October 23, 2014
If you’re on a limited budget but own a computer there is a whole world of classical music waiting for you for free, an example of this is the site www.rediscovery.us which offers a fine catalog of material. An example of this is arguably one of the finest examples of symphony writing, that being Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in b minor, the last work he wrote. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). There are many opinions of what really happened in regards to his suicide a very short time after the completion of this symphony, something I won’t discuss in this review but I will say that Tchaikovsky was a very troubled man and the writing of this work certainly indicates it. For those who wish to pursue this topic further I can recommend the book Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music/David Brown.
Released on the RCA budget label Camden (CAS 503) Odd Gruner-Hegge and the Oslo Philharmonic give a rather reserved reading which goes along with the engineering of this recording as well. The high end is somewhat restrained, woofers are practically given a holiday in your speaker system, and the conducting indicates this. Some of this is due to the fact that this is a 320KBPS but others I’ve downloaded have a fuller dynamic range. Having said this it is a tremendous bargain which will give you an idea about the work in general.
The first movement, an adagio begins somewhat sadly with the bassoon offering the melody followed by the oboes. It quickly changes to a dramatic bright and bold version of the same melody coming to a crescendo before we’re introduced to the theme that was made popular called “Tonight We Love” becoming a theme song for Tony Martin. The rest of the seventeen minute movement is devoted to the development of the theme.
The second movement is a glowing feel good allegro played at a slower pace with a theme nicely developed and harmonized by Tchaikovsky. This is a movement typical of his style and one that lovers of his music will be accustomed to.
The third movement, another allegro, adds a third memorable theme to the work with a feel of the staccato from the strings with the brass offering harmony to the melody. It builds to a crescendo with the entire orchestra participating. If one was not familiar with the work you’d definitely get the feeling that this was the conclusion of the work!
The final movement which is the one many feel is a funeral march is in fact in my opinion a well thought out adagio which builds with another sad melody but ends in silence.
Tchaikovsky has shown how he has been able to master the symphonic form and his six symphonies rank among the finest to have come out of the late 19th century.
- adagio-allegro non troppo (17:37)
- Allegro con grazia (8:13)
- allegro molto vivace (9:09)
- adagio lamentoso (9:51)
NOTE: This work also includes the Schubert Symphony No. 8 in b minor “Unfinished.” Both works have the distinction of being unique with special circumstances for each. I prefer to discuss the Schubert work in a separate review.
September 5, 2014
Toccata Classics 0241
AUDIO CLIP REAR WINDOW
Featuring three of the finest composers from Hollywood; Herrmann, Waxman, and Tiomkin, John Mauceri offers a slightly different take on suites that have been created over the years of some of his biggest hits. John Mauceri has revised some of these suites to make a good one even better. As listeners we can only hope there will be more releases in the future. In addition there is a work from Benjamin and Elfman closes out the CD with his recently made film Hitchcock. The 81 minute CD offers music from Psycho, Rear Window, Rebecca, Vertigo, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder, The Man Who Knew Too Much, which includes the “Storm Cantata” and Hitchcock.
The CD begins with the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) with its bright brass and a very strong emphasis on the percussion (timpani and cymbals). For those who are not familiar with the film the crescendo of the work has a very loud crash of the cymbals to muffle the sound of the gunshot. We quickly move to an extended suite from Rebecca (1940) from Franz Waxman the second of his many Oscar nominations and one of his better efforts in my opinion. It is a darkly romantic suite with a rich memorable theme which weaves its way through the score and will not be forgotten once you hear it. Waxman was in top form when he composed it for the Hitchcock/Selznick compilation.
The other entry from Waxman is the jazz style score to Rear Window (1954). I like the opening “Prelude” which sounds like it has a bit of that Sunset Boulevard style with a bit of improvisational feeling. I’ve included this one as an audio clip for you to enjoy. The ballet plays out like another track from Sunset Boulevard with an emphasis on a Leonard Bernstein cue from West Side Story. This is definitely one of Waxman’s underappreciated scores and is one that should be revisited often. This release also coincides with the remake of the film in 1998 and very recently released from MSM. That score was done by the talented David Shire.
Dimitri Tiomkin, Russian born, studied under Glazunov, a favorite classical composer of mine, immigrated to the United States and had a fine career in Hollywood. While he is probably best known for his High Noon theme he has so many more to offer. Strangers on a Train” shows the listener the versatility of Tiomkin as the suite offers classical, playful, fugue, and ends with a stunning waltz. This is quite an array of material for this suspense/thriller film from Alfred Hitchcock. Dial M for Murder begins with a classic Tiomkin fanfare opening somewhat similar to Red River and others. It quickly changes gears to a waltz which is the main theme of the film. Delicate, nicely flowing, it is one of his nicer efforts. The remainder of the suite is filled with danger and tension cues, something that Tiomkin knows well. Listen to the clock like cue with growly brass and the ever present vibraphone. There is also a fairly brief passage of the fugue that could have been taken from Strangers on a Train.
