Great Film Fantasies

by

John Williams and Howard Shore

 

Film compilation recordings are at best difficult! Because the Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings films are the only ones featured on this CD we are talking about a total of twelve films from which 16 tracks were chosen by Robert Woods the ageless producer and Erich Kunzel the tireless conductor who has recorded over 80 CD's with the famed Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Quite an assignment! This is a conductor who once conducted in front of nearly a million people in the 4th of July celebration in Washington D.C. in 1996! What a contribution this man and orchestra has made to music including film, which you are likely interested in, if you are reading this review. There are many who turn up their nose or scoff at any sort of compilation. Unless it is the original soundtrack material "I have no interest in the material" is the reply to the question if asked whether or not to purchase the compilation. Just buy the "Prisoner of Azkaban" and don't worry about any other recording. This, in my humble opinion, is the wrong way to approach any compilation recording! Compilation recordings should be looked at and considered as an introduction to the material. Let's go back to the example of "Prisoner of Azkaban" once again. Included on this CD is the 'Aunt Marge's Waltz' from the Harry Potter film. Maybe this particular track was striking enough to get your attention and you found yourself playing this one over and over. That being the case you should go out and purchase the entire score! On the other hand, after hearing it your comment to yourself might be how can anyone possibly enjoy this kind of off the wall waltz, then you would pass on purchasing it. By using this compilation as an example you just saved yourself some money. Or you are reading this review and just a casual listener of film music and want a nice sampling of John Williams and Howard Shore. Then this is the right CD for you!

The first 10 tracks are devoted to the six Star Wars films and the major themes that contributed to the huge success are all there. Should they have included 'Flag Parade' from "Phantom Menace"? On a compilation just like an all star team something is missed. Let's just let it go that they missed one! They did include the famous Main Theme. Oh wait, famous isn't strong enough as an adjective as this theme is usually recognized by people who have little or no interest in film music at all! There is also the poignant Princess Leia theme, the swinging rocking big band 'Cantina Band' and the 'Imperial March' played by grade school, high school and college bands the world over! The reminiscent strains of a Mahler symphony surface in 'Anakin's Theme' from the "Phantom Menace" making me want to hit the repeat button on the CD player over and over. But then the next selection is 'Across the Stars' from "Attack of the Clones" with its delicate harp and oboe followed by the longing strings which is also excellent so listening to the entire CD over and over is a good plan of attack.

The final six tracks are devoted to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. There is one track for each of the six films. Yes it does seem a bit lacking especially when there are several CD's devoted exclusively to the Lord of the Rings alone. Thus there is no 'Riders of Rohan' from "The Two Towers" or 'Lighting of the Beacon' from "Return of the King". But each film is represented with one selection and this is a compilation!

Telarc since its inception has always been known for its state of the art recording techniques and this is no exception. The DSD recording system results in a dynamic range of 120 dB and a frequency response of 0 Hz to 100kHz. For those who are not familiar dynamic range is the difference between the softest and loudest passages in a work. 60 dB is a lot. Frequency response measures the kinds of sounds from the lowest to the highest. Both of these numbers represent figures far beyond the capability of the human ear. 30Hz-14kHz is excellent hearing! The chorus was miked a little too closely on 'Duel of the Fates' but this is a minor point.

Apparently, tracks from "War of the Worlds" and "Batman Begins" were also recorded at the same time this CD was recorded but are available only on iTunes as a download. No matter as this is a good solid CD without them and is recommended. Caution! Buying this CD will likely cause you to explore the original soundtrack material so listen at your own risk!

Score Reviews Rating: ***

Recording produced by Robert Woods

Recording Engineer is Michael Bishop

Telarc # is CD-80664. This recording is also available in SACD.

Performed by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel

Total Playing Time is (61:48)

Track Listing:

Star Wars

1. Main Theme from Episode 4: A New Hope (5:35)

2. Princess Leia from Episode 4: A New Hope (4:07)

3. Cantina Band from Episode 4: A New Hope (2:14)

4. The Imperial March from Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (2:56)

5. Yoda's Theme from Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (3:16)

6. Luke and Leia from Episode 6: Return of the Jedi (4:38)

7. Duel of the Fates from Episode 1: The Phantom Menace* (4:18)

8. Anakin's Theme from Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (2:30)

9. Across the Stars from Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (3:15)

10. Battle of the Heroes from Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith* (3:34)

*Members of the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus

Harry Potter

11. Harry's Wondrous World from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (4:49)

12. The Chamber of Secrets from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (4:09)

13. Aunt Marge's Waltz from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2:22)

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

14. May It BE & Themes from The Fellowship of the Ring (6:06)

15. The Hornburg from The Two Towers (4:04)

16. The Ride of the Rohirrim from The Return of the King (2:35)

Tracks 1-13 are composed by John Williams and 14-16 by Howard Shore and others.

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Freedomland

by

James Newton Howard

 

Sony decided correctly not to release this film in November 2005 for Oscar recognition but fast forwarded the premiere to February of 2006 putting it in that "twilight zone" time frame where a film is released but is likely never going anywhere. While the film stars Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson, the best-selling Richard Price novel just doesn't translate to the screen very well at all. It was quite a reversal in film styles for director Richard Roth who had previously done "Christmas With The Kranks" in 2004. He just didn't seem to make the transition from comedy to drama very well at all. With racial tension and doubts of what really happened this carjacking story just misses the mark. The scenario of could anyone be that stupid comes into play so at least gives some parts of the film have tension and excitement.

This is the second soundtrack in less than a year that Howard shares the composing duties, this time it is Mel Wesson who is credited with the additional music. Freedomland is a nice listening track! It begins with something like an Amazing Grace style music with some electronics, switches to the soft easy listening style and then shifts into a guitar solo quite country western like in flavor. On other tracks there is quite a blending of the low key mono note strings with all kinds of weird electronic sounding noises. A good example of this is Unrest a 4 plus minute track that had some vibrating noises that made me think my speaker was broