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COMPETITION WIN a CD of your Choice from Crotchet
Editor's Choice - CD of the Month - March 1999
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH The Film Album Riccardo Chailly conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra DECCA 460 792-2 [78:02]
The Counterplan; Alone; The Tale of the Silly little Mouse; Hamlet; Sofia Perovskaya; Pirogov; and The Gadfly.
This is the third of Decca's forays into the "lighter" Shostakovich. Earlier albums were: Shostakovich: The Jazz Album (CD 433 702) and Shostakovich: The Dance Album (CD 452 597). This new collection comprises music for films dating from 1930 to 1967.
The best known composition, here, is the Romance from The Gadfly (1955), which was made famous in the TV series, Reilly, Ace of Spies. Chailly opts for a more understated, but no less beautiful, reading of this captivating melody than many of the other, more fulsome recorded renditions.
In Alone (1930), a school teacher goes to the remote Altai where she meets hostility from the locals who leave her to die of frostbite. The original intention was that she should commit suicide but the directors changed the end so that the villagers, recognising the benefits of socialism, rescue her while she then comes to value her work. The suite opens with a rousing patriotic march followed by a high-spirited Galop recalling silent film comedy music as does the cue "Altai" with its comically stealthy bassoon treads. But those treads become sinister in "In Kuzmina's hut" before a plaintive clarinet lightens the mood and the music returns perky and boisterous. "Barrel Organ" is a vivid evocation with a lovely wheezy sound produced by the brass. "School children" is a sad but tender string study while the children's excitement at the prospect of frolics on the snow and ice is made very clear in Shostakovich's animated "Storm Scene". The following cue "Storm Breaks" is a most impressive and exciting picture of howling gales and driving snow with the composer using the theremin to brilliant effect. "Calm after the storm" is another wonderful evocation - chill and crystalline.
The Counterplan (1932) was about the thwarting of a band of wreckers' plans to disrupt a factory. The score is surprisingly warm and human and not without humour The Presto movement is an exuberant study of the factory and, presumably, its heroic workers. The Andante contains some of Shostakovich's most appealingly romantic writing with a meltingly beautiful violin solo (played by Alexander Kerr) clouded only briefly by the threat from the saboteurs. "The Song of the Counterplan" - jolly and heroic, by turn - proved to be one of Shostakovich's most popular compositions. It even became fashionable in the USA when Harold Burns added lyrics to the tune and called it "The United Nations". A slightly altered version became the hit song in the MGM musical, Thousands Cheer.
The Tale of the Silly Little Mouse (1939) is great fun. A baby mouse just will not go to sleep. An assortment of animals try to lull him off, after mother mouse has failed. The cat succeeds but greedily runs off with the poor little mouse. However, all ends happily when he is rescued by the dog. In this version, Chailly uses an arrangement by Andrew Cornall who transposes the animal noises from percussion instruments so that mother mouse becomes a flute, the pig a bassoon, the horse a trombone, the toad a double bass and the cat a violin (what else?). It goes without saying that Shostakovich brilliantly captures character, narrative and atmosphere. A minor gem.
Bernard Herrmann made a memorable recording of Shostakovich's music from the 1964 Russian film of Shakespeare's Hamlet for Decca Phase 4. Chailly's reading is no less arresting. The heavy emphatic staccato chords, snare drum rolls, swirling strings and long low cymbal strokes of the "Introduction" set the mood of dark tragedy. The vivacious and striking "Palace Music" brings some light relief in perky woodwind figures while "Ball at the castle" has hurrying, scurrying string figures and proud and pompous brass motifs. "Ball" has a hard masculine tune that reminds one of the parade ground (like the more aptly named "Military Music" cue) more than the ballroom. "In the Garden" might have been more appropriately termed ballroom music for this is much more relaxed and elegant. But the most impressive and imaginative cue is "Scene of the poisoning" using wooden block, snare drums and bass drum, pizzicato strings and harp, grotesque woodwind figures and percussive piano and tambourine in an explosive mix. This has to be some of the most flesh-creeping music ever written.
"The Funeral March" from The Great Citizen (1934) is hugely impressive. Heroic, compassionate and poignant, this is a powerfully moving elegy. The "Waltz" from Sofia Perovskaya is, at first a muscular and masculine creation until the woodwinds allow some feminine grace. From Pirogov,(1947) a film portrait of a surgeon best known for his work in the Crimea, comes the fast, quicksilver Scherzo while another excerpt from the film, "Finale", brings the programme to a thrilling conclusion.
John Riley's excellent and informed notes sets details of these compositions against the often harrowing politics of the times and the consequent demands made upon Shostakovich and his fellow artists. Chailly and the Concertgebouw are absolutely first rate; a brilliant collection.
EDITOR'S RECOMMENDATION March 1999
Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967) The Song of Terezín Eric ZEISL (1905-1959) Requiem Ebraico Deborah Riedel (soprano); Della Jones (mezzo-soprano); Michael Kraus (bass-baritone) Rundfunk-Kinderchor Berlin; Rundfunkchor Berlin; Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin conducted by Lawrence Foster DECCA 460 211-2
To quote Michael Haas, the executive producer of this album, "These works are the reactions of two European-born Hollywood composers to the Nazi show camp of Terezín. Waxman's work is a powerful song cycle using the words of the children of the camp, while Zeisl's Requiem in memory of his murdered father is an emotional and moving liturgical work.
Franz Waxman, of course, enjoyed considerable success as a composer of music other than for the screen and it must be remembered that he, himself, had experienced Nazi brutality in 1934 and had fled Germany after he had been beaten up on the streets of Berlin. The Song of Terezín was composed between November 1964 and February 1965; it is therefore a late work. Its overall mood is of tragic melancholy; only in a few places does the music become somewhat light-hearted as in the song of "The little mouse" but even here there is a sense of heavy irony and there is a steely edge to the music. The opening movement, with its jack-boot like figures, represents the barbarity and cruelty of the concentration camp but elsewhere in these songs there is also defiance and a hope for better things as well as a sense of cold remoteness and despair. Waxman's command of dramatic tension and colourful orchestral writing is always evident and his music reflects the influence of Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Zemlinsky and Berg. The final movement, "Fear", is a poignant and chilling indictment of the Holocaust: O God! Do not forsake us in our pain - Death is coming...Do not forget us..."
Eric Zeisl, after escaping the Nazi regime in Austria, escaped via Paris and New York to Los Angeles where he collaborated on more than 20 films before concentrating on compositions outside the film world. His Requiem Ebraico enjoyed considerable success. It is a much warmer work than the Waxman. Composed in one continuous movement, it alternates choral, solo and duet passages. To quote from Manuela Schwartz's notes, "...the expressive Romantic school of Mahler or Bartok and French models like Fauré, combine with oriental traits to form an impressive musical whole." The music is often very beautiful and, although the baritone solo "Oh how great are thy works.." introduces darker figures to cover the struggle between good and evil, the work ends in a glorious life-affirming fugal chorus culminating in a glorious major chord.
The Berlin choirs, soloists and choirs under Lawrence Foster, who, incidentally is pictured with Franz Waxman in the booklet, give excellent committed performances. A sometimes harrowing but a deeply moving musical experience that every serious student of the Golden Age of film music ought to have in their collection.
EDITOR'S RECOMMENDATION March 1999
Jerry GOLDSMITH Star Trek: The Motion Picture (20th Anniversary Collectors' Edition) Music conducted by the composer COLUMBIA/LEGACY C2K-66134 2CDs [65:06/64:29]
Here at last, this glorious end result has probably had the most drawn out release history of any soundtrack. Depending on your completist level, this should hopefully satisfy most.. There are just a few cues still missing, but its as close as Goldsmith actually wants you to get.
So live with it !
The first sign that we are being looked after is the considerate placing of "Ilias Theme" at the start of the disc. This was the now defunct idea of an Overture to the presentation of a film, and so is much better off preceding the score than slowing the pace half way through as it did in the earlier releases.
It is naturally the previously unreleased cues that are the kindest gift to the listener however. The material for Spock is ("Total Logic" and "Spocks Arrival") are wonderful to have since they demonstrate just how diverse the score always was. Weve become so familiar with the brassy fanfare, Klingon percussion, and digital cloud effects. The fact that at least one alien culture was represented musically got lost behind that.
A couple more new cues allow for the appreciation of the Blaster Beam in all its glory for the mysterious cloud. A great example is "Inner Workings", which seems to want to deify the machine they discover with a religious fervour to the music. In "Vejur Speaks" we get the impression that when Decker tells us Vger (correct spelling) wants to "touch God", Goldsmith took this as a cue to imbue the pre-Borg conscious machine with a truly Godly aura.
There are so many blindingly bright points to the score really. I have personally always considered it to be one of the greatest scores ever written, and that it should have won from its Oscar nomination. Technically everything was against the composer - timing especially. Yet it still stands as one of the most sought after soundtracks some 20 years on.
The other talking point about the release is the 2nd disc featuring interviews with cast
members. It should be noted that this relates to the series. Makes for a fun listen nonetheless.
(& beyond !)
After years of lies, deceit, treachery, broken promises, and sad excuses, there is finally proof that the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" expanded CD does exist! Hooray!
While an overrated score in some respects ("Star Trek: TMP" is not better than Goldsmith's collaborations with director Franklin Schaffner), it deserves the vast majority of its mountainous praises. The use of 'blaster beams,' 'glass rub rods,' electric guitars, synthesizers, and water-submerged bells in a predominately orchestral score give a brightly original soundscape not incomparable to the work of Igor Stravinsky. Full of innovation and high inspiration, this symbolized film music on the edge of a new cinematic and dramatic frontier. For example, less than a year after the original soundtrack's release composer James Horner utilized large portions of Goldsmith's score in "Battle Beyond the Stars," arguably more closely than the law should concede.
This recording presents the music in film chronological order and as complete as the composer would allow. Every single one of the old favorites returns alongside newly released tracks such as the excellent (logically so) 'Total Logic,' the surprise of 'Spock's Arrival,' the questing 'Games,' the eerie 'Inner Workings' of Vejur, and a good 'A Good Start.' The assortment of ideas is altogether astonishing.
The 'bonus' "Inside Star Trek" CD warrants a one-time listen. Limited educational value and excessive corniness keep it from being more worthwhile. However, there are a few things that shine, particularly Gene Roddenberry's lecture. Much of the disc is unquestionably archaic, but if approached as a time capsule there is the potential for some fascinating discoveries.
The packaging is a combination of the original soundtrack design by Bob Peak, as well as the ship schematics look of the "Inside Star Trek" record, inside a handsome lasered slipcover (anyone attracted to shiny objects should get some fun out of the construction). The sound for the OST is superexcellent. The sleeve notes by David Hirsch and Ford A. Thaxton are concise yet informative.
The Enterprise theme, Ilia's theme, the space station music, the Vejur music, the deep motives for Spock, the aggressive Klingon motif, the emotional charge of the orchestrations: This is classic filmusic and should not be missed by anyone, anywhere, for any reason.
Besides, this is an item where computer dweebs, sci-fi geeks, and soundtrack nerds can happily converge...
EDITOR'S RECOMMENDATION March 1999
Collection: WATCH THE SKIES Various artists SONIC IMAGES SID-8901 [73:31]
Collection features music from: The Day the Earth Stood Still; Mars Attacks; Species; E.T.; Contact; They Live; Men in Black; Predator; Aliens - The Ride; Alien; Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Roswell; The Tommyknockers; Dark Skies; The X-Files; Independence Day
This a cracking collection intelligently compiled and generous in its almost 74 minute length. The sound is absolutely stunning. The album contains material from the Telarc and Silva Screen libraries plus some material that has never been released before
The compilation kicks off with Bernard Herrmann's ground-breaking music, for The Day the Earth Stood Still using, so very imaginatively the theremin, electronic violin, electronic bass and electric guitar. Immediately afterwards we get Danny Elfman's cheeky send up of the 1950s sci-fi music in his score for Mars Attacks and, later, his wild and whacky Men in Black music given some extra magic by John Beal. Christopher Young's marvellous and mesmerising score for Species proves that you can be quietly malevolent. John Williams is represented by his E.T. music in a nice relaxing piano solo medley played by Michael Chertock.
Alan Silvestri's lovely music for Contact was one of my favourite scores of 1997- beautifully serene and compassionate in stark contrast to the other Silvestri score here, the harsh and relentlessly driving rhythms of Predator, this performance produced and performed by John Beal. They Live has a sleazy, slinky theme from John Carpenter and Alan Howarth while Richard Band's creepily exciting music, based on James Horner's Aliens theme, designed to heighten the thrills of a popular Aliens amusement park ride. Jerry Goldsmith's End Title from Alien is broods upon the vastness of space, the music growing almost Vaughan Williams mystical.
Three or four tracks are devoted to electronic led scores: Denny Zeitlin's quirky and increasingly eerie music for Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Elliott Goldenthal's spooky synthesizer score for the cable-TV movie, Roswell; Christopher Franke's equally eerie electronic score for the Stephen King shocker, The Tommyknockers; and Michael Hoenig's more introspective electronic/acoustic Epilogue music for the TV series, Dark Skies.
One of the most interesting tracks is Donald Fraser's arrangement of Mark Snow's theme from the X-Files - arranged, very cleverly, in the style of Alan Hovhaness.
The programme ends in great style with David Arnold's End Credits from his Independence Day score given an absolutely cracking performance by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Crouch End
EDITOR'S RECOMMENDATION March 1999
Bernard HERRMANN - Citizen Kane - The Essential Collection City of Prague Philharmonic conducted by Paul Bateman and Nic Raine SILVA SCREEN 2CDs FILMXCD 308 [110:44]
Selections from: The Man Who Knew Too Much; Citizen Kane; On Dangerous Ground; North by Northwest; The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad; The Ghost and Mrs Muir; Torn Curtain; The Twilight Zone; Marnie; The Snows of Kilimanjaro; Cape Fear; Jason and the Argonauts; The Naked and the Dead; The Day the Earth Stood Still; The Three Worlds of Gulliver; Obsession; Psycho; Mysterious Island; The Trouble with Harry; Vertigo; Taxi Driver.
The obvious question that occurred to this reviewer was - with so many outstanding recordings of Bernard Herrmann's film music, made by so many first class orchestras, under conductors of the calibre of Charles Gerhardt, Elmer Bernstein, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Joel McNeely etc, not to mention Bernard Herrmann himself, is there room for yet another anthology - and, if so, what extra merit does this new album have?
The answer is threefold. First of all the sound is stunning - well up to Silva Screen's very best allowing full textural clarity of these generally splendid performances set in a full and wide perspective. Secondly the majority of the performances of the better known works equal if not surpass any performance already available: the much recorded Psycho suite has some interesting rubato that I think Bernie would have approved of; and the equally oft-recorded Vertigo sounds superb, so too does the Marnie Prelude; and A Portrait of Hitch (The Trouble with Harry) can stand beside Herrmann's own Decca recording but with the added advantage of superior modern sound; and, for me, the Christopher Palmer's suite Night Piece for Saxophone and Orchestra assembled from Taxi Driver has never sounded better. Thirdly there is the adventurous choice of material with some selections rarely committed to disc.
The programme's opens with the thrilling, rarely recorded Prelude from The Man Who Knew Too Much - a menacing, sinister piece with a hint of its earlier Northern African setting. A very cheeky, perky, characterful rendition of the Citizen Kane follows - a brilliant performance this one! On Dangerous Ground is represented by a five-movement suite so that we have the chance to evaluate more of the music than was on the Charles Gerhardt/ RCA anthology. Here we have the exciting horn chase music shared between the "Prelude" and "The Hunt" cues in between we have some of Herrmann's warmest and sympathetic writing, for the loving and caring character of the blind Mary, that anticipates his Vertigo and Marnie music. On balance though, I prefer the sheer excitement generated by Gerhardt.
It is good to have the romantic interlude, "Conversation Piece" between Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint, set aboard a train in North by Northwest (as well as the urgent, colourful "Prelude"). "Conversation Piece" is another rarely recorded item. The music is full of sexual tension and the motion of the train is subtly apparent too. Herrmann's lovely impressionistic seascape and romantic music for The Ghost and Mrs Muir is beautifully played - so too is the Memory Waltz from The Snows of Kilimanjaro - in fact I think this is the most persuasive performance of this piece that I have heard. The lovely waltz from Obsession is also persuasive but I do wish room could have been made for the compelling and chilling music that Herrmann created for the scenes in which Cliff Robertson delivers the ransome money.
Another welcome addition is the score that never was - the Hitchcock- rejected music from Torn Curtain - represented here by a powerful three movement suite cold, sinister and ferocious. The music for the famous scene where Gromek is killed at the farmhouse is particularly chilling and this performance is every bit as compelling as the recent more complete Varèse Sarabande recording. Cape Fear was another dread, claustrophobic, atmospheric, Herrmann score and is represented here by a three movement suite - another welcome rarity.
Entirely new to me was the music for The Naked and the Dead about incidents in the Pacific theatre of operations in World War II - full of military swagger, with much brass an drums but ultimately cold and cruel.
Hermann's more exotic scores are represented by rousing and colourful readings of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad Main Title; and the Prelude to Jason and the Argonauts, the latter's heroic splendour and assertive confidence is powerfully conveyed. Five cues of music represent the Mysterious Island score with the opening cue memorable for its huge stereophonically placed cymbal clashes. The music representing the horrific giant monsters is typically Herrmann-graphic.
Another interesting rarity is the Overture to The Three Worlds of Gulliver mixing typical British pride and splendour with dainty figures for the diminutive Lilliputians and ponderous heavy ones for the giants of Brobdingnag. Sci-fi is represented by a compelling performance of the music from The Day the Earth Stood Still with its advanced (for its day) electronic instrumentation, counterbalanced by a brilliant evocation of "Radar" using just piano. A clutch of quirky, grotesque but always intriguing figures makes up the cue "Themes" from The Twilight Zone - how many of today's sci-fi and fantasy scores have been influenced by them I wonder?
And a view from Rob Barnett
It was only a matter of time before Silva Screen got round to Herrmann. The strange thing is that it took so long. This is an ambitious and far from cliché-ed collection and the result is creditable and attractive. It is not especially generous in timing, at least not against the standards Silva have set for themselves. Their collections series (two for the price of one) usually manage more than an hour; often as much as 70 minutes, per disc. This offers less than an hour each disc.
Lacking also are any stills from the films nor any photo of Herrmann not that either of these is any real hardship! The cover illustration gives a more than passable impression of Xanadu's mysterious opulence. David Wishart's intelligent and informatively readable English-only notes (12pp) compactly profile the essentials of each film, placing it in time and with methodical references to plot and leading actors. All recording details are well given though it is a pity that it is not easier than it is to find out which tracks are conducted by Bateman and which by Raine.
CD1 begins confidently with the splendidly crashing prelude from The Man Who Knew Too Much. The Kane Overture is brightness, nimble jollity and innocence but gradually passing through boozy Prokofiev and Shostakovich like moments into a grandly Hispanic bombastic march compleet with a sly reference to The Conquering Hero. There seemed to be a lack of crispness in the performance but there is no lack of gusto.
I have no doubt been spoilt by the Gerhardt recording of the Prelude On Dangerous Ground. The Praguers are no match though enjoyable in their own right. This collection offers five movements from the film. Blindness is a viola serenade of inward tenderness exploring Herrmann's slightly cool emotional 'no man's land'. The silence is conjured through Sibelian rustling and high pitched strings. The hunt has those galloping French horns conveying pounding chaotic energy like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The finale opens in an Iberian spectral beauty. There is a glorious harp 'melt' à la Marnie and the track ends in cinematic grandeur.
The thudding drums of North by North West do not have the snap and definition of Laurie Johnson's rushed performance. Many of the contours have been chamfered and I missed that roughness and violence. The recording is excellent though and for first time I was struck by the downward swooping glissando towards the end of the movement clearly recalling Elgar Symphony No. 2 a work which Herrmann no doubt conducted with the CBS in the 1930s or at the very least knew from scores he imported into the US. Then comes the sensuous Conversation Piece with its soft beating heart and tastefully swooning strings. This is exceptionally well done and is one of the stand-out tracks in the collection.
This contrasts with fine sparkle of the slightly breathless Seventh Voyage of Sinbad main title. No lassitude here at all!
The Ghost and Mrs Muir's prelude is a great surging uprising projected through the strings. This sense of marine and emotional 'welling up' is brilliantly conjured. Very fine. Then comes the proto-Mahlerian Adagietto which is very English, brittle in the winter sunshine. The bells at 2:20 might almost be Housman's 'Noisy Bells'.
Herrmann joyed in hunt motifs. Here is another one (though rather lethargic) decking out Torn Curtain or it would have but for Hitchcock's rejection of the slate-grey score. The Gromek cue has a floating menace while The Killing is notable for its understatement and little whip-like figures.
As a break from film The Twilight Zone takes us into TV. The twitteringly intense theme has found its way into popular culture. People know it without knowing who earth Bernard Herrmann was. High tribute. This version emphasises the guitar part. The textures are interesting and splendidly menacing. It is slightly like Holst's Neptune and of course Herrmann knew Holst's Planets and conducted it in a reputedly rather elephantine recording for Decca Phase Four.
The Marnie prelude instantly sweeps us into the irresistibly chilly romance with a string theme that at least once reminds us of Tchaikovsky's Pathéthique Symphony. The performance and recording catch a lump in the throat and a shiver down the spine. This is a Classic Herrmann creation and is totally cherishable. This is another track for sampling. The Snows Of Kilimanjaro's Memory Waltz is a music box type dance of the type we know from The Magnificent Ambersons. It is given excellent pacing and swing with twists and turns which occasionally look in a slightly self-satisfied way towards Korngold.
Cape Fear pitches in with another death hunt with barking patterned horns and shuddering strings. The other tracks are haunted (The School and Panic) and the final track of the three is all decay and crestfallen horns: lichen trailing off castle walls. It concludes with the brass (sounding like escapees from the more Sibelian moments in Bax's Fifth Symphony) on a very good day whooping triumphantly. The disc closes with the bombastic stalking march-prelude from Jason and the Argonauts. This is all a bit empty. Herrmann on cruise control.
The second disc opens with the rare Prelude from The Naked And The Dead. This is predictable stuff and gets up where the Jason prelude sat down. Militaristic hammering and clamant brass, calls to battle and slippery vainglory with a momentary recollection of Bliss's march from Things to Come.
The following three tracks are of music from The Day The Earth Stood Still. This is all quite nicely done though the theremin could have had more presence. Radar has a feverish edgy urgency. Just right. In fact this is probably the best recording available. The Finale and Farewell is sanely paced.
In utter contrast comes the 'big beef' pastiche Handelian teutonic march of the overture to The Three Worlds Of Gulliver. It is all glitter and the bombast offset by miniature harp concerto references. Elgar orchestrated Handel and Herrmann seems to be at ease in similar territory though he did not return there.
Back again to the world of Marnie, Ghost and Conversation Piece for the valse lente from Obsession - a 'heart's partner' to these pieces of elusive and tremulous romance. The music conveys a mood completely at odds with Psycho (five tracks) which in this performance struck me as rather slack. There is little urgency in the prelude and rainstorm music though Murder is well conveyed. It is uncompetitive with Herrmann's own performance and the recentish complete Varèse-Sarabande CD. Turning now to Mysterious Island there are five cues all well done but these mechanistic illustrations, well done though they are, impress only as clever sound pictures rather than as music. There seems to be little emotional content.
A Portrait of Hitch is an 8 minute tone poem using the music from The Trouble With Harry. This is quirky and jerky like a brutally playful Shostakovich theme. The playground song is well put across. How touchingly the players articulate the lovely innocent song at 2:12. At 3:10 Herrmann again pulls another incredible tune out of the hat. It must have been an Astrakhan hat given the distinctly Russian caste of the melody - unmissable. Much of the piece is Russian in feel with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf not far away.
Vertigo is a very well known film and the music is represented through three tracks. The first mixes characteristic high notes with music box miniatures (prelude). Castanets are a strange but effective presence is the essentially very disturbing Nightmare. Finally The Scene D'amour is ghost-like and so cold rather like the doomed garden spirits at the end of James Elroy Flecker's Hassan blowing away into utter negation. The head pounding Tchaikovskian climax is powerfully conveyed with an especial debt to the strings welling up in spectral passion. This is very well done.
Finally we get the 8 minute long Night Piece carved from the music for his last film Taxi Driver - another irresistible score. Wonderful film music. I am so glad that it is here and lovingly 'rolled' by the reedy saxophone. The performance wants a sinister cutting edge which the legato swoopy smoothness of this account denies. Still - a nice alternative view.
In summary: this set is as good an introductory two disc anthology to Herrmann as you will find. Snap it up. If there are some miscalculations they are minor. For the rest you will be lead on to discover a much fuller legacy than better individual single CD collections (Salonen) can offer. As a two disc anthology it does not really compete with anything else on the market.
Thomas NEWMAN Meet Joe Black OST UNIVERSAL UND 53229 [52:02]
Meet Joe Black received mixed reviews. Could one really imagine heart-throb Brad Pitt as the Grim Reaper? Credulity is strained still further when he falls for Claire Forlani daughter of mogul Anthony Hopkins whom he, Death/Joe Black, has come to claim but allows a stay of execution provided Hopkins gives him a guide to human life.
Thomas Newman delivers a thoughtful, understated score of mainly slow, quiet, strings-dominated music for this essentially romantic drama. The opening cue "Yes" is mysterious and timeless. This sense of timelessness and time moving forward is nicely captured in the second cue "Everywhere Freesia", which invokes classical, neo-classical, impressionistic and romantic styles as though suggesting that Death like taxes is always with us.
The string-led melody for "Walkaway" has a haunting and limpid beauty. "Meet Joe Black" mixes string shudders (a nice little touch) with warmer material but the overall mood which Newman cleverly creates is one of daunting mystery but at the same time the music is also curiously inviting and sensuous - an example of how adept Newman is at creating a mix of emotions and moods.
"The Peanut Butter Man" another mysterioso cue that mixes hesitant pizicatti walking figures with quietly grotesque woodwind and percussion and piano figures; a remarkably imaginative cue. Another interestingly scored cue is "Fifth Avenue" deep bass drum beats and cross-rhythmed strings with softly brushed cymbals and clarinet make this a very colourful walk.
Many of the cues such as "Whisper of a Thrill" are hushed romantic experiences until later in the cues "Served its Purpose", "Sorry for Nothing", "Mr Bad News", the orchestration broadens, the tempos quicken or the music darkens for the dramatic crisis. Again Newman superbly, elegantly creates just the right atmosphere and avoids the usual clichés. The most stark cue is "The Question" sounding bleakly remote and hollow. "Someone else" which follows is another lovely cue poignant and slightly reminiscent of Vaughan Williams.
In the considerable 10 minute cue "That Next Place" we have music that rises to forte as it sings gloriously of hope and affirmation as well as recapitulating the earlier lovely romantic material.
The album also contains music from, presumably, the ballroom sequence - i.e. very attractive renderings of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" and "Let's Face the Music and Dance", and George Weiss's and Bob Thiele's "What a Wonderful World."
A nice album to consider as relaxing late night listening. Another feather in Thomas Newman's cap.
1999 Academy Award Nominated Score -
Randy NEWMAN A Bug's Life OST EDEL 0106342DNY [47:43]
This is a lively, vibrant score full of colour and good humour. As in Pleasantville Randy Edelman creates a warm score full of irony, rich characterisation and parody. There is enough variety too to keep the ear entertained through its 47 minutes duration except for, perhaps, a little repetition of material in the later tracks.
We hear Randy himself singing in the song, "The Time of Your Life" which is the first track but I guess we'll gloss over that one quickly and proceed to the score proper. "The Flick Machine" takes us back to the up-beat big band jazz/swing sounds of the 1940s and '50s - a sort of hangover from Pleasantville. "Seed to Tree" reminds us of the traditional Walt Disney twee and tripsy-whipsy music we all associate with very young animal cartoon-characters but with some added Newman spicy spin. "Red Alert" is cartoon capers chase music again with some nicely observed Newman nuances. "Hopper and his gang", the film's cricket heavies (in shape and character) get the heavy treatment with music suggesting their lumbering gait and grousy, overbearing manner. In such tracks as "Flick leaves" and "Robin Hood" we hear clever parodies of bold and brassy western themes and the heroic music of Korngold all overlaid with material still reminding us that these are bugs. "Circus Bugs" goes back to the exotic music of the 1920s with exotic Arabian jazz sounds - a sort of Ketelbey pastiche. The final "A Bug's Life Suite" includes homely, Americana music and material that one associates with the old silent cinema banana peel slapstick combined with sentimentality. We even get a quote from Psycho in the "Victory" cue when we hear those screeching shower murder chords to denote, I assume, the come-upance of Hopper.
I will admit to having got a lot of childish pleasure from this CD
1999 Academy Award Nominated Score -
Marc SHAIMAN Patch Adams OST UNIVERSAL UND 53245
Nominated in the Original Musical or Comedy Score category, Patch Adams music is a mix of source material, from such artists as Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and The Rascals, and an original score by Shaiman. For this romantic comedy with Robin Williams clowning in a children's ward, Shaiman creates a surgingly romantic score with all guns blazing - the snag is that the main theme is not strong enough to linger in the memory. Nevertheless, listening to it, and imagining it in combination with the on-screen images, I doubt if there will be a dry eye in the house.
This score is very pleasant and heart-warming but it says little new, beyond offering one or two interesting harmonic twists - it treads a well worn path. Its the sort of music one associated with the 1940s women's tear-jerkers - in fact there are one or two tell-tale Max Steiner nuances. The music is often poignant and its child-like innocence clearly echoes the screenplay. I would mention just a few of the tracks: "Ranch Reveal" adds some country-style seasonings; "Hello" is a much more interesting, livelier cue - it begins rather like a syncopated minuet and it contains some arresting rhythmic patterns and quirks. "Speech" seems to be all about anticipation but here Shaiman treads perilously along a fine line and almost trips over into the cloying. "Front Porch" is quietly introspective and romantic. "Butterfly/Noodle Pool" offers nicely evocative impressionistic portraits of the emerging glory and beauty of the butterfly tinged with a little sadness for, one imagines, its short life; and childish high-spirited play is captured in the Noodle Pool segment. "The Ruling/Graduation" is a heroic triumphant statement of the main theme. Very pleasant and very safe - an ideal for the Academy judges.
This month we have three scores from Danny Elfman: two new ones and a classic:
Danny ELFMAN A Simple Plan OST GOLD CIRCLE /COMPASS RECORDS COM 0105 [43:53]
Please note that titles on COMPASS III are available WORLDWIDE ex North America, on SILVA SCREEN RECORDS.
Although A Simple Plan has gathered Oscar nominations for Billy Bob Thornton in the Supporting Actor category and for Screenplay-Adaption, it is hardly surprising that the conservative Academy would risk a nomination for such a daring score as the one Danny Elfman has created for this film.
In an interview, Elfman has agreed that it is a subtle rather than a bombastic action/thriller score. Talking about its unusual orchestration, he commented, "Very often in a movie I design the score around a sound or sounds that I think will be unique to that picture. Certainly in a movie like A Simple Plan it needed some special or unique tones, the tone of the movie was very tricky. So there are two thematic areas, one of them was a flute ensemble. It was a fun orchestra for me to work with because there was really no brass, no percussion. It was just flutes, lots of flutes, nine of them mostly alto and bass. That was kind of a fun thing, very, very simple, sparse ensemble led by alto and bass flutes. The other part of it was these specially tuned pianos that I prepared before I started and specially tuned banjos... Starting with these two odd tonal groups, I began composing the score..."
So does it work? Well, yes it does. Elfman uncannily catches the intense chill of a wooded landscape in the iron grip of winter, and the human emotions and drama proceeding against this backdrop. The Main Title is icy and crystalline, the music, using the effects that Danny describes above, glissandos between tonality and dissonance giving a remote feeling and also a sense of intense cold before the entry of the piano ushers in warmer, more humane music. "The Moon" is a hoary-frosty, impressionistic picture using vibrating- reed woodwinds very creatively, together with those little fairy bells. For "The Farm" Elfman uses harp and strings to depict its isolation amongst the icicles (you can hear them tinkle) with snatches of dissonance at odds with warmer music portraying the warmth inside the farmhouse. "Betrayal" is a crescendo in menace with odd instrumentation and electronics: rattles, slithery strings and vibrato reeds all adding to the terror. "The Badge" is pursuit music eerie and urgent; "Stop It" adds howlings. "Tracks in the Snow" carries the menace further. The music in this macabre cue, trudges along "into the forest" until you a distinct feeling of "what's that lurking amongst those trees?"; this interesting cue stretches the music to the extremes of (electronic) bass and treble. The next two tracks bring back some warmth: poignancy against the frost for "Death" and "Burning $" brings something of a thaw and a sense of release - a catharsis. The music relaxes and the sun comes out and the End Credits look forward to Spring, then all the quirkiness is recapitulated before the score ends in quiet resignation.
Also included are three songs: "Preachin' The Blues" performed by Imperial Crowns; "So Sleepless You" performed by Jolene and "Deliver Me" with Tina and the B-Sides. Pass!
This is doubtless a wonderful and powerfully evocative score in the setting of the film - as regards it value as music for repeated listenings this will vary according to taste but full marks for innovation and imagination
See Interview with Danny Elfman
Danny ELFMAN A Civil Action OST HOLLYWOOD HR-62158-2 [46:50]
Everyone is entitled to an off day Im sure. When its on CD for you to review though, theyre not likely to get away with it ! A Civil Action is the least of Elfmans scores in quite some time. To my ear it all too often sounds like an elaboration on To Die For (the strings in "Objections" are uncannily similar).
His practise of the art of samples has certainly raised many scores to levels of artistic intrigue. Mission: Impossible became a fascinating exercise in distinguishing live percussion from synthesised. Men In Black, Dead Presidents, and even Good Will Hunting all benefit from his quirky ensemble of sampled sounds (his "palette").What they all had however, was a sense of cohesion and a little melodic charm. A score certainly does not have to have a melody to be memorable, but when its left to leap all over the place like this it makes for a very uninvolving listen unfortunately.
I should not overlook its few points of interest, such as the innovative guitar work in "Civil Theme", or the lovely use of mixed choir for "The Letter". Sadly the rest is just too familiar and nondescript.
and Ian Lace adds
Danny Elfman can always be relied on to write an interesting score and even though this new music for A Civil Action has, perhaps, as Paul Tonks comments, too many familiar ingredients, I was impressed enough by his rhythmic vivacity and instrumental colour. I particularly liked evocative tracks like "The River"and "Water" and his more pensive strings material and limpid harp figures in "Why?"
Danny ELFMAN Edward Scissorhands OST MCA MCAD-10133 [49:13]
It is with some trepidation that I attempt a review of this now nearly 10 years old score.
I have collected so many gushing comments and opinions, that it seems almost unnecessary to add to them. So instead, I will repeat some for the casual reader.
Alongside my own appreciative recognition of its debt to Prokofiev, I know several composers who have got the score once they saw that link. The portrayal of fairytale innocence could so easily have slipped over into maudlin excess, but a rooting in a classic style didnt have to mean that. So by combining with his own inimitable unpredictable sense of rhythmic structure and penchant for peculiar instrumentation, Elfman hit upon the sublime result that speaks universally to the heart.
Those composers cite it as among their favourite contemporary scores, and certainly of Elfmans own body of work. I mean for their praise to stand as worthy testimonials, but then there are my friends who were reduced to tears by the film. I will always remember seeing a Horror fanzine placing the album above thrash metal entries in CD reviews when the film was released!
How would the sight of Depp in Burton-mimicking dress and fright wig have been perceived without the Paulist Choristers of California ? Could anyone take the clash of suburbia and Hans Christian Anderson seriously without the tinkling of a harp and triangle ? Ultimately the film and scores "Grand Finale" defy anyone not to reach for the tissues. It sums up this symphony of the lovers soul as magically as anything ever has in the history of cinema. This is quite simply one of the greats.
and one score that might have been by Elfman:
Howard SHORE Ed Wood The London Philharmonic Orchestra HOLLYWOOD HR-62002-2 [43:58]
To date this is the only Tim Burton movie without a Danny Elfman score (creative differences). David Cronenbergs regular filled the shoes with a score Edward D. Wood, Jr. would have been overjoyed with. It plays up the kookiness of his nonsensical plots and haphazard directing style. Theres lots of Theremin and Ondes Martinot throughout, notably in the bravura "Main Title". Thematically derived from, the titles really lay the groundwork later on, although some nice brief themes do surface, such as the extension of Swan Lake for Bella.
Keeping the chintz appeal alive are cues such as "Elmogambo", "Kuba Mambo", and "Nautch Dance" - the last two being source cues.
"Ed & Kathy" showcases the sweet love theme which matures into a grand noble statement of Eddies dreams. This is perfectly coupled with the patriotic swell of "Eddie Takes A Bow" where snare drums and bell underline a brass march.
A couple of snatches of dialogue gradually wear on the listener, but its otherwise hard to fault a genuinely perfectly matched score.
Maurice JARRE Lawrence of Arabia OST - Music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer CINEPHILE/CASTLE CI CD008 [33:29]
Jarré, it is too easily forgotten, is a film composer capable great musical achievements. In Lawrence and most especially in the 1980s sci-fi film Enemy Mine (when are we going to get a CD of THAT score?) he contributed scores of the highest distinction. The desert theme from Lawrence is well known and justifiably so. But this theme (which reappears often) is contrasted with a hearty jollity and exotic Moroccan local colour. The score starts with some thunderous drums but soon relaxes into the big theme and here the shortcoming of this disc asserts itself strongly.
The sound quality does nothing for the music. The original tapes must have suffered from technical degradation in storage. The sound is rather fragile and coarse where some refinement and luxury appointments would have paid dividends. I am afraid that I can only recommend this for its collector's value as an artefact reproducing the artwork of the original film and LP. The visual dimension, as with all the Cinephile series, is faultless and the notes are good. Even the disc is designed to look like one of those authentic film cans. Playing time is distinctly short.
My expectations for this CD were very high. If you want the score then go for the Silva Screen re-recording. I also noted some extremely long silences between tracks and the timer counter was running through these as well.
Trevor JONES Titanic Town OST ISLAND CID 8081/524 601-2 [40:25]
This has to be the most relaxing album I have heard in a long time. 5 songs from John Martyns dreamy vocals are calming enough, but then woven in-between are some surprisingly subtle cues from Jones. The sound throughout stems from different guitars in conversation, and in "The Meeting" that gets backed by Irish string rhythms and drums.
Another soundtrack rendition of "Danny Boy" might put the avid collector off, but this is one of 2 songs with vocals from Nualla ONeill (the other being an alternate to the opening version of "May You Never" from Martyn). Her lovely voice and the unexpectedly toe-tapping rendition of the classic really add something to the collection. A demonstration of how to breathe respectful new life into something, if nothing else.
Everything was put together by Jones and his close collaborators Kipper and Gareth Cousins, with the former singing all the vocals in the catchy tune "Crying Out Loud". The team effort makes for a very refreshing listening experience. I hope it can be taken as a compliment by all involved when I say that this is ideal music to drive to. There is nothing traditionally road about the music. Its just the sort of easy pleasing to make zipping by scenery come alive.
Trevor JONES The Mighty Geoffrey Alexander Conducts the London Symphony Orchestra PANGAEA 61868 10028 2 6 [65:46]
The key word for this score, is understated. For its greater part, the music sensibly takes a back seat to the emotional storyline. Thankfully it never overdoes it. The performances could easily have been disrespected by too much schmaltz, but Jones found one of his most intriguing mixes of style to complement them.
All through "Dreaming Clouds", "First Flight", and "Lifes Rough" it is with piano and soft strings that the boys developing friendship is communicated. The occasional comedy is allowed to speak for itself on screen without being hammered home in music. The subtle approach also opens both of the albums sizeable cues - "The Mighty Quest" (over 14 minutes), and "My Noble Knight" (over 8). The first develops from a piano piece reminiscent in style and mood of Stanley Myers piece from The Deer Hunter. It moves between synth passages and a gentle orchestral performance of the principal theme, and builds at one point to a charging moment of drama that is the only telltale moment of Jones recognisable style. The large scale dynamics of Dark City and Merlin are recalled, but it certainly doesnt detract.
With "My Noble Knight", both film and score succeed in a wrenching tug on the heart strings. It is almost the films climax - a tragedy you hate to realise is coming. The extended sequence is given over completely to Jones music, with no other sound whatsoever. The gorgeous elegy he has created deserves to stand as one of his premier achievements.
The other sound woven into the whole adds to this being such a charming surprise of styles. Since the boys are fantasising about the Arthurian legends, who better than the composer of Excalibur and Merlin to inject some medieval pomp ? "Past Times" introduces what seems like a court dance immediately, and it re-appears most dramatically after the harmonica folksy segment of "Free To Fly".
The song co-written with Sting is for once an integral part of the film, with appropriate lyrics and features in a montage sequence of the boys first befriending each other. It has 2 different versions on offer too. "Future Times" - the last score cue of the disc - is effectively an instrumental of the song. Rounding it all off is "Let the Good Times Roll".
As we draw towards the 1999 Academy Awards celebrations we look back just once more at some of the work of 1998's Oscar winner
James HORNER More Music from Braveheart James Horner conducting the London Symphony Orchestra LONDON 458 287-2 [68:47]
Well if Titanic can be revisited, why not Braveheart? So what has this album got that the original one hadn't? Well, not too much except - just four previously unreleased tracks and a lot of the dialogue from the film plus five tracks comprising fifteen numbers of Bagpipe classics played by 1st Battalian Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders which you will consider either heaven or hell according to your taste.
The new material comes from early in the film and is represented by the four cues: "Outlawed Tunes on Outlawed Pipes" which is just that, pipes against long held plaintive and atmospheric string chords; early Church mode music, sung a capella, for "The Royal Wedding"; joyful folk music, with pipes and drum for "Scottish Wedding Music"; and sad, plaintive music with electronic wailings for "Prima Noctes".
The screenplay was quite memorable so that the dialogue, integrated with Horner's music makes for a rather winning entertainment The dialogue includes a number of tracks with Robert the Bruce's narrative, King Edward the Longshanks' (the magnificently wicked Patrick McGoohan) ironic declamation - "The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots... Perhaps the time has come to reinstitute an old custom - Prima Noctes ... If we can't get them out we'll breed them out!"; and William Wallace's impassioned cry to battle, "Sons! Of Scotland,... Will you fight?..." followed by the sonically spectacular battle music. Although Wallace's heroic call is sub- Shakespeare Henry V and Laurence Olivier, it is nevertheless a thrilling highlight of the film.
An album for dedicated Horner fans.
James HORNER Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan OST GNP Crescendo GNPD8022 [44:50]
At the very start of his career, Horner was knocking out pure genius on a daily basis, and this was the big break wherein it first truly got to shine. Every moment of Trek 2 shines with a satisfied smile on its face, knowing it works to picture with perfect exactitude.
Beating the audience appeal of the first movie wasnt a tough job, but matching the quality of the score was going to be. Director Meyer didnt manage to secure Miklos Rozsa sadly, and instead turned to this particular freshman to see if he could get the nautical and classical vision her shared with creator Roddenberry. If "Main Title" doesnt answer that question for you, you need proceed no further.
Let me highlight the highlights: Khans theme / the eerie underscore when Chekov finds Khan / the submarine-like "Battle in the Mutara Nebula" / the wondrous music for he Genesis cave / the perfect balance of adrenaline suspense with growing fear for Spock in "Genesis Countdown" / the silence in the scene between Kirk and son.
Perhaps the best musical anecdote about this film is that Horner opposed the use of Amazing Grace for Spocks funeral. It would have lost us the beautiful orchestral reprise he did, but his belief that it would spoil the scene was mostly right.
If only they made em like this now...
James HORNER Star Trek III: The Search For Spock OST SILVA SCREEN FILMCD 070 [43:05]
Its surprising Horner was kept on here, since Nimoy in occupying the directors chair must have been dying to bring in his chum Rosenman. Ah well - at least he got to drip mud all over number IV ! The obvious reason for the continuation was in that the 2 films really form parts 1 and 2 of story in three parts. The groundwork for III is so obviously laid in II.
Being a tamer beast however, Horner has less of an explosive reply to wield at the visuals. The Klingons get the bombast, but this is a more intimate affair. Both "The Mind-Meld" and "Returning To Vulcan" are terrific examples of the composer at his most restrained.
The albums true highlight is "Stealing the Enterprise" which is a succession of one agreeable musical set-piece after another.
Only a slightly lesser work than II, it still makes for the dreams of glory days in Horners career.
James HORNER The Rocketeer OST HOLLYWOOD HR-61117-2 [57:13]
The "Main Title" and main theme of The Rocketeer have always managed to pull off the same trick as The Blue Max for the listener by instantly conjuring an image of flying. Thats the immediate success of the score, but its coupled with some of Horners most detailed action writing, and a beautiful love theme.
There are plenty of familiar licks in the music that hearken back to the Star Trek scores, and pre-date Titanic amongst others. Yet its arrival in 1991 was a milestone since Horner seemed to have weaned himself off genre pictures altogether.
"The Flying Circus" is undoubtedly the scores highlight. It Mickey Mouses the aerial display of Cliff Secords first flight superbly, with lots of ascending and descending chords.
Another terrific showcase is "Jennys Rescue". With snatches of Timothy Daltons baddie theme throughout "Rendezvous At Griffith Park Observatory", that too is a great cue and what helps make them so are their generous length.
The two source songs may seem like padding being sequenced among the score cues, but they were featured prominently in the film, and do sit rather well in context.
What a shame this never became the franchise it was planned to be.
See also Ian Lace's review last January
Christopher FRANKE Babylon 5 - Thirdspace OST SONIC IMAGES SID-8900 [59:25]
I am afraid that the addition of an ondes martenot is not, by itself, going to make the finest film or TV music. Franke writes competent atmosphere music, hissingly sinister or weirdly minatory. In this case however its entertainment value exists only when heard or overheard with the Babylon 5 series. I am not out of sympathy with Babylon 5 and have quite enjoyed the series on TV (especially in the early days) but that is not enough for me to recommend this disc to other than devoted Franke collectors or total Babylon 5 enthusiasts. The notes focus on the instrument and recall Herrmann's use of it in The Day the Earth Stood Still. The music falls very far short of that example.
John BEAL The Funhouse OST JNBL 4001 [38:37]
The Funhouse, made in 1981, is described by Halliwell as - "a violent, freak-show horror that tries for black humour but misses most of the time; it sticks to the usual equation: teenage sex equals gruesome death." The colorful CD leaflet cover showing a grotesquely-grinning, malicious clown figure emerging jack-in-the-box like and holding a hatchet sums it all up. Apparently it is a now regarded as a cult classic.
John Beal's dark, Gothic score, nodding towards Bernard Herrmann, and anticipating Danny Elfman, is impressive and it gets a robust performance in this new recording from the composer's contract players.
A solo piccolo announces the rather plaintive but soon shrill-sounding three-note motif from which much of the score is built but this is quickly crushed by harsh emphatic chords from the orchestra before we are whisked into a wild carnival atmosphere. This music develops into an almost Ravelian waltz (which becomes ever more twisted and demented in the cues "The Funhouse"and "Chained Melody") The atmosphere then relaxes, but not for long because creeping, menacing string figures emerge that grow more and more menacing until we have the sort of shrill stabbing chords associated with the shower scene in Psycho but with little flashes of xylophone colouring. All this material is contained within the Main TitleTrack 1!
In "God is watching You" (surely an ironic title) Beal uses edgy metallic electronic instrumentation to screw up the "don't look-behind-you" suspense, together with quieter more reflective music. "Carnival Skyline" offers some welcome if brief serenity; it's an evocative and atmospheric portrait with just a hint of threat. I will not tire you with a complete track by track analysis, the score continues in much the same vein, but Beal's score is resourceful and he weaves enough variety using electronics skilfully interwoven with his conventional instrumentation to continually screw up the tension until it climaxes noisily and terrifyingly in "The Funhouse" and "Chained Melody" cues. Often he will use some little surprise staccato grotesque effect to spine-tingling effect.
An above-the-average horror score. It is a pity that Mr Beal was not served with mo re complete documentation than the scanty one-page leaflet that serves as the CD booklet.
Paul Tonks adds:-
If youve made up your mind one way or the other about composer John Beal on the strength of the Coming Soon ! collection, you need to obtain this at the double so as to be able to make up your mind all over again. That set of trailer themes in no way prepares your thinking for a fully developed score. The bitty nature of that listening experience has you latching onto favourites, and then wishing there were more. Here Beal flexes every muscle, and fulfils the promise of the "Main Title" to give you a thematically rich score. Being a horror film, theres plenty of spooky invention too.
Hailing from 1981, this promo speaks volumes of the opening of that decade, when full orchestrations won out over electronic experimentation. All the way through this disc, there is a delightful sense of large proportions. Its a busy score, with fast and frenetic passages ("The Funhouse") building up a constant sense of unease.
I am a bit of a sucker for the carnivalesque waltz too, so to hear it implicitly or by suggestion under the harp glissandi and rapid fire drumming is a personal treat. The Big Top sound can easily come off as cheesy, but the necessary chill quota for a horror really puts paid to that. Danny Elfman enjoys the sound as well, and its nice to see someone else having macabre fun with the genre long before he came on the scene.
This CD carries the message: "Produced by the composer for promotional purposes only. Those interested in acquiring a copy should visit John Beal's web site on: http:www.beal-net.com/john/
Billy MAY Johnny Cool OST RYKO RCD 10744 [31:47]
The music on this CD was recorded in 1962/3 for the gangster movie "Johnny Cool", the stars of which were Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. This is an album of high quality big band music from Billy May and an orchestra of top session players assembled for the purpose. Billy is synonymous with excellence in big band orchestration. By todays standards these tracks are mostly fairly short (less than 3 minutes), but the arrangements and the musical performance are of the highest standard. As the leader of a big band, I would consider it a great privilege to have these arrangements in my library and would love to have the opportunity to play them.
Billy May is now 83, but he still travels around the world playing concerts of his compositions and arrangements. He was recently in action with the BBC Big Band and anyone who heard the broadcast will testify that it was something special! Having learned his craft as a Trumpet player in the bands of Les Brown and Glenn Miller, Billy May turned his attention to Composing and Arranging and since that time he has never looked back. This album is a fine example of his work and should be in the collection of every serious big band music fan.
The first track The Lizard has a groovy theme with a Tenor solo by Justin Gordon, one of the few names listed on the information sheet. There were so many sessions in those days that no one can remember who played on them! The Window Washer has a well-written intro. some precise section work, the drumming is very crisp and there are some real screamers from high note Trumpet man Bud Brisbois. Daves Affair is a slower track with some fine Alto playing in the style of Johnny Hodges. Borrow A Knife reminded me of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, the band really swings on this one. Johnny Cool Theme has a two beat feel, slurping Saxes, more Trumpet high notes and a more up-tempo second section. Morning in Bolboa has the rhythm section playing in the style of the George Shearing Quintet. This track has a very relaxed feel and a great ensemble sound. The Shearing influence continues in Nice Quiet Saloon. There is a very well played muted trumpet solo from West Coast Trumpet player Don Fagerquist. Green Tables Blues is in the style of Bill Basie and there is nothing wrong with that! The Coolest Pad is just that, Tenor lead for the Saxes, superb ensemble playing and a very musical arrangement. Juan Coolistico, a Latin theme, plenty of clean percussion here, nice flute solo against riffs from the band. Sammy Davies JR. joins the Band for the last two tracks and gives his usual polished performance on Bee Boom, a Billy May original and the title track Ballad of Johnny Cool.
I dont know what the film was like because I havent seen it, but the music is first class!
Johnny MANDEL I want to Live OST RYKO RCD 10743 [59:22]
Any CD, on which the composition and musical direction is by Johnny Mandel, is always worth hearing and this one is no exception. The album is in two parts; the first consists of 16 short tracks that were used in the soundtrack on various sequences of the film. They are played by a 26 piece studio orchestra which included Bill Holman on Tenor and Baritone saxes, Jack Sheldon on Trumpet, Russ Freeman on Piano, Larry Bunker on Vibes and Drums and Abe Most on Clarinet.
The arrangements are impressive, the musicianship immaculate, but I have to confess that sometimes for me, film music taken out of its context, has a strange feel about it.
Part two however is absolutely the kind of music I like best.
Johnny Mandel s imaginative compositions and arrangements for a Septet led by Gerry Mulligan are a recipe for musical enjoyment. The Septet is completed by Art Farmer on Trumpet, Bud Shank on Alto and Flute, Frank Rosalino on Trombone and a superb rhythm section consisting of Pete Jolly on Piano, Red Mitchell on Bass and Shelly Manne on Drums. Rhythm sections dont get better than that! Gerry Mulligan was a jazz giant who will be sadly missed and on this session, the combination of Johnny Mandrels imaginative arrangements and a group of the very best jazz musicians playing at the top of their form, produce a stunning result. The rhythm section in which Pete Jolly is superb is one of the best I have ever heard. In summary, a very interesting release, particularly the jazz combo, which is an absolute joy!
Roy BUDD Get Carter OST CINEPHILE/CASTLE CIN CD 001 [54:17]
Tragically, British film composer, Roy Budd died in 1993 at the early age of 46. Roy Budd was a respected Jazz musician before he turned his hand to film music. Born in Surrey, just south of London, he began working professionally at a very early age with engagements at the London Palladium at the age of 12 (in fact he had been nicknamed - "the Mozart from Mitchum"). He was respected as being a brilliant musical improviser. His music combined jazz with contemporary pop music.
Now Cinephile have issued a collection of his scores. The first of these is given the special presentation treatment with a cardboard slip case and largish film poster. This is appropriate for his music for Mike Hodge's British gangster film, that has been compared with the best of Hollywood in the genre, is Budd's masterpiece.
The film concerns Carter's vengeful visit to his old hometown, Newcastle, to seek out the villains who had killed his brother. Michael Caine was brilliant in the role of Jack Carter; cold and laconic with a bitter, caustic wit, yet vulnerable too. He was supported by a marvellous supporting cast including Ian Hendry as Eric. Remember their dialogue at the race track? Jack:...I'd almost forgotten what your eyes look like. They're still the same - like two piss holes in the snow." Eric: "'Still got a sense of humour!" Jack: "Yep. Yes, I retain that, Eric!" The race track dialogue, and eight other dialogue snippets are interspersed with the music on this CD. [The film's supporting cast also included John Osborne, Glynn Edwards, Bernard Hepton and Brian Mosely (British soap opera Coronation Street's lately deceased Alf Roberts) who fans will remember as the man that Carter throws off the top of a multi-storey car park.]
Who could forget the brilliant, steely-hard Carter theme, a two-note, pause, two-note motif played on the harpsichord with the added sound of strumming fingers across piano strings. This is stated right at the beginning and developed in a great jazz improvisation played against Carter's train journey northwards from London to Newcastle at the start of the film. Train noises are also included in the cue; and notice how appropriately and how well they blend with the music, the tempo of which slows as the train arrives at Newcastle. Budd's score blends jazz and early 1970s Pop music into a wonderful mix, creating memorable cues all the way through this album. (An indication of the esteem in which the original soundtrack LP was held is the fact that a copy recently fetched £1,500 at auction!) It is salutary to realise that this score was brought in for only £450! The players and instrumentation are economical: just Roy Budd with Geoff Cine (bass) and Chris Careen (drums and percussion), plus vocalists. The songs are all vibrant and memorably melodic: "Looking for Someone"; "Something on My Mind"; "Getting Nowhere in a Hurry"; and "Love is a Four Letter Word" all of them making ironic commentary on Carter and the storyline. A very firm recommendation
As Budd's career developed his music supported a wide variety of screenplays proving his adaptability and versatility. Below are briefer reviews of another five of his scores by Ian Lace and Rob Barnett:-
Fear is the Key OST CINEPHILE/CASTLE CIN CD 002 iMVS (UK) [36:15]
Diamonds OST CINEPHILE/CASTLE CIN CD 003 iMVS (UK) [47:29}
The Black Windmill OST CINEPHILE/CASTLE CIN CD 004 iMVS(UK) [40:33]
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger OST CINEPHILE/CASTLE CIN CD 005 iMVS (UK) [1:53]
Paper Tiger OST The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer CINEPHILE/CASTLE CI N CD 012 iMVS(UK) [50:51]
Sinbad has been the subject of scores from Bernard Herrmann (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) and Miklos Rozsa (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) - both reviewed recently on this site. It is instructive to compare these two with Budd's music for the last and least regarded of the (cheaply produced) Ray Harryhausen epic. For Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), Although not in the same class as his illustrious peers, Budd, nevertheless, delivers an enjoyable, racy score as colourful and Arabian exotic as Rozsa but more straightforwardly melodic than Herrmann blending ardent love music, comic characterisation and the more horrific, grotesque for the obligatory monsters.
Alistair Maclean's novel, Fear is the Key (1972), made an uneven transfer to the screen. After the edge-of-your-seat car chase in the first half hour it was down-hill all the way. Budd provided an upbeat jazz-based score with one of his attractive long-spanned melodies announced in the Main Theme. The most significant track here is the music for that car chase; ingenious in its pacing, mood and evocation (the strings realistically depicting screeching tyres), but the inclusion of actual car noises as the track proceeds can become very tedious on repeated hearings. The remaining tracks offer easy trad jazz listening in various tempos mixed with some interesting variations on the darkly menacing materials with which we have grown so familiar.
Paper Tiger (1975) starred David Niven as the tutor to the young son of the Japanese Ambassador to an unspecified Far Eastern country. Niven, the paper tiger (coward) of the title spins fictitious tales about his non-existent war exploits, but when tutor and pupil are both faced with real danger, the Niven character first flunks and then rises above his fear to become a tiger proper. Roy Budd created one of his best scores for this film. The opening Main Theme contains one of his loveliest melodies that can persist in the head for days. This is followed by authentic-sounding Japanese - beautifully innocent - music for "Teacher and Pupil". Niven's character is shaped by a waggish, swaggering version of "The British Grenadiers", and the suspense/combat music is well handled. Another subsidiary melody is also included and it is good to hear The Ray Coniff Singers and the Mike Sammes Singers again. Budd has all the advantages of the splendid playing of the National Philharmonic Orchestra (used by Charles Gerhardt for his RCA Classic Film Scores series).
Budd's music is polished and knife-edged whether in a cool dreaminess or icy threat. It is rather continental (Italian) in feel. This music is definitely worth hearing as representative of the 1970s. Diamonds with its cold, quietly-cutting charm is striking. This is most obvious in the title tracks as well as in Crown Jewels and A Handful of Gems and the end-titles.
Along the way you get some all-purpose Persian market music which cuts little ice with me: Budd marking time. The Three Degrees (and no doubt fans will be seeking out this album as well as Budd collectors) are in excellent voice and are recorded in an ambience that glistens and shivers
The Black Windmill is a film which has been shown quite a few times on television so people may well remember Michael Caine as the go-it-alone secret agent who, to save his child, takes on enemies on both sides of the wall'. The score has some of the quiet and freezing charm (In the Garden) of Diamonds but is interspersed with some fleet-footed jazz trio passages. Overall though the score does not hold up as well as Diamonds though the climactic gestures of No Co-Operation make the album worth hearing. Both Diamonds and Windmill are very well documented - a great credit to the enterprise. There are plenty of stills and original poster-art is used. Sadly The Black Windmill instead of using the durable booklet format, uses the fold out movie poster facsimile. This is fine for short term impact but guarantees a short life for the insert. Playing time is short. Enjoyable but not utterly compelling.
Trevor RABIN and Harry GREGSON-WILLIAMS Enemy of the State OST HOLLYWOOD HR-62160-2 [54:12]
I emerged from listening to this album wishing it had only lasted 4 minutes instead of 54! The pounding scraping electronics, in all the usual action/thriller modes were just too much. Usually they were mixed with slow, low string accompaniments - I pity the poor cello and double bass players for much of the time they only had to move their bows minimally. Occasionally like in "Coal Yard" the violins have a chance to play in quick agitated figures. This is all a pity because two early cues "Enemy of the State Main Theme" and "Brill's Theme" do show promise the acoustic instruments playing in the former a rich romantic theme and, in the latter, some interesting pensive material
Only for synthesiser music fans and even for them I would caution listen first before buying.
Richie BUCKLEY The General Music Written, Arranged, and Performed by Richie Buckle MILAN 73138-35863 [37:54]
Initially, jazz was an African-American musical style, but it soon became a popular form through the Western world. Recognizable by its rhythmic structure, improvisation (or, at the very, suitability for the same), and the playing of notes below pitch, it is a style of music that is specifically non-specific. Although he did not make the introduction to cinema, many hold renowned film composer Alex North as the man responsible for making jazz respectable as a style of filmusic. Jazz so perfectly suits film that it boggles the mind to wonder why earlier composers dismissed it so swiftly.
Richie Buckley's jazz score to "The General" is no doubt an acquired taste, but its support of John Boorman's film about Martin Cahill, a famous Irish criminal, is nearly indispensable. The music feeds off the stereotypical perception of jazz as a sleazy musical idiom, creating conflicting images of class and irony. Like the black and white cinematography the film utilizes, the music emphasizes the characters and story rather than flooding them with atmospheric mimicry. The lack of specifics in the underscore fleshes-out the details of the film.
The score does best in the realm of evocative ostinatos and motives. While the themes are present, they are short-lived, quickly used and disposed of. The recurring piano ostinato that opens the soundtrack is the closest thing to a leitmotif the score has to offer. Because of the nature of the soundtrack, much of the score seems to run together on the album. This is the composer's fault. It is a fantastic score with discernible ideas, but they mesh almost too well.
One of the defining characteristics of film music is the ever-changing mood, the disparate pulse of the music as it moulds itself around visual cues like scene changes, knife slashes, or a woman's batting eyelashes. But "The General" sounds little different from an average jazz recording. This works. However, for the die-hard filmusic buff there is an audience that Buckley does not address. Of course, there is no rule stating he must address any style other than his own, but filmusic fans expecting a traditional film score -- or, for that matter, a traditional jazz film score -- may wish to listen before buying.
The musicians, all of whom turn in strong performances, are Mick Kinsella & Philip King (harmonicas), Stephen McDonnell (trumpet, flugelhorn), Michael Buckley (alto flute, tenor saxophone), Karl Ronan (trombone), Carl Geraghty (baritone saxophone), Ronan Dooney (trumpet, flugelhorn), Niall O'Neill (bass guitars), Paul McAteer (drums), Bernard Reilly (percussion), Brian Connor & Pat Fitzpatrick (keyboards), Robbie Overson & Arty McGlynn (guitars). Richie Buckley himself plays solo baritone saxophone.
Michal PAVLICEK The Scarlet Pimpernel (Music from the BBC TV Series) BBC WMSF6002-2 [69:43]
Pavlicek is a name new to me. I am glad to make the acquaintance of his music. This is sly, sardonic, venomously humorous, occasionally rather sleazy and misty. Grand drama and romance are there too. The notes are very full - excellent.
After complaining for years about short measure I must confess that I thought that almost 70 minutes of Pavlicek was too much. The trick is not to listen to it in a single session.
I hope that the BBC commission more scores from this composer. We should watch for this name: a rising star.
Siân JAMES Birdman (Aderyn Prin) Siân James and instrumentalists BBC WMSF6007-2 [55:03]
This is an enchanting collection which I recommend warmly.
Birdman is a new six-part series made for BBC Wales, to be shown in te UK from late February. It is about an RSPB officer's conservation work protecting endangered species including birds of prey, grouse, lapwing and seabirds.
Welsh artist Siân James, who has composed the music for the series, is also heard on this soundtrack CD as singer and instrumentalist. She is steeped in Celtic music. As a child, she studied piano, violin and harp. She began performing in concerts at fourteen and formed the popular folk/rock group Bwchadanas whilst at university. Her composition professor was William Mathias. Her other TV and film work includes singing on the score for The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain.
Writing about her Birdman assignment in the CD booklet she comments "There was something appropriate about asking a Welsh traditional singer to compose a soundtrack with birds as its theme. The reason being that birds have always played a significant part in the Celtic culture of Wales. They play a central role in several of our legends - eg.Blodeuwedd, Branwen and Rhiannon. Birds were also relied upon to foretell events. There are countless sayings in the Welsh language that refer to the flight paths and other activities of birds as being indicative of present and future events. And of course our folk songs are littered with ornithological references, the Ilatai or messenger song (where young men send birds to their lovers to ask them if they love them) is one of our most common types of traditional song."
The nineteen numbers here embrace mainly the Celtic tradition and employ traditional instruments but some have a slight seasoning of modern electronic instrumentation but not so much as to be inappropriate and intrusive. Pipes, piano and harp are dominant and most of the songs are sung in the Gaelic language. One or two of the numbers lean strongly towards the pop rock culture and one, "Rhodio", has a strong Afro-Caribbean flavour. Most are serene and relaxing and frankly sweetly nostalgic. This is easy listening and I do not mean to be at all disparaging, on the contrary these numbers demonstrate an impressive musical facility. So, turn out the lights, throw a log on the fire and sit back and dream.
And Rob Barnett adds -
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to review this disc although being television-less at present I have not seen the series. My pleasure is related to my interest in the development and popularity of Celtic music in the popular field.
The crossovers and links between the work of Karen Matheson (she of the golden voice in Capercaillie and a phenomenon) and of Siân James struck me with some force. If I prefer Ms Mathesons voice it is clear nevertheless that Siân James has a voice of crystalline purity and sorrowing plangency. The accompaniments are typical of the work of Capercaillie though I am pleased to say that there is less synthetic treatment for Ms James instrumental accompaniments. Truth to tell the songs are not as memorable as those of Capercaillie but they strike with some soft beauty on the ear and are worth your time. A gentle album of under-stated melodic poetry. Recommended and definitely listenable separate from the TV series.
Collection GREATEST SCIENCE FICTION HITS Neil Norman and his Cosmic Orchestra GNP Crescendo GNPO 2258 [79:15]
As you will note from the timing above this is a very full and generous programme, with no less than 28 tracks!. It is also a very exhausting one. I commend it more to the younger visitors to this site. Most of the music is relentlessly strident. The opening two or three selections set the pace heroic full of heraldic brass and pounding drums. The album boasts a 60+ orchestra but I doubt whether this is utilised in all the tracks. Many of the later ones seem to be rock/jazz/pop driven with guitars and electronic instruments and synthesisers. The conductor is Jack Smalley who scored Charlie's Angels, Murder, She Wrote and Knight Rider. He contributes one of the most attractive tracks a special composition, Alien Autopsy which impressively eschews all electronics in favour of good old acoustic instruments to get the desired "other worldly effects - except for the use of the theremin at the end.
Variable arrangements of the music of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Alan Silvestri, David Rose, Danny Elfman and Mark Snow are included. Interestingly there is a cue entitled The Wild, Wild West by Richard Markowitz (for the CBS series) which reminds us that science fiction tales can be likened to cowboys riding to the stars. Other TV series favourites included are: Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Joseph LoDuca's fun scores, British TV The Saint theme and of course the X-Files given a cranked up treatment to include slithery alien evocations. The Lost World: Jurassic Park - gives us atmospheric jungle evocations and breathing, steaming monster effects and curiously Bernard Herrmann's Psycho music seems to have been resurrected for Reanimator. Uneven but fun for the youngsters
Amazon lists three albums by Neil Norman and his Cosmic Orchestra:
Greatest Science Fiction Hits Vol. 1 Vol 2 Vol 3
Collection LISTEN TO THE BAND: Stage and Screen Gems Various bands BBC Music WMEM 0029-2 [67:18]
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves; Gabriel's Oboe; Devil's Galop; My Fair Lady; A Bridge too Far; Theme from Independence Day; Singin' in the Rain; Slaughter on 10th Avenue; Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines; Tonight; Mack and Mabel; Song of Freedom; Riverdance.
Not being a brass band enthusiast, I will admit that I approached this collection with some trepidation but I was very pleasantly surprised for practically all the performances on this disc are first class. They are played with great enthusiasm and panache. The most successful selections are those from the musicals with the exception of Tonight which has sounds surprisingly dour and sour in this too-clever arrangement. The Robin Hood fanfares are thrilling so too are the swaggering martial strains of Richard Addison's A Bridge Too Far. For older listeners there is the old BBC favourite The Devils Galop, a sort of James Bond of the 1940s radio. Gabriel's Oboe is a compelling poignant work which introduces the oboe and harp to a sympathetic band accompaniment. Only the Riverdance music sounds wildly out of place in the transposition on this disc
Mike POST and Pete CARPENTER The A-Team Conducted by Daniel Caine SILVA SCREEN STD-5020 [36:56]
The early 1980s brought a plenteous supply of little-or no-brainer action television -- shows like "Simon & Simon," "Whiz Kids," "Airwolf," "KnightRider," and, perhaps most notoriously, "The A-Team." For me, it was a period of guilty pleasure. Hardly pinnacles of educational or inspirational television, youngsters of the '80s soaked them up all the same.
The music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter is just as much a guilty pleasure. Episodic in nature, it never melds to form a true score with a sense of direction or purpose. However, the music adaptation by Derek Wadsworth helps make the individual tracks more 'wholesome,' notwithstanding that word being a less accurate description than one could use; yet it is close enough. The result is a theme and variations approach that serves the disc well. Quite frankly, the populist facets of the soundtrack can (and presumably should) become annoying, if not headache inducing, to anyone with good taste in music. Regardless, the electric guitars, drums, and pop mentality are what help make the album so enjoyable. Hearing the wonderfully typical "A-Team" theme performed with a disco beat halfway through the album is mildly surreal, unbelievably cheesy, and ultimately a perfect musical summation of the TV show. Perhaps I am biased because it brings back so many memories of my formative years, but I thoroughly enjoy this excursion into television's campy past.
The production design is minimal, while the instrumental performances and recording lack power and skill. I still enjoy it...Fear for my critical integrity prevents me from praising anything that is so bad, or at least so average, as to be good. But even the staunchest critic must have a few guilty pleasures for traditionalists to gawk at. "The A-Team" is one of mine.
On the other hand Rob Barnett comments:-
Silva have done it again! Those industrious people have located the OST (15 tracks) for the cult 1980s TV series The A-Team. The Stephen J Cannell Productions series was distinguished by its bloodless brand of jokey mayhem. It is utterly trivial fare decked out with the talents of George Peppard and his trio of loopy, charming and hard-done-by mercenaries acting like mobile Robin Hoods. As for the music I will not say much except that it fitted its task (the highest praise really). It is brash and jazzy. Its orchestral textures are disrupted and dominated by 1980s disco-style beats and militaristic side-drum figures. There is one main theme that is instantly memorable (which, after all, is what it is all about). But this is not a score you will be tempted to come back to for its stand-alone musical virtues. It has none. For die-hard A-team fans and collectors of scores for cult TV series. Celebrate however that scores like this are available for those who would like to have them. The market is well and truly pluralist. Now how about an album of music from The High Chaparral and The Virginian? While you are at it how about the positively Respighian theme from Dynasty.
Howard HANSON (1896-1981) SYMPHONIES Nos. 1-7 etc. Carol Rosenberger (piano); Gerard Schwarz conducting The Seattle Symphony, The Seattle Symphony Chorale and the New York Chamber Symphony. Two Volumes of 2CD albums - DELOS 3705 [135:48] and DELOS 3709 [138:17]
I first came across the name Howard Hanson, many years ago, when I impulse purchased the Charles Gerhardt/RCA recording of the composer's Second 'Romantic' Symphony on the basis of having enjoyed Gerhardt's Classical Film Score recordings. I wasn't disappointed; in fact I was bowled over by this unashamedly Romantic music. I then determined to seek out more of Hanson's music.
David Hall writing in Stereo Review commented, "Even more than Samuel Barber, Howard Hanson can be described as the American Neo-romantic composer par excellence. It would not be amiss, for that matter, to speak of Hanson as a U.S. counterpart to Rachmaninov, though with a Scandinavian accent instead of a Russian one..." Hanson's hallmarks include rhythmic vitality, emotional and dramatic intensity and such unmistakeable stylistic thumbprints as staccato timpani stokes used as an ostinato device or for terracing climaxes. Why Hanson never wrote any film music (to the best of my knowledge he didn't) is a mystery for his music is essentially filmic, bold, romantic and full of character.
In the late 1980s and early '90s Gerard Schwarz recorded much of Hanson's orchestral music, including all seven symphonies, for DELOS who have now reissued all their recordings on two convenient double CD albums.
I suggest that newcomers to Hanson's music sample his most popular work first - i.e. Symphony No. 2 "Romantic" before going on to listen to more of his works This is, understandably, Hanson's most popular work. Its beautiful and very memorable romantic themes make a considerable impact. Schwarz's performance is perhaps more rugged than Gerhardt's singularly romantic conception but it is no less compelling. After a misty atmospheric introduction, and a lengthy and imposing crescendo, the glorious melody appears - it is actually made up of two melodies projected simultaneously, one in the strings, the other by solo horn. The music is developed wonderfully in the grand heroic tradition; this thrilling movement is absolutely rivetting. The Andante has another beautiful melody that speaks of yearning and nostalgia and again Hanson develops it gloriously and builds it intensely to another big climax. The tremendously exciting Allegro con brio finale is brilliant and dramatic and recapitulates material from the first movement with a splendid fanfare and a fortissimo announcement by the trumpets of the principal theme of the first movement. Bravo!
To read the rest of my review of the rest of the works on these two, 2 CD albums please visit our parent Classical music site.
John SCOTT A Colchester Symphony The Colchester Institute Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Phelps COLCHESTER INSTITUTE CBC CD 001 [66:30] Enquiries to The Colchester Institute School of Music, Colchester, UK
Bristol born John Scott has built an enviable reputation for himself as a composer of dramatic and evocative scores for documentaries (as well as feature films), such as the Cousteau adventures, so it is appropriate that he was commissioned to write this celebration of Britain's oldest recorded town.
The Colchester Symphony, at 66:30 minutes duration is huge and sprawling; and, it has to be said, of uneven inspiration. Bold, exciting material is let down by more ponderous elements. Try as I may, in the absence of really memorable themes, I sometimes found my attention wandering particularly in 16 minute first movement - or first tableau as the CD booklet calls it - the work is divided into five tableaux each with its own title and programme.
Tableau one entitled "Before Camulodunum" suggests the area of Colchester at the dawn of history: softly focussed and distant heraldic fanfares evoking "primordial elements drifting in the ether" and then more substantial symphonic material developing as the land forms. A sonorous celli theme is announced which is to become the motif for Colchester and from which the whole work will develop and proceed. For the first ten minutes or so we have music that represents the early dawn of civilisation and it strongly reminded me of the first movement, "Danses of des Temps primitifs" from Tournemire's Symphony No 7 , "Les Danses de la Vie" dealing with very similar subject matter. The music proceeds slowly and ponderously and might have benefited from some judicious editing; but at about 10:00 the rhythms grow increasingly urgent; there are softly touched cymbal strokes as if one hears the breath of some stirring beast, saxophone wailings, percussion beats, winding woodwinds, slithering strings, and then slight syncopations and faintly exotically Arabic inflections - all adding interest and colour as the mysticism of the Druids is invoked.
Tableau two is called, "The Romans" and it is much more arresting. It is a powerful alla marcia statement - a Respighi-like sound-portrait of advancing, mighty Roman legions. Proud and confident brass fanfares call out across the sound stage and their colour is enhanced by very authentic-sounding musical phrases evoking Latin and exotic cultures. Quieter passages suggest Celtic resignation and the verdant landscapes around the town, before an impressive fugal section evokes the building of the Roman temple.
Tableau three represents the uprising and temporary victory of Boudica against Roman tyranny.
The music harks back to some of the material in the opening movement to portray the less sophisticated rebel army drawn together by the fiery female warrior. As her forces gather the music swirls around like some swelling cloud of angry bees until at the hight of their rage they are released upon their prey. After the climax of the conflict, the music decrescendos to mourn Boudica's many casualties.
The fourth tableaux takes us forward to the Civil War with Colchester in a state of siege with Roundheads encircling the town and forcing depravation on the Royalists within its walls. Desolate tonalities comment on the hardship of the citizens. Martial music underscores armed conflict and then there is poignancy for the deaths of the Royalists who are handed over to the Roundheads as the price of the safety of the majority.
The final movement, "Celebration", is a portrait of modern Colchester. The music has all the sweep and pomp that goes with great civic pride. It is joyful and breezy, and both the everyday hurry and bustle of the town, and the contrasting serenity of its leafy green spaces and quieter paths are evoked. An attractive, Romantic, broad-flowing melody is introduced which builds up to an imposing and sustained climax which is rather let down by an anti-climactic and rather perfunctory ending after earlier material is briefly recapitulated.
An interesting if flawed work enthusiastically performed by the Colchester players.
Howard BLAKE A Month in the Country; Violin Concerto "The Leeds"; Sinfonietta for 10 brass instruments. Christiane Edinger (violin); English Northern Philharmonia conducted by Paul Daniel ASV CD DCA 905
If you like lush, Romantic music, look no further. This is a magnificent, accessible concerto from the composer of the music for the highly successful animated film of The Snowman. It is the sort of music that any film producer would give his eye teeth for - dramatic, heroic, atmospheric and lyrical with beautiful soaring melodies but above all it is resolutely tonal. It was commissioned by Leeds City Council for the Leeds 1993 City Centenary, hence its title, although judging from Howard Balke's own CD booklet notes, there is no programme. It is absolute music to be enjoyed in its own right; nonetheless, one is occasionally tempted to guess at some extra musical influence - for instance, the a robust passage for brass in the lengthy first movement that might describe the forthright but dependable Yorkshire personality. Christiane Edinger rises, with aplomb, to its technical challenges, especially in the bravura third movement with its quadruple stoppings, pizzicati and dazzling broken chords. Daniels provides a thrilling and sensitive accompaniment. The sound throughout this programme is excellent.
For the 1986 Euston Films/Channel 4 film A Month in the Country, Blake wrote a sympathetic score which ideally suited this story of two former soldiers coming to terms with the horrors of the Great War amidst the serenity of the English countryside. This suite for strings contrasts lyrical, pastoral music recalling Warlock, Vaughan Williams, Delius and Finzi (yet never swamping Blake's own melodic style) with other movements suggesting soldiers' trudging marching figures, and the despair and waste of war.
The Sinfonietta for brass instruments (1981) is a brilliant and colourful work with an imposing Maestoso first movement, a technically innovative and demanding Andante and a vivacious Presto. Recommended
Brian Kay's BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC Classics Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland ASV CD WHL 2113 [70:11]
Sir Malcolm Arnold: Overture - The Roots of Heaven; William Alwyn: Suite of Scottish Dances; Sir Malcolm Sargent: An Impression on a Windy Day; Clifton Parker: Overture - The Glass Slipper; James Langley: The Coloured Counties; Gordon Jacob: The Barber of Seville Goes to the Devil; Maurice Johnstone: Tarn Hows - A Cumbrian Rhapsody; Alan Langford: Overture - Two Worlds; Sir Richard Rodney Bennett: Little Suite; David Lyon: Overture - Joie de vivre.
This is an enterprising and entertaining programme of light music by British composers many of whom have written for the screen.
Arnold's Overture: The Roots of Heaven is directly linked to the film of the same name starring Errol Flynn in his penultimate role, with Orson Welles, Trevor Howard and Juliette Greco. It was set in Africa and this Overture, written for the film's London premiere, responds to all the elements of the screenplay: elephants, the Americans and the love interest. Arnold, as usual, juxtaposes an imposing fanfare and highly evocative African sound landscape-painting with quirky, jazzy rhythms and a broad, sweeping romantic melody; a minor tour de force.
William Alwyn, of course, scored many British films, but he is represented here by his jolly Suite of Scottish dances strongly based on traditional Scottish tunes. I was especially intrigued by the second dance entitled A Trip to Italy it is as though the Cock of the North is meeting Respighi's The Birds; and by Carleton House which seems to transport the dancing to the Tyrol.
Sir Malcolm Sargent is remembered as a distinguished conductor especially by older British Promenade Concert enthusiasts, yet his An Impression on a Windy Day shows that he had considerable skills as a composer. This is highly pictorial music, supremely evocative; Sargent vividly captures the atmosphere of a wild, blustery day with music that reminds one of Mendelssohn while the more romantic elements recall Eric Coates. (Has the work a hidden programme about a pair of lovers' sometimes stormy relationship?) This is a perfect little gem that makes one wonder what Sargent might have accomplished if he had chosen to develop this facet of his talents.
Clifton Parker wrote the music for the film Sink the Bismark. His Overture to his children's operetta, The Glass Slipper, based on the Cinderella story, is included here. It is an appealing, jolly, Mendelssohnian-quick-silver, yet dainty scherzo. Gordon Jacob well known as a master arranger and orchestrator is represented by his wickedly funny The Barber of Seville Goes to the Devil a brilliant parody on the famous Rossini Overture. Considering the pathetic nag that the Barber rides, no wonder such a fate befalls him! This item is a riot and worth the price of the CD alone!
James Langley's The Coloured Counties takes its name from a quotation from a line in Bredon Hill from A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad: "Here of a Sunday morning, My love and I would lie, And see the coloured counties, And here the larks so high, About us in the sky." The music is nicely, hazily, evocative and lightly romantic with some rather odd Celtic inflections. But the highlight of this CD, for me, is Tarn Hows, Maurice Johnstone's Cumbrian rhapsody celebrating the loveliness of this stretch of water lying between Coniston and Hawkshead in the English Lake District. Johnstone's music magically paints Tarn Hows slowly shrugging off early morning mists, then resplendent, glistening under the midday sun to the admiration of its many visitors and then bathed in serene, spectral, moonlit beauty.
Alan Langford wrote his Two Worlds to a BBC commission. The intriguing Overture is perky and full of good humour; it is a neat combination of the elegantly classical and colourful Latin American rhythms. Sir Richard Rodney Bennett has notched up many celebrated film scores but her we have a charming set of little pieces comprising his enchanting Little Suite, its movements, for the most part, named after birds. This magical little work with its gentle waltz rhythms is comfortably and charmingly redolent of a children's world of long ago - a nice romantic nostalgic wallow. Finally there is another work principally for younger audiences - David Lyon's colourful Overture - Joie de vivre which is full of just that.
Gavin Sutherland and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia deliver sparkling and sympathetic performances of all these little gems.
Interview with Danny Elfman, composer
reproduced with permission of Cinemedia Promotions
1. What attracted you to A Simple Plan?
[Director] Sam Raimi. I worked with him twice before and I just adore him. I just love him.
2. A Simple Plan is a more subtle score than some youve written in the past, is that more difficult than a bombastic score?
Absolutely. Theres nothing easier than being bombastic, which is exactly why I dont go for your standard action films. Anything works as long as its big and loud. Bombastic is easy. I think a relatively talented 12-year old with a couple of good orchestrators could score most of the big mega-blockbusters that are out in the last couple of years.
3. What kind of instrumentation did you use for A Simple Plan?
Very often in a movie I design the score around a sound or sounds that I think will be unique to that picture. Certainly in a movie like A Simple Plan it needed some special or unique tones, the tone of the movie was very tricky. So there are 2 thematic areas, one of them was a flute ensemble. It was a fun orchestra for me to work with because there was really no brass, no percussion. It was just stings and flutes, lots of flutes, 9 of them, mostly alto and bass. That was kind of a fun different thing, very, very simple, sparse ensemble led by alto and bass flutes.
The other part of ii was these specially tuned pianos that I prepared before I started and specially tuned banjos so I worked the music around the sounds of these micro-tuned piano chords and special banjo samples that I did myself. I tried to make the heart of it. Starting with these two odd tonal groups, I started composing the score. It was really fun, different, very simple score, really, for A Simple Plan. I didnt mean it as a pun, it really was. A lot of people that work with me very frequently were very shocked when they came in the room, to see no brass or percussion.
4. Do you have much control over your score on a soundtrack album?
No, unless its an album of the score, then I do. In an album like Good Will Hunting or Men in Black which is really an album of songs with a bit of score I dont really have much say, because its not really about being a soundtrack, its about marketing something to help promote the movie. So when an album, i.e. A Civil Action or A Simple Plan, is the score, then I produce the album.
5. Do you do most of your scoring in here (US) or abroad?
Ive been scoring strictly here. Ive done 34 films. Ive done only 2 of them abroad, although the next 2 are, oddly enough. Not for union costs, because theyre both British based productions. All the post is happening there. I prefer to score at home, not because they dont have excellent orchestras abroad, they do, Ive got wonderful performances from London both times Ive played there, but simply for the fact that its much easier on me to be home. Close to all my own resources.
One thing I should point out is that I do a lot of the performing on my scores, which not everybodys aware of. In A Simple Plan, A Civil Action, and (the upcoming) Instinct, anywhere between 20 and 40% of the music on any particular cue is coming from me. So that provides a difficulty in terms of leaving because it means I have to bring a lot of stuff with me. Im running simultaneously with the orchestra, quite a bit of percussion. I dont run, as some people do, phony orchestra sounds, the strings are all strings, the brass is all brass, the woodwinds are all woodwinds. If you listen to the underlying texture beneath that there might be anywhere between 20-40 tracks of me playing percussion and odd string struck sounds, glass sounds, harmonic sounds sounds that I collect and use.
Pretty much any sound you hear in any of my scores, that isnt traditional orchestral instruments, is coming from my own performance. Because of that its much easier for me to be close to my home. I dont pre-lay it on tape, so theres a difficulty in terms of going oversees, how do I bring all these with me, because I want them all running live with the orchestra. It would be easy to pre-lay it on tape, but with it on tape you lose your ability to change a tempo or to catch something differently. If a director is sitting there going "I like it, but I really want it want to catch this thing earlier, I think were a little late on that," you cant do it if youve pre-laid it. So I have everything running live with the orchestra, and it gives us the flexibility to speed up or slow down the tempo, or do anything more with it. With these next 2 projects Im going to be bringing a lot of my equipment oversees. More than anything else thats what keeps me, when I can, working close to home. And I literally might want to grab an instrument with a particular sound to redo something. If Im oversees I cant do that because theyre not traditional instruments, theyre odd things, just my own stuff.
In A Simple Plan all of the re-tuned pianos, all of the banjos all of the strummed instruments, all of the glass all of the percussion, zithers, and hand drums, theres a lot of stuff that you don knowits there bit its there, its all my stuff. A Civil Action, all of the marimbas, all of the glass, lots of peculiar little instruments and organ type sounds, synth work is mine. In Instinct its like a plethora of all of the xylophones, marimbas, thumb pianos and African instruments and drums. Thats all my own stuff.
6. Who are some of your favourite directors to work with?
My only repeat directors would be Gus van Zant and Tim Burton and now Sam Raimi. I like working with all of them. They all give me a very long leash to work on, which is where Im happiest.
7. So you dont come in and do films with 1-week turnarounds, where you dont know anything about the film going into it...
Some of their films will be tight turnarounds and some of them will be looser but its more creatively they let me do my job. Its just that simple. And many directors just dont have the ability to let you do that. Because they all have to control it so much that you cant really bring much to the party. All three of them allow me to bring something to their party.
return to Simple Plan
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