It can be argued by many that Vertigo was the best effort that Herrmann ever did. The dark romantic material will stay lingering in your brain as you hear the haunting melody that only Herrmann can write. “Prelude” and “Scene d’Amour” are the two selections from the film and both feature the haunting melody. The latter is quite a romantic bit of writing from Herrmann, probably the best he ever did.
North by Northwest (1959) is yet another memorable theme with the entire orchestra participating with staccato brass providing the main melody with excellent harmony coming from both the brass and the woodwinds. I like the way he uses the forceful notes to emphasize his theme.
Psycho (1960) was a film that at one point was almost never made and with that said it created a stir as well as a paycheck for life for Hitchcock. Herrmann went back to his “Sinfonietta” (1936) and drew material and the idea of making the score only strings. The strings provide just what the doctor ordered for the film and the narrative was created by Herrmann afterword. It has become a well played suite being recorded and performed by many orchestras. In 1968 Mauceri reworked the material and this is what is heard on this recording.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) was a remake of his film from 1934 and much of the suite you hear is not original Herrmann material but that of Arthur Benjamin’s material. I say that this short piece is as close to many that they will ever get to opera material. It is a very nice classical piece that worked very well in the film.
Finally we have Danny Elfman and his score to the film Hitchcock (2012) which tells the story of Hitchcock himself and the making of the film Psycho. The style is somewhat different and there is only a reference to the original film with the urgent violins. It plays out a lot more like a Sherlock Holmes film with a violin solo that weaves in and out in the beginning of the track before a love melody finishes out the track.
Everything about this release is top notch from the John Riley liner notes to the Danish National Symphony Orchestra to the conducting of John Mauceri, and finally to the recording. It will be a most welcome addition to any collection and comes with my highest recommendation.
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1:57)
- Rebecca (8.22)
- Rear Window (9:30)
- Strangers on a Train (8:39)
- Dial M For Murder (7:47)
- Vertigo (9:32)
- North By Northwest (2:47)
- Psycho (15:42)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (9:55)
- Hitchcock (2012) (5:50)
Total Time is 81:00
August 16, 2014
Symphony No. 1 in F Major, op. 17 was first worked on in 1877 but took six years for Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) to complete. Perhaps his personal life which was somewhat turbulent had something to do with the delay. For a first movement this one has to rank as a good effort as it is full of rich tonal color and good orchestration. The overall feeling is positive and upbeat. One can hear the influence of Schumann.
The first movement an Allegro begins with a pronounced tremolo lower register as the melody is introduced by the horns in the background. As the melody is developed you’ll hear it from the strings, flute(s), and the entire orchestra as an entire set of harmonic chords is developed around it.
The second movement the Scherzo with two parts both dancelike in nature and both structured. The woodwinds assume the major role with brass having a contributing role.
The third movement is the Adagio featuring a prominent part for the clarinet. The overall feeling is an emphasis on the romantic side.
The fourth movement begins with bars of urgent strings, a prelude to the upbeat festive theme from the brass. The tempo is allegro vivace. Throughout the movement we’re treated to update happy times. Towards the end of the movement Fibich recalls a brief but very distinct reference to the main theme of the movement from the horns. There is a climatic conclusion.
While many reviewers have not been kind to this recording I for one am not among them. I found it to be a charming recording that Stilec and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra perform well. It is nicely recorded with better than average high end and somewhat spacious in the separation of the instruments. I look forward to the new Naxos undertaking and encourage you to visit www.fibich.cz for more information.
Impressions from the Countryside op. 54 was written just prior to his third and final symphony being composed in 1897-98 when he had reunited with his former student Anezka Schulzova. They were to become lovers for the final three years of his life. This work could easily be classified as a symphonic tone poem.
- “Moonlit Night” is written for strings only. While not a fugue it does have the sound of one as well as a spiritual feeling.
- “Country Dance” is definitely a dance which makes one think of bow and curtsey as the work is a series of exchanges between strings and the rest of the orchestra.
- “Highlands Ho” does remind one of Scotland with the horns offering the theme and strings harmony. This type of style is quite a surprise coming from a Czech composer.
4.”Fireside Talk” is somewhat light in nature with an Italian sound this intermezzo shifts gears midway with the theme coming from a bassoon before returning to the opening idea. The two ideas come together at the end.
5.”Village Dance” is the concluding work and is a dance of sorts which is developed as a heavier sound which turns to a new theme midway through. A fitting conclusion to a fine work.
The two works on this CD give the listener an example of early and late Fibich sound like. It is an excellent starting point to hear what this forgotten composer sounds like.
SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN F MAJOR, OP. 17
- Allegro moderato (16:14)
- Scherzo: Allegro assai (5:45)
- Adagio non troppo (alla romanza) (5:10)
- Finale-Allegro con fuoco e vivace (9:33)
IMPRESSIONS FROM THE COUNTRYSIDE, OP. 54
- Moonlit Night (2:56)
- Country Dance (3:06)
- Highlands Ho (4:11)
- Fireside Talk (7:19)
- Village Dance (7:51)
August 12, 2014
Zdenek Fibich (1850-1900) wrote his second symphony in 1892 after the third revision of Bruckner’s fourth symphony. I tell you this because the opening chords of the second symphony make me ask the question that perhaps Fibich listened to this and took some of the ideas and adapted them to his own style. Both symphonies were written in E flat major and with the horns calling and introducing the happy upbeat melody it is sure to put you in a festive mood. This reviewer hears a similarity between the two works.
Fibich composed during the same time as Dvorak and Smetena yet his work is rarely performed by most major symphony orchestras outside of his native country. The fact that Naxos has taken on the task of recording all of his orchestral works is welcome to this reviewer. Currently there are three volumes with plans for seven more in the upcoming months.
Some of the themes for his second symphony have been taken from his piano pieces Moods, Impressions, and Reminiscences which he wrote for a former student Anezka Schulzova declaring his undying love for her. You could call it a musical diary of his thoughts and feelings.
The “Allegro moderato” previously discussed has two themes the first being more fully developed than the second. The solo clarinet is in the spotlight as it plays the theme. The second theme is performed by the strings before heading into a coda which brings together both themes for a rousing conclusion.
The “Adagio” has to rank with some of the better written ones as it depicts the sad and lonely existence. The yearning from the violins is turned up as one can picture a love lost. The gypsy violin solo is a prelude to a return of the opening music in a brief climax.
“Scherzo” my favorite movement in this symphony offers a bright vivacious theme that will uplift your spirits. It begins like the first movement with the calling of the horns which is quickly passed to the strings and then to solo flute and woodwinds.
The final movement an allegro energico also goes back to the first movement and is a summarizing of the work with the main theme being intertwined with additional ideas. It ends with a rousing conclusion.
At Twilight Op.39, according to opus numbers came right after the second symphony in 1893. According to letters written by Schulzova’s brother the work came about during long family walks. Each theme depicts a family member or close friend. The Wagner influence is evident as the idyll is unfolded. One can feel a sense of being at piece with nature. The beginning theme is repeated in the midsection of the piece and is part of the summation at the conclusion of the work.
Idyll in B flat major for Clarinet Op. 16 was composed fourteen years earlier and this work was as close Fibich ever came to writing a concerto. The work is rather brief but is written a similar fashion to At Twilight only in a much lighter vein for the majority of the work as there is a short melancholy section. There are no difficult passages for the clarinet and I would consider it as a work featuring the clarinet nicely performed by Irvin Venys.
This is yet another work to be explored by you the listener. The recording doesn’t stand out it is more than adequate and Stilec and the Czech National Symphony seem to have a good grasp of the material they performed.
SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN E FLAT MAJOR, OP. 38
- Allegro moderato (9:48)
- Adagio (8:11)
- Scherzo: Presto (9:53)
- Finale-Allegro energico (12:21)
- AT TWILIGHT-IDYLL FOR ORCHESTRA, OP. 39 (16:24)
- SELANKA-IDYLL IN B FLAT MAJOR FOR CLARINET OP. 16 (6:47)
Total Time is 63:35
August 9, 2014
LIMITED EDITION OF 1500 UNITS
Sometimes a first opinion especially when listening to soundtracks isn’t necessarily a good indication and a few listens are in order before you can say whether or not you’ll like the material. This at least for me was the case in my first listen to The In-Laws. I had it on in the background and nothing got my attention and it nearly ended up being filed without a further listen. Fortunately I put my Grado headphones on and listened to a straight feed thru my Rega headphone amp and I formed a very positive opinion one that will include the main title being included in a play list.
John Morris made a fine living in Hollywood writing comedic film scores for many of Mel Brooks’s films such as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and the award winning film Elephant Man. He won Emmys for his music to the television series Coach, his last stint as a composer, retiring in 1996.
The In-Laws starring Alan Arkin (also executive producer) and Peter Falk is the story of stolen bank plates and all the intrigue involved along with a wedding to the conclude the screwball comedy.
“The Main Title” has a prelude of over a minute and a half which almost makes the theme anti-climatic. The slow buildup to a Mancini or Hefti like theme really prepares you. Morris uses a combination of electronics and conventional orchestra with nice harmony from the brass. The theme fits the film perfectly. It is one that I’ll include as an audio clip. This is a theme that you’ll hear in various styles on several of the tracks including the very next track “Siren to Dental Office” which begins with a teeth rattling low bass tone which segues first to rendition of the theme on the bassoon followed by the oboe and concluding with the full orchestra. “Bridal Chorus/Wedding/End Title” begins with arguably one of the best known themes from Wagner, The Bridal Chorus, before it shifts to a full treatment of the main theme with full orchestra.
“Orchestra Tune Up” is a bit unusual for a cue but this one is a little over a minute and I could see this being used as a prelude in a compilation for one of your favorite themes. Latin music is the order of the day in “Too Many Movies/Landing” and “Car Shimmies Away” with a comedic type style.
The recording is excellent with a nice crisp high end, teeth rattling bass, and overall a smooth easy to listen to sound. There are good liner notes from BSX writer Randall Larson who provides a track by track analysis who find this interesting. His insight on the making of the film and composer John Morris provide an excellent read.
Limited to 1500 copies I think this unit will sell out rather quickly so you should act sooner rather than later. It is a fun score to listen to albeit only 36+ minutes.
Total Duration: 00:34:21
August 4, 2014
Don Davis got his start at the age of 22 in Hollywood with composer Joe Harnell. What was the name of the work that impressed Joe. Send email with your answer to email@example.com. The winner will receive a signed copy of “Warriors of Virtue.” All correct answers will be selected by the use of a random generator. The contest will run through 8/12/14. One entry please. While at the site please read about the latest BSX release “Warriors of Virtue.”
August 3, 2014
Limited edition of 1000 units
Warriors of Virtue (1997) was a dream come true for the four Law brothers who had the money to fund a film of their dreams. They emigrated from Hong Kong to Colorado and produced a fantasy/wire-fu/comedy about five warriors who each carry one of nature’s elements in his staff: wood, earth, fire, water, metal. Directed by Ronnie Lu the film failed at the box office and has more or less disappeared. The important thing that remains is the Don Davis score, one filled with fantasy, adventure, and tension phrases that seem to be nonstop for the 72 minute soundtrack. Previously released over 15 years ago on the Prometheus label (PCD 144) it is long out of print thus this new BSX re-release of the material.
One of the things that the Lee brothers insisted upon was they wanted it to sound like a John Williams score. Davis began working on the project in 1995 as he was commissioned to do a piece for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. It was from this commissioned piece “Of the Illuminated” that the motifs for the characters were found. The five motifs are all represented in “Forces of Nature” and “The Force of Water” cues. Davis explained in the liner notes how grueling this was to do and when there was a scene that required counterpoint of all five themes it was hard to “integrate them all without it sounding like a big mush.
“Main Title” is the one that starts the recording off with a long eerie chord followed by an equally creepy statement from the brass and then the woodwinds everything in the lower register and one of the quieter parts of the soundtrack. There is a building of hope, a bit of magic before the ominous chords are yet repeated again. Overall a dark beginning to the film score. “Bootleg Left” is from the brass with strong statements of victory over the evil forces. It does sound like it’s a Star Wars statement but definitely in the style of Don Davis. “Ryan and the Tunnel of Temptation” offers Ryan’s theme simply stated from the flute/woodwinds that conveys the innocence of this main character. “Vortex and the Dare” gives us the first reference to the classics in a short motif of “A Night on Bald Mountain,” the first of many passages that are filled with the classical themes. It also appears in “Chained Melody.” These passages are cleverly disguised and not easy to pick up unless you’re quite familiar with the works. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is featured in scenes with Mudlap and is perfect for the character. It is easier to pick up in “The Mudlap Trap.” This work by Dukas, little known for anything else, has been used by the cartoon side of Hollywood for a long time.
The evil character Komodo used a variation of the famous Stravinsky piece The Firebird Suite to musically portray him. He also used a bit of Mussorgsky’s A Night On Bald Mountain.
There is plenty of action track material in such cues as “The Force of Water,” “Tunnel of Blades,” and “Planet of the Roo-Warriors.” There structured style seems to offer loud brass chords that make you want to turn your stereo down but don’t because in the next moment there is a softer passage. Remember the Lee brothers told Davis we want a John Williams type score.
There are plenty of positives for getting this album such as appeal to action scores, full symphonic offerings, and John Williams type music. The 70 plus minute score will be pleasing to your palette with the great melodies, nice color, and excellent orchestrations. Remember this is a limited edition of only 1000 units so take advantage before it sells out.
Total Duration: 01:10:57