June 29, 2015
Charles O’Brien (1882-1968) was born in Eastbourne (summer place) but was raised in Edinburgh to a father who was a trombonist in the Eastbourne Orchestra. His grandfather was a composer and french horn player while his great-grandfather was the principle horn player at Covent Garden. O’Brien had the good fortune to be taught by some of the finer teachers in Scotland. One of his teachers Hamish Macunn, the leading composer of the day taught him counterpoint which is quite evident when you listen to his Symphony in F minor, op. 23.
It was through the efforts of O’Brien’s grandson David and conductor of this CD Paul Mann that this recording came to being. I should also mention that executive producer of Toccata and his willingness to take on projects of this nature should be applauded.
“Ellangowan” Overture, op. 12 was written in 1909 with the name coming from Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering. It was a place on the Scottish borders where part of the story unfolded. O’Brien wrote two versions of the overture. The one on this CD is the longer version (5 minutes) for a larger orchestra. The shorter version is also arranged for a smaller ensemble. The first bars let it be known that this melody is Scottish and the ‘Scotch snap’ is most evident. The theme is not as I thought a folk melody but an original theme from O’Brien. The theme appears through the whole work. In addition there is a second theme which is evident but definitely in a secondary role. It is a bright upbeat overture that shows a happy composer.
It was thirteen years later that O’Brien wrote his powerful Symphony in F minor, op. 23, his last large scale major work. Keep in mine that 45 years elapsed until he died in 1968. The work in my opinion is one that should be played on a far more regular basis than it is now. It is a perfect time for the second half of a program and listeners will be quite pleased on how easy it is to follow. Marked serioso the first movement is the most powerful of the movements and sets the stage for the three movements that follow. It has quite an ear catching exchange between the horns and the strings. The wonderful melody heard right from the beginning is one that unfolds through the entire movement and is developed quite nicely. I especially like the way he uses the bassoon. The menuetto begins with an extended theme from the oboe with harmony from the other woodwinds and strings who also play part of the melody. The third movement an andante cantabile offers a melancholy theme that features an exchange in the woodwind section with the horns providing excellent harmony. The final movement an allegro returns to the robust tempo of the first movement. It is quite an agitated before it quiets down to feature the theme of the movement and features a rousing ending not to be missed.
The CD is well recorded as it was fairly easy to hear the distinct sound of the instruments especially the bassoon which O’Brien seems to favor. It is a smaller orchestra and there are a couple of passages where it is a bit thin but don’t let this discourage you from purchasing this. I for one am pleased that Toccata releases this kind of material. I’m looking forward to getting the new Solberg release and doing a review on that also. Highly recommended.
1. Ellangowan Concert Overture (17:50)
Symphony in F minor
2. Con moto moderato e serioso (15:53)
3. Menuetto (7:13)
4. Andante sostenuto e cantabile (11:13)
5. Allegro con moto (10:32)
May 13, 2015
A favorite story of Hollywood this latest version features the boys at 15 (Jake T. Austin and Joel Courtney) with an appearance by Mark Twain (Val Kilmer) who was also the narrator of the film. The book provided the characters and a basic template. It is unfair to compare the two as they are completely different. I won’t comment on the film as I’ve only seen a two minute trailer.
I first became familiar with Robert Guyla in 2007 with Atom Nine Adventures, released by Movie Score Media. From the title this was a very action oriented score with lots of brass and percussion. My next exposure was in 2013 with his score to In the Name of Sherlock Holmes, released by Howlin Wolf Records where some period instruments and a violin played a big part in the score. The main theme was a very ear catching melody which I have on a compilation CD. I urge you to visit Guyla’s website to get more information and have listen to some of the 20 scores he has written http://www.robertgulya.com/
01. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (6.24) opens the score with a banjo an introduction to the main theme one that your going to hear in different orchestrations with different instruments. This track runs the gamut from flute and oboe to the full orchestra in a proud rendition. 02. Main Title (3.45) offers the same theme but this time there are a few bars of chorus added to give one a feeling of being majestic. It changes part way through with oboe, flute and romantic strings. 04. Digging (2.37) begins with chorus and muted brass fanfare all a prelude to a comic bassoon solo of the main title. The rest of the track is underscore almost cartoon like with the percussion in the background.08. Court (4.14) begins with a bit of tension and the cue slowly builds up using the main theme to a fantasy adventure with the full orchestra. 09. Old Wreck is my favorite track because it offers all kinds of underscore including action, creepy tension, and some nice brass passages. And yes the main title is there which is one that you can’t really get enough of. It bonds the score together and while I have not seen the movie I just know that this score is one that enhances and makes the film together, something that I’m sad to say seldom happens anymore. If you listen carefully you’ll hear all sorts of references from other composers. An example of this is the Morricone western theme beginning 11. The Search. There is the wailing choir and even the 5 note motif prevelant in the Eastwood movies. For a minute I thought I was listening to “A Fistful of Dollars.” I certainly hope that Guyla continues to write for a symphonic size orchestra. It is certainly welcome to this reviewer to be able to hum the main theme after listening to it. A joy to listen to. Available as a download or CD. Please check the MSM website for details. http://moviescoremedia.com/tom-sawyer-huckleberry-finn-robert-gulya/
01. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (6.24)
02. Main Title (3.45)
03. Secret Island (3.16)
04. Digging (2.37)
05. Painting (3.11)
06. Morning (2.37)
07. Muff Has Escaped (2.36)
08. Court (4.14)
09. Old Wreck (3.12)
10 The Barn (5.29)
11. The Search (6.12)
12. Night Mission (1.48)
13. Back to the Cave, Pt. 1 (3.28)
14. Back to the Cave, Pt. 2 (3.37)
15. Stay Together (2.00)
May 12, 2015
Continuing in their series of orchestral works ( volume 1 is available #8573139) we are given his greatest work Symphony No. 3 ‘Organ’ (1886), dedicated to the great Franz Liszt, his first Symphony in A major (1850) when he was only 15, and finally a moody mysterious tone poem Le rouet d’Omphale (1871) whose second melody in the tone poem was used in the popular radio show “The Shadow” of the 40’s.
Born in 1835 in Paris he was giving public concerts by the age of 10 and entered the Conservatoire at the age of 13 studying organ and composition. As stated above he wrote his first symphony at 15 and published it a German anonymous composer feeling that audiences couldn’t accept a work from someone so young. The work is presented here on this CD and while it is far from a masterpiece it shows quite a level of talent as he used Mozart as a model in particular the ‘Jupiter’ symphony. If someone had said to me that this was a Mozart symphony I wouldn’t have argued.
After the disasters of the Franco-Prussian war Saint-Saens began to write a number of tone poems like his idol Franz Liszt did. The first of these was “Le rouet d’Omphale” dedicated to the composer Augusta Holmes. The storyline involves Hercules who was condemned to serve her in the guise of a woman. Both the spinning wheel of Omphale and the groans of Hercules are depicted in the rather short (8+ minutes). This could be an addition to one of your playlists.
The final work on the CD is arguably his finest work his Symphony No. 3 (1886) where he incorporated the use of an organ in the work ( a first I believe). It was dedicated to the memory of Franz Liszt who died shortly after the premiere and was performed in London. It is rich in religious overtones as well as traditional ideas from both Liszt and Mendelssohn. If you have a nice sound system the organ opening in the fourth movement will be an ear opening experience, one you won’t forget. I’m not a believer in lists but if I was this work would receive many votes.
These days with the new digital technology it is hard to fault any CD for quality and this one is no exception. Yes I have heard better organs and recordings of the 3rd symphony but this coupling is well worth the investment.
This is the second CD in an ongoing series of the orchestral works of Saint-Saens so look forward to one or more in the future. A nice inexpensive way to enjoy Saint-Saens.
SYMPHONY NO. 3 IN C MINOR, OP 78 ‘ORGAN’ (1886) (36:50)
1. Adagio-Allegro Moderato (10:53)
2. Poco adagio (10:24)
3. Allegro moderato-Presto (7:45)
4. Maestro-Allegro (7:48)
SYMPHONY IN A MAJOR (1850) (26:30)
5. Poco adagio-Allegro vivace (7:55)
6. Larghetto (9:56)
7. Scherzo: Allegro vivace (3:01)
8. Allegro molto-Presto (5:38)
9. LE ROUET D’OMPHALE, OP. 31 (1871) (8:19)
I put this release in the classical category as the tracks are wonderful duets of a husband and wife team on violin (Hedman) and piano (Redfeld) as well as three selections featuring clarinet (Foster) and trumpet (Washburn) also with Redfeld on the piano. John Williams music translates very nicely into this chamber music style, something that can’t be said of other composers. I certainly applaud BSX for continuing this unofficial series of young composers in a most intimate setting. In my opinion I feel that the listener is being exposed to chamber music and it will encourage them to seek out additional material. On this particular CD some of the selections are arranged by Williams, others by Redfeld, and some are Williams arrangements that have been modified by Redfeld.
There isn’t a nicer way to listen to Schindler’s List than in a duet with piano and violin of not only the main title from the film but also the tracks “Jewish Town” and “Remembrances.” This arrangement comes from John Williams and is performed by Hedman and Redfield. The violin offers the melody (voice) and the piano the harmony making for an effective arrangement). A very pleasant way to listen to fifteen minutes of Schindler’s List.
In The Terminal: “Viktor’s Tale” Donald Foster, clarinetist of John Williams, is featured in a reprise of his solo in the film. Talk about a catchy theme this is one that you’ll remember once you’ve heard it. Again in this arrangement the clarinet provides the melody (voice) and the harmony comes from the piano. Monsignor’s “Main Theme” features the fine trumpet of David Washburn in a track where the melody is shared with the piano as each offer harmony. This is also true of the “Main Theme” from JFK. Both of the trumpet solos are of the proud and majestic type, what you might expect from a trumpet. One of my favorites on the CD is “End Credit” from Dracula. Both share the melody in one of the better Gothic romantic themes ever. This reviewer thinks of a raucous fast paced arrangement of Fiddler on the Roof but to my surprise it is somewhat refrained and very nice to listen to.
I can find no fault at all with any aspect of this recording except for a bit of a couple of the digital images beginning to break up. The sound recording and mastering, liner notes, and selection of material are all top notch. This would be a nice selection to your collection. Give BSX a gold star for continuing on this fine series. Recommended.
April 26, 2015
Sterling, a Swedish CD company, has just made available an exciting new release of 1st time recordings on CD of Joachim Raff (1822-1882) in a two CD set the first of which is the original Overture to Promethus Unbound, composed by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) but arranged and orchestrated by Raff in 1850, an assignment given to him when he first began to work for Liszt. It was written for a play by Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) to celebrate his 100th birthday in 1844. Liszt had only sketches at the time for the play which was only performed once. In 1855 Liszt re-orchestrated the work and called it a symphony poem. Until the release of this recording from Sterling you likely heard Promethus in a set which included all of his tone poems. It is a few minutes shorter 443 measures compared to 832 for the Raff. The pace is quicker and at times frantic. The liner notes written by Dr. Leichtling give a detailed explanation of the differences in the 32 page booklet. I would encourage the listener to listen to both versions and compare something we normally are not able to do. The difference is striking in each man’s interpretation.
It begins with a striking melody quite bold that you’ll instantly identify as the Promethus theme, one that sounds like the wrath of god (in this case Zeus) with thunder coming down on you. This theme has variations through the overture and is repeated in full again two thirds into the work. A quiet section with lower strings and woodwinds occur and the works builds itself up again with another theme to a frenzy making you think of a storm which subsides into a calming section still continuing with the same theme featured by the strings and woodwinds. There is a fugal section after the andante section. The tempo and loudness begins until the beginning staccato chords begin again followed by the brass taking over as they fanfare with timpani in the background. This brings on a rousing conclusion. I would encourage the listener to compare the two different versions something that we normally aren’t able to do as it is rare for two composers to work on the same piece. Neither is better just different from each other.
INCIDENTAL MUSIC TO THE DRAMA BERNHARD von WEIMAR (1854)
The play, written by Wilhelm Genast who would become Raff’s brother-in-law in 1859, was the reason that Raff took on this project. The work is really two separate sections the overture and the two marches. The play was written about Weimar who was one of the important military commanders in the 30 year war. The opening overture is based on Einn feste Bourg an important Lutheran hymn that perhaps gave Raff a bit of difficulty as he was Catholic. It is very much a religious overture with parts being solemn and other parts being very proud and majestic but both styles being built around the Einn feste Bourg theme.
The second movement is the first of two marches this one being in Allegro vivace. It immediately begins with a very majestic theme that has wonderful brass measures that are an important part of the development of the work. I would classify this as a fun piece to listen to and one that Raff could easily have classified as a festive overture. He relates feeling of happy times. Raff’s theme for the march was reused by Raff 17 years later in his last movement of the piano concerto. How many of you picked up on that?
The third movement, another march is quite the opposite of the first one. It is quite serious, very proud, and courtly in nature. The horns again play a prominent role with assistance from the strings and woodwinds. The work shifts gears and becomes more serious witha funeral like pace until the horns return along with the proud stately manner that it began with. A nice contrast from the previous movement. Keep in mind that this is another premiere work from Raff and needs to be in your collection if you have any interest in his works.
ORCHESTRAL INTERMEZZI FROM THE ORATORIO WORLD’S END JUDGMENT-NEW WORLD, OP. 212
Written at the very end of Raff’s life we now hear a very different sound. Gone are the broad classical romantic sounds which are being replaced with a simpler approach definitely leaning toward the minimalism that would take over. Look at this as a last statement, a hurrah if you will. The work like the von Weimar work is divided into three sections “Worlds End,” “Judgment,” and “New World.”
The first section deals with The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse beginning with “Pestilence” a very simple movement filled with endless repetition from the strings. Dr. Leichtling reminds us that Bernard Herrmann, an ardent admirer of Raff used some of the techniques you hear in his film scores. “The War” section ges away from the minimal approach and offers the listener a mini overture. Beginning with a gallop the horns soon enter and dominate the cue. The track ends with a fanfare of horns. “Famine” returns to the minimalist approach from the strings with the woodwinds offering notes almost random sounding. “Death and Hell” again begins with the strings building up to a rousing crescendo of wind and rain. This reviewer gets the feeling that Raff is holding back. “The Judgment” is a fanfare for brass which slowly fades into the lower bowels of the orchestra then continues the lower notes as a background for bassoon and horns. The “Resurrection” continues with the previous cue building in intensity. It is solemn without hope. The final track “New World”is as you would expect a simple cue with fugal overtones, a lovely way to end the work.
This is a release that any follower of Raff is going to want to have in his collection. The works are solid, good sound, well performed and conducted, and it is something that I’ll return to on a regular basis.
April 15, 2015
The Sea Garden
A couple of awards should be given to “Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef,” a film starring Robert Wagner, Gilbert Roland, Richard Boone, Peter Graves and Terry Moore. The first is the best soundtrack written for the worst film. The other is the only soundtrack to feature nine harps in the score which makes it one of my favorite Herrmann soundtracks. It was one of the earlier CinemaScope efforts from Fox and the underwater sequences must have been nice to see on the wide screen along with the harp music which added to the danger and mystery of the reef. The story is about two sponge boats who are establishing territorial areas and the one place both are reluctant to go to which is the twelve mile reef. Of course the daughter of one of the boats falls in love with a young boy from the other side which ignites the situation even more. Directed by Robert Webb whose claim to fame was he directed Elvis Presley’s first film “Love Me Tender.”
“The Prelude” sets the stage for the film as the background is a water scene with a beautiful sunset. It is a bright with trumpets playing the melody against upbeat harp chords. A second theme somewhat romantic very brief is introduced but one that you’ll hear again throughout the soundtrack. “The Undersea” gives us our first offering of the underwater music that is the basis for other tracks. It’s background is a sponge diver in the murky depths with dark morbid strings and the harps playing a prominent roll somewhat synchronized to the slow movements of the diver as he gathers sponges. Whether this was the first film to use this idea of the harp as an underwater association I’m not sure but since this film it has been used often. Keeping in mind that part of this film is underwater ( director of photography Edward Cronjager was nominated for Oscar) this style of music was used, enhancing what you see on the screen. “The Boat” begins with a melody soft in nature with the harp and segues into a third theme, romantic in nature that you’ll again. “The Homecoming” returns to the main title theme as the boat docks and the crew is greeted by family. “The Glades” paint a different picture as it begins with the softer version of the main title changing into a somewhat dissonant passage. “Flirtation” is a nice track which begins in a very playful manner and ends up on a romantic note. “The Quiet Sea” makes use of the second theme from the main title. In “The Undersea Forest” you’ll hear a great example of how the harps and the lower strings and woodwinds play together, one complementing the other. The lower strings have a lumbering effect mimicking the slow movement of the diver. “Elegy” a slow sad movement which is lead by the oboe. The strings play very sadly but the music has a tribute to the death of Tony. Few can write as sorrowful as Herrmann and the short “Sorrow” shows that with oboe as it plays out a variation of the main title in a minor key. I’m including “The Sea Garden” as an audio track which will give you a good idea how the underwater sound was created.
As far as audio quality is concerned this soundtrack while recorded in three track stereo has not stood the test of time very well. There is some wow and flutter and some of it suffers from overall muddiness. Let’s just call this an archival recording. There is little difference between the FSM and this recording other than there were some tracks combined on the FSM. This soundtrack is really a study in how underscore material should be written. Each track assumes one of the themes created by Herrmann and it is used in a different way depending upon what you’re watching on the screen and I found myself listening to the music and not watching the film. Remember I said that this wasn’t a very good film. I consider this to be a top 100 recording and a must have in you’re collection. If you don’t have it get it before this small limited edition is sold out.
April 12, 2015
DRAGON’S DOMAIN DDR 601 LIMITED EDITION OF 1500
Belstone Fox Theme
Back in the 70’s film soundtracks were filled with melodies, ones that you could remember and hum for days until you heard another one by such composers as John Barry, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams among many others. Part of that group included the extremely talented British composer Laurie Johnson who you might remember as doing the “Avengers” theme. Johnson has written scores for over 400 film and television series. His style reflects at least on this recording his formal training from the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Without investigating the story seems to be an excellent children’s story about a fox, abandoned, and raised with fox hunting dogs. However, if you watch it you’ll see that there is violence in it with the killing of the baby foxes early on and the fox hunting dogs later on. I think it is not terribly popular today due to the banning of fox hunting as a sport. I was also not impressed with the way they spotted the music but neither of these two things has anything to do with the superb score of Laurie Johnson and if your into some of the older classic scores this is a must buy for you. It was released on a Ronco LP in 1973 and this is the second release on the Dragon’s Domain company who will specialize in limited hard to find soundtracks. It is being distributed by BSX.
The “Belstone Fox” theme dominates the first fifteen minutes of the film. It begins with a single low note, a trumpet call and then the English Horn introduces the sad melody who turns it over to the strings who eventually turn it back to the English Horn. This melody will be heard often during this soundtrack. It isn’t until there is a scene with the growing puppies that a second theme appears. “Early Days” begins with fox theme but into the track we hear a second theme, a bouncy upbeat one tht is also used quite often. The theme returns with the clarinet playing the theme with nice harmony from the harp. Johnson makes excellent use of his woodwinds which include Clarinet, Oboe, English horn, and bassoon. His string harmony is also quite unique, something I’ve not heard before. “The Friendship” starts with the strings offering a new theme until a new upbeat theme is introduced from the English horn with the flute participating. It ends with some nice horn work doing double tonguing. The first three tracks give the listener a nice idea of how well Johnson is classically trained. “Reunion” features a fox hunting theme with horns leading the way. If you’re familiar with Bernard Herrmann one can hear a hint of him in a couple of the chords as well as Bruckner from his 4th symphony. “The Belstone Hunt” turns to dissonance coming from all parts of the orchestra to a background of a steady beat with violins repeating the same notes over and over. “Badger Hill,” the final track begins softly with ominous tones in the background as the strings don’t play a theme but chords as do the trumpets. It ends as it began with the return of the fox theme in a heartfelt style.
The sound quality I found to be most adequate if you keep in mind it is an analog recording. I’m glad that Mark and Ford found this hidden gem. Not only are the themes great but the arranging and orchestrating are some of the best I’ve heard.