST enhanced CD-ROM RYKO RCD 10746 [38:38]||
David Attenborough's film of Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far was based on the doomed allied airborne operation, Market Garden. The film did not lack big names but despite the grand line-up it did not enjoy critical acclaim when first released although it has always made a favourable impact when shown on TV. The initial reception may perhaps have awoken too many memories amongst those still living and who participated in some way in what is seen as a glorious failure.
The music is by John Addison. He died on 7 December 1998 and this album is dedicated to his memory. As a young tank commander in the 23rd Hussars he pulled a friend from their burning Sherman tank during WW2. He clearly brought a special sense of engagement to an assignment that he pursued the moment he heard that the commission was available.
This is an enhanced CD-ROM which plays on most modern PCs. It contains the cinema trailer for the film
The original soundtrack, now 22 years old, has produced a rather forward and on some occasions treble-orientated sound. When the strings are under pressure they sound marginally undernourished. Certainly when I compare my cassette of the CBSO conducted by Marcus Dods in the A Bridge Too Far march I can hear a significant difference in sound quality to the advantage of the EMI/HMV recording. In favour of the Ryko this CD gives the full recorded score, not one brief fragment and the performances are utterly convincing. Does anyone know which orchestra was used for the soundtrack?
The overture (and indeed much of the score) is centred on the cracking march theme. It is ushered in by the whispered clatter of the side-drum (surely a reference to Shostakovich 7) and is soon deep in brash defiance and tragic grandeur at times reminding me of Josef Suk's march Legend of Dead Victors. There is no getting away from it: this march is splendidly laid out with all swashes swaggeringly buckled and pennants taut in the brisk breeze of 'certain victory'.
The Air Lift  is suggestive of some massive military undertaking: jingling, momentous and steeped in sashes and banners. This is an excuse for some great brass playing! Arnhem's  initial hesitancy rapidly blossoms into the cracklingly memorable main theme, throwing sparks in all directions. A glorious stick-brandishing swagger hangs over track 8 [Nijmegen Bridge]. The March Of The Paratroopers  has ionispheric trumpet playing but the low-brow march elements echoing some of the worst aspects of Coates strike a false note - at least to my ears. The Bailey Bridge track  snorts and snarls as if to say:
'I mean business!' The final track  has the march returning in brief glory.
The softer edge of Dutch Rhapsody is very close in mood and sound to Ravel's Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte. The Pavane's gentle atmosphere is troubled by some unwelcome rumblings of a holocaust to come. This returns in Arnhem Destroyed , all desolate sadness. The troubled atmosphere pervades Underground
Resistance  with the rustling restlessness of the strings and wind instruments serenading without the unclouded optimism of Dvorák. In its place we get a whistling against the intimations of a hurricane to come. A quiet desperation harries The Hospital Tent. In Human Roadblock  tragedy returns in a Shostakovichian landscape using variants of the main march theme and elements of the pavane. Retreat
 has rustling lighter strings pestered by deeper malevolent noises from the woodwind. Futile Mission  is all overcast tension. Some of that tension carries over into Waal River  with some deeply minatory Herrmann-like noises from the brass (perhaps a cross-reference to the Talos music!)
The notes run to 16 pp. After criticising Ryko in recent years for using the mini-poster format for leaflets I can now praise the company for producing the notes in well designed legible booklet form. Criticisms: no timings given for each track. No total time given anywhere let alone on the back of the jewel case insert.
A rousing vote of thanks to Ryko for a very fine job overall.
Strongly recommended as an example of the best in British film music.
Ian Lace adds:
There is little I would add to Rob's impressions. I agree entirely with what he says. It is clear that Addison was greatly moved by the events and the concept of this film and he was obviously greatly moved while writing this score. (After all he had served in the tank corps in World War II). His Overture was for me the stand-out track on the EMI LP to which Rob prefers. This swaggering march must surely be one of the most memorable tunes in all British film music? One small note I beg to differ on the RYKO booklet vs fold-out format controversy - I found the original RYKO format a refreshing change and I regret that they have changed policy and decided to follow the herd.
|Nicola PIOVANI Tu Ridi OST Pacific Time PTE 8508-2 [42:34]||
This album actually sells itself a little short, because it is only by looking at the rear of the disc you see it's a 2 for 1 deal also including material from the film Mas Alla Del Jardin.
Thankfully it's not a chalk and cheese combination; both sit in stylistic comfort side by side. Piovani's forte for less is more gives splendid weight to the ensemble performances here.
Tu Ridi opens on a jaunty combo for recorders and drums in the title track. The general bounciness could be favourably compared to Rachel Portman's early style circa Benny & Joon. Yet the obvious Italian influences distance his style from others. The reprise of the main theme in "Felice Abbandonato" features a beautiful 'violincello' solo by Francesca Taviani. It easily pinpoints the geography of the film, and is a most refreshing sound indeed.
This score also features something almost akin to a Christmas fugue with a chiming lilt underpinned by sombre strings and woodwinds in the cue "Ballaro'". There's a bewitchingly effective use of Indian percussion and electric guitar in "La Danza Di Rocco", and it even ends in unpredictable style with the theme blending into a typewriter's tapping - most mindful of Morricone.
Then Mas Alla Del Jardin occupies the second half of the disc. It's a less diverse or experimental score, but is perhaps the more sweeter for it. A cue which encapsulates everything nicely is "El Adios Del Ama" with it's memorable guitar strumming. This score in isolation is a most calming Mediterranean breeze.
|Christopher YOUNG Entrapment OST Restless 01877-73518-2 [54:49]||
Do Messrs Connery or Young really need another thriller on their CVs ? Oh well. While I'll admit there's some fun and innovation strewn through Young's score, to my ear it comes off as an easy day. There's a rather promising start on horns with the title cue. Sadly it moves into a sort of electronic noodling I'd thought would be behind Mr Young now. The subsequent jump start to "Saints & Sinners" is reminiscent of the spate of horror scores he did too. Nice piano work breaks up the bombast in "Fayeth In Fate", before it kicks back in with "Blackmail" where repeating horn figures promise a potential kinetic energy that never quite comes. "Kuala Lumpur" is amongst the most interesting moments, when echoing percussion and a spot of ethnic winds blow open an otherwise so-so experience.
By album's end there's that full stomach sensation without any lingering tastebud tingle.
I still prefer everything the composer's ever done on a smaller ensemble scale. He always writes big for those projects. Nice cover though.
|Howard SHORE eXistenZ OST RCA Victor 09026 63478-2 [46:27]||
Every collaboration between Shore and Cronenberg heralds a new sound within the composer's range. He readily acknowledges that it is for this partnership that he pulls out all the stops. Hopefully there's no need to catalogue their track record, but if we at least look to the last - Crash - we can immediately see just how much of a leap is made from picture to picture. From an experiment in guitar (who'd have thought there was anything new to have been found there ?) to an experiment in aural perception. Courtesy of Shore's trusty London Philharmonic Orchestra and some electronic subtlety you should prepare to have your senses foxed.
The music plays with perspective. Loud instruments are placed back in the overall perspective, while softer ones are brought forward. It's a very layered soundtrack. The parts of the orchestra were recorded separately to achieve this and then altered electronically in the mix. It's a score that was really built in the studio, and the effect is quite mesmerising. If you have the sort of speaker set up to do it justice, you may find many of the channel mixes unnerving. That's down to the music too of course, which is eerie in the extreme for the most part.
One superb embellishment is the most delicate use of a theremin I have heard yet in a film score. It's such a 'showy' instrument that usually the idea is basically to hit you over the head with the fact that it's there. On the album there are only 2 cues in which careful listening will pinpoint its use. "a genuine game urge" is the most obvious in carrying one of the score's subsidiary themes a short distance. It is in "traumatized nervous system" that I find it especially telling at how subtle a composer Shore is. About midway a passage tapers from piano and strings into what initially appears to be a solo female voice. It's the mistake listener's made when the instrument first appeared.
You won't find this to be a lyrical score by any means. In reflecting the film's multi-layered game of sensory perception it is instead a soundscape of the inner ear. Breathtaking.
|Claudio SIMONETTI The Versace Murder OST Pacific Time PTE-8509-2 [73:39]||
Oh boy. There's a lot of noise here. Not much of it all that pleasing to my ear. This is synth scoring set to 'average'. "The Versace Murder" creates a piano cycle a la Halloween, then with some synths I last heard from Jean Michel Jarre and an electric guitar things go speedily nowhere. The rock songs "I'll Take The Night" and "I'm So Glad" are mostly cringeworthy. The calypso of "Estoy Enamorado De Ti" and "Madera Fina" are quite out of place and repetitive. The saxophone and moog combo's of "At The Bar" and "The Limousine" are unfortunately tamed by the electronic overlays, as is what could have been a saving grace from Paulo Pinto's soprano track in "Versace's Theme".
Lots of fast paced synth beats whip up some dramatic intrigue, but when they're interrupted by such unlikely inclusions as a synth sample of the Carmina Burana prelude ("Cunanan's Theme") you really have to wonder what's going on.
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