Lost Horizon is a film to bring back memories. For this reviewer this involves
rainy Sunday afternoon TV matinees (black and white era of course). Those
memories are rekindled by this disc.
The films initial release ran to 132 mins but successive copies shrank
and shrank down to 95 minutes for the latest TV releases. Fortunately the
full article has been reconstructed.
This is the first appearance of Tiomkins complete score. As such this
is both an historical and an historic recording.
Charles Gerhardt included a substantial Lost Horizon suite in his
Tiomkin instalment of the RCA Classic Film Music series. I recall rather
warming to the technicolor exoticisms of that LP although in terms of the
music I always considered that disc by no means a peak amongst the twelve
LPs. I have not heard the CD reissue of the Gerhardt but am sure that its
BMG/RCA incarnation preserves the impressive close-up wonders of the wide-stage
sound-picture from the mid-1970s.
This recording is in all ways complementary to the Gerhardt. Gerhardts
modern (well 1970s anyway!) in-depth stereo is a joy to hear whereas the
sound direct from 1930s 78s, while high in atmospheric magic, is both mono
and low-fi. The casual collector will want the Gerhardt. The dedicated Tiomkin
hunter will grab this disc and bless those wonderful people at the Brigham
Young University Film Music Archive for their necromantic work in breathing
life into a fabled score.
The Gerhardt is a 23-minute suite whereas BYU offers the full article including
sections never used in the film. I wonder if the suite is the same as the
suite performed at the Hollywood Bowl on 16 August 1938 and conducted by
The film was directed by Frank Capra and had Ronald Colman as its tragic-debonair
lead. The only other big name we might remember now is character actor Edward
Everett Horton. The story of Shangri-La is tremendously well handled.
James Hiltons novel Lost Horizon (on which the film is
based) had been published in 1933 to modest attention and sales. When
Hiltons next novel Goodbye Mr Chips came out it was a runaway
success. Lost Horizon was republished in 1935 and was soon selling
6000 copies a week.
The story of a remote and exotic land of the ever-young had a powerful pull.
There must have been many in the films audiences who recalled the lost
youths (either their own or their childrens or lovers or friends) of
the Great War only 20 years previously. The spell cast by images of a world
of simple pleasures was enthralling. This was accentuated by the fact that
this was still a world where Tibet was a genuinely remote place known if
at all from the pages of National Geographic.
Capras choice for the music fell on the shoulders of Dimitri Tiomkin.
This was the first time the two had collaborated. Tiomkin was assisted by
a team of nine orchestrators. The team included some names famous from both
concert hall and film studio. These included Hugo Friedhofer, Robert Russell
Bennett and William Grant Still.
There are two distinct Tiomkins in this music. There is the mystic seer and
the naively playful innocent. The seer offers (especially in the first five
tracks) a pretty apocalyptic brew of exuberant sunrise piled repeatedly on
dramatic sunset in music which has escaped from a late (very late) romantic
symphony by Scriabin. If you know Scriabins Poem of Ecstasy you
will know what to expect. There is also a touch of the French composer Florent
Schmitt and Holsts Planets. Mysterious harp washes deck out
the arrival of the caravan (7). The Entrance to Shangri-La and
Nocturne (8/9) are quite Delian with the choirs ecstatic
contribution well put across. The choir (Hall Johnson Chorus) appear relatively
infrequently although they are also used in Shooting Sequence (12).
The playful Tiomkin who evokes childrens nursery songs and playtime
jingles can be heard in Swimming Sequence (11), Valley of the Blue
Moon (14), Lovett and Barnard (17) and Sow a Wild Oat (18).
Romance is taken to excess in The Cherry Orchard which is appallingly
sentimental and gloopy but this is the only track
blighted by sentimentality. Of course the violins are called
on for the glycerine from time to time and they do this, trouncing all
competition, in Conway and Sondra (20). George and Maria (19)
reminded me of the weary march music from Deliuss music for
Hassan mixed with the silvery beauties of Strausss
Rosenkavalier music (Presentation of the Rose). Strausss
Alpine Symphony can be heard in Snow Sequence (24). The oriental
march of Funeral Procession perhaps leans slightly towards Ketèlbey
territory but it is played with taste and the music is a cut above Victorian
syrup. The final track (26) Toast to Robert Conway (the Colman character)
marries the valedictory (Auld Lang Syne) with elements of Korngold,
a fluttering ambience and the sunrise music of Deliuss
The CD is exhaustively documented and well designed although I did initially
wonder about the cover art until I realised that it was taken from an original
cinema release poster. As for everything else the level of detail offered
in the (English only) notes is massive. I would have liked more of an
introduction to Tiomkin but otherwise no reservations. The booklet runs to
32 pages with 41 photos, actor portraits and stills from the filming plus
half a dozen poster repros. Full cast and technical credits are listed with
tech notes from the digital editor (Ray Faiola), Jack Smiths track
by track plot line, Rudy Behlmers essay on the film and its backgrounds
and James V DArcs introduction including the fascinating story
of the finding of a well preserved set of 78 discs used for this major event.
Recommended to the film music fanatics everywhere. The sound is what it is:
1930s vintage, but pretty good given its 60+ years youth. There is no beating
its completeness, authenticity and tingling atmosphere.