May 10, 2016
PRELUDE TO JANE EYRE
Jane Eyre(1943) starred Orson Welles as Rochester, Joan Fontaine as Eyre, Margaret O’Brien as Adele Varens, Peggy Ann Garner as Jane Eyre as a child, Henry Daniell as Henry Brocklehurst, Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Reed and Elizabeth Taylor in an uncredited role. Directed by Robert Stevenson, a long time veteran, who might be best known for Mary Poppins, he began directing in 1932 and didn’t stop for 50 years. If you’re familiar with Orson Welles you’ll certainly see his influence in this 20th Century Fox high budget (1.7 million) film. With the tagline of “a love story every woman would die a thousand deaths to live” the often used obnoxious slogan chick flick applies.
Jane Eyre was the fourth film for Herrmann with his first three being Citizen Kane (1941), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). It was also the beginning of a long relationship with 20th Century Fox that lasted for many years. However, this was a case where Herrmann was the second choice to do the film with the first being Igor Stravinsky who turned down the assignment. All of the mentioned films were written at a time when classical music was also part of Herrmann’s life. He had written a symphony in 1941 and had also completed his opera “Wuthering Heights” during this time period. What you’ll hear is a very classical score to this gothic romantic film. If you’re a fan of Herrmann you’ll hear many cues from other films that germinated from this soundtrack.
Highlights include the “Prelude” (audio clip included) which offers two of the major themes that you’ll hear throughout the course of this soundtrack. The ominous horns begin the serious main title. The theme is quickly picked up by the strings and it is carried in a heavy Germanic style. Then with little warning there is the theme for Jane offered by the sad oboe that instantly recognizes the Herrmann sound. “Jane’s Departure” begins with a new theme from the horns which is quite sad and mellow concentrating in the lower register. It ends with her carriage ride which is from a short section of “Swing Your Partners” from The Devil and Daniel Webster. You’ll also hear this theme briefly in “The Wedding-The Wife” which goes from happy and carefree with church bells to dark and ominous with a fugue from the organ. This 2:27 cue runs the entire gamut of emotions! “Thornfield Hall-Valse Bluette” reveals the Rochester theme in a brooding dissonant rendition. It is a far more complex theme than the Prelude or Jane themes. The “Valse Bluette” is a musical box theme created with a synthesizer for this recording. The Rochester theme is also featured on “Rochester’s Past” as first a sad variation which changes to a dissonant very difficult passage to play. It reveals both sides of an extremely complex bipolar character. The prelude theme is performed again but this time as depressing as Herrmann can muster. “Finale” is another variation of the prelude theme followed by a major key uplifting of the Jane theme and a bold happy ending crescendo.
Some consider this to be Herrmann’s finest score and while I don’t agree it is very nice and a keeper in my collection. Bruce Kimmel, owner of Kritzerland, was kind enough to send me a review copy that will go right next to the Naxos recording. I recommend that you have both in your collection. The newer digitally recorded is nice but the OST is great also. It’s nice to have both and enjoy the amazing talent of BH.
May 1, 2016
Harry’s theme from Save the Tiger
Directed by Robert Redford in his directorial debut and starring Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, and Timothy Hutton it was adapted from a novel by Judith Guest dealing the death of a son in a white collar family and all of the emotions that surrounded the situation. The film received 4 academy awards for picture, director, supporting actor, and screenplay as well as being a success at the box office. The public that attended took a good look at their own families so perhaps the film was helpful instead of entertainment.
Composer Marvin Hamlisch and director Robert Redford used the famous classical theme ” Canon in D” theme by Johann Pachelbel as the main theme and many of the other tracks. The theme, is a solid example of seriousness known to much of the listening office even if they had no idea where it came from. Hamlisch did a good job in arranging and orchestrating the theme in such a way that it was serious, light, dance , and religious. It appears as harmony and counterpoint and the use of it had to increase the sales of it making the classical world very happy. As I went through the tracks I enjoyed trying to find examples of it’s use.
“Do You Want Some Breakfast,” an original theme from Marvin is offered three different ways and is a sweet sentimental melody that is an alternative to “Canon in D.” One of the things that Marvin did was write all of his source music which includes classical, holiday, funk, elevator music, and country western.
This score is one that will appeal to you if you were moved by the film, La-La Land completest, or fan of Marvin Hamlisch. I found it appealing because I was listening to all of the different variations of the “Canon in D” theme.
The other half of the 2 fer is Save the Tiger (1974) a film directed by John G. Avildsen, Rocky fame, and starred Jack Lemmon starring as Harry Stonet, a Long Beach dress manufacturer, who goes through a period of 48 hours that prove to be life changing. Jack won the Oscar for Save the Tiger that year for best actor in a film that cost a little over a million to make and became a big hit with the younger and older generation, something hard to do.
Since part of the film dealt with the flashbacks of Harry Stonet and his service in WWII Marvin Hamlisch used a lot of material that was played during that time such as “Stompin at Savoy.” He did compose a great theme for “Save the Tiger” (Harry’s theme) that was written in the style of the 40’s. It was a sweet band slow dancing number that fit Harry perfectly. The track featured a fine trumpet, clarinet and clarinet solo. It also appears in “L.A. Sunset,” “Exit Factory,” and “Surf.” “Surf” was orchestrated for trio and featured vibraphone, trombone, and piano. His other theme was “Where Are All My Dreams?” written very much in the style of something that Burt Bacharach might have written. Listen to the rhythm and the piano chords and you’ll agree.
This is a soundtrack that will appeal to someone who enjoys the music of the 40’s as both the source and original music are from that era. While it is not a must have soundtrack it does nicely represent what Marvin Hamlisch did for Hollywood. He did win three Oscars you know and all on the same night; quite an achievement.
April 30, 2016
MAIN TITLE: MYSTERY OF THE BATWOMAN
Composed by Lolita Ritmanis in (2003) for the animated film, this score is being offered by La-La Land for the very first time. The score is mostly synthesized (Warner Bros. budget and direct to video)but does offer the saxophone talents of reed man John Yoakum who was effectively used playing several reed instruments, giving it a feeling that it could be orchestral. Lolita also contributed her talents on the piano, playing simple but effective chords.
The tracks that I enjoyed were the “Main Title,” introduced by the piano against the synthesizer. The theme is picked up by the saxophone which gives it a little bit of a swagger, reminding you of a detective theme. The “Main Title” (film version) which includes the original Shirley Walker along with the Ritmanis theme complete with the Saxophone making for a slightly erotic effect. “I Missed You” could certainly qualify as a nice love theme albiet far too brief. The theme has a hypnotic effect on me. ” Chase Me,” from a short Batman recalls the Latin American sound that was so popular with Jobim, Getz and Gilberto. Some good saxophone work along with a strong rhythm presence. A winner in my books. “I Miss You” is a seductive track that again features the ever present saxophone of Yoakum who gave this score a completely different sound. Overall I thought that the action tracks were okay because they weren’t too loud or dissonant but worked fine in the film.
While this isn’t a score that will ever win any awards it is one that is solid to listen to and has the appeal where you want to go back and listen to it again. While not a big Batman fan I found myself thinking about how Batwoman was being portrayed music wise and I certainly liked the way Ritmanis handled it.
I feel that the major appeal to this score will come from the true Batman fan or the completest of this style and type of material. The recording of the material is fine and as I stated above there are some interesting tracks that are worth your attention. I’ve included the main title track to give you an idea of what it sounds like. It is lower quality but will give you an idea.
April 9, 2016
Victor Herbert (1859-1924) has certainly made his mark in American Music, being most remembered for “Babes in Toyland.”
JoAnn Falletta has certainly been making her mark with Naxos and her 21st century conducting of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Ulster Orchestra. She isn’t afraid to try something new and her recording of the Victor Herbert works.
March 30, 2016
Following up on their very successful Kings of Swing,op.1 release the SWR Big Band with addicting vocals from Fola Dola offer 15 new tracks this time in a live recording. Fast becoming the best big band in Europe Pierre Paquette, conductor has selected popular standards such as “One O’clock Jump,” “Stardust,” and “Satin Doll” and let his sidemen loose for some extraordinary solos that you will want you to here again and again. Fola Dola who has taken over what Ella Fitzgerald did for so many years is featured on “Witchcraft,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Love Me Or Leave Me,” and “That Old Black Magic.”
March 26, 2016
Charles O’Brien (1882-1968) is a new unsung composer for this reviewer having been introduced to me by Martin Anderson of Toccata Classics. This second volume of three concentrates on his two earlier works Minstrel’s Curse and Spring written in the early 20th Century as well as two very early works from 1898 Berceuse and Mazurka when Charles was attending George Watson’s school. It concludes with a piece Scottish Scenes orchestrated for a 1929 BBC concert originally written for piano which can be heard on Toccata Classics #260 on O’Brien’s piano music CD release. I’ve provided a link above for volume one of his orchestral works.
To Spring, op. 4 (An den Fruhling) (1906) has parallel lines to Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 both written in B flat major and both written about spring and both having a similar structure within the form of the sonata. The tone poem has turned out to be his most popular work although this is a first recording as are all of his works. The work begins with a theme that is shared by the woodwinds and the strings. It is one of tranquility that segues into a section of agitation followed by an exchange of woodwinds and horns before it returns to the opening theme which continues for the balance of the work. Percussion is added to enhance the work.
The Minstrel’s Curse, op.7 (Des Sangers Fluch) (1905) according to conductor Paul Mann was part of a potboiler program and never ever performed again until this recording. Based on a 19th century poem by Ludwig Uhland (listed below) this concert overture/tone poem is filled with many ideas including harp solos which are part of the story. These type of story telling overtures are right up my alley as there are ups and downs as the story unfolds. Paul Mann points out in his well thought out liner notes that it is a Lisztian style of work and I tend to agree with him. I’m glad that he did his best to retain all of the material making it as complete as possible.
Mazurka and Berceuse, no opus numbers were written when Charles was attending the Watson school of music in 1898. He was 16 at the time and one can hear the promise that the young student had to offer. Totaling 6 minutes in length the lullaby and dance are very easy on the ears.
Scottish Scenes, op. 17 (1914-15) were originally written for piano but as part of a 1929 BBC broadcast Charles orchestrated and the result are three pieces that definitely bring out the scotch snaps in O’Brien. “Moorland” has a flair for the dramatic, “Voices of the Glen” a mysterious piece, and “Harvest Home” a rousing uplifting dance.
I encourage listeners to obtain all three of the O’Brien pieces and welcome him into your library. They will provide many hours of listening pleasures.
The Minstrel's Curse In olden times a castle stood towering high and free: It gleamed far over the country, unto the deep blue sea; The gardens round were fragrant, in glowing bloom arrayed, And glistening like the rainbow, the limpid foun- tains played.
There sat a mighty monarch with many lands his own, He sat so pale and threatening upon his mighty throne. For what he thinks is terror and what he sees is rage And what he speaks is torture and blood his writ- ten page. There travelled to this castle a noble minstrel pair, The one with locks of gold and the other grey of hair; And with his harp the old man a comely charger rode, While merrily beside him his young companion strode. The old man to the young said: "My son, take ample care! Our deepest songs remember, and strike thy note most rare. With all thy might put sorrow and joy into thy tone ! To-day we both must conquer this monarch's heart of stone." Before the lofty pillars the minstrel pair is seen; Upon the throne are sitting the monarch and his queen.
The king is fiercely splendid, like bloody north- ern light, The queen is mild and lovely, like full moon in the night. The old man touched his harp strings, and won- derful to hear ! Chords fuller, ever fuller, were rising to the ear; Then high the young man's singing most heavenly limpid streamed, The old man's voice sonorous a ghostly chorus seemed. They sing of love and springtime, of golden days to bless, Of freedom, manly honour, of faith and holiness. They sing of all the sweetness that trembles through the breast, They sing of all that's lofty and fills the heart with zest. The courtiers round about them forget to mock and sneer; Stern warriors before heaven all bow their knees in fear. The queen in wistful gladness is overcome and throws Down to the magic minstrels from her own breast
"You have beguiled my people, beguile you now my queen?" The king is shouting fiercely, and trembling in his spleen. He throws his sword that flashing has pierced the young man's heart: Thence no more golden ballads, but sprays of lifeblood start. And scattered as by tempest is all the listening swarm. The youth in throes is dying right in his master's arm. He wraps the mantle round him, then upright on his steed Binds fast the youth and with him he leaves the hall in speed. Before the lofty gateway the minstrel old and wise Stands still and there he seizes his harp, of harps the prize. Against a marble pillar this noble harp he flings. He calls; through halls and gardens his voice un- canny rings: "Woe, castle, no more music shall sweep thy halls along, No harp-strings shall resound there, and no more golden song.
Nay ! Only sighs and groaning and sneaking of the slave, Till crushed by spirit of vengeance thou art a mouldy grave. "Woe, fragrant gardens blooming so fair in spring- time's grace ! To you I show this dead boy's white and dis- torted face, That you henceforth shall wither, that every spring be dry, That you all sere and barren in days to come shall lie. "Woe, thou unholy murderer! Thou curse of minstrelsy ! Thy strife for bloodstained glory all times in vain shall be; Thy name shall be forgotten, steeped in eternal night, And, like a dying rattle, in empty air take flight !" Thus cried the ancient minstrel, and heaven heard his call: The pompous halls are ruins, low lies each mighty wall. One lofty pillar only recalls the splendours past; This pillar, cracked already, may fall to-night at last.
Where once were scented gardens is now a barren land, No branches shade to scatter, no spring to pierce the sand; No songs, no book of heroes the monarch's name rehearse ; Dissolved in night, forgotten ! That is the min- strel's curse.
March 11, 2016
RCA has been releasing many of their Living Stereo albums from the 60’s many of which I still have on lp. The two released on this CD are both good ones and should be added to your collection, especially the Franck which in my opinion is the recording that all others should be judged. Ted Libbey, who writes musical guides for NPR, agrees with me 100% as well as conductor Adriano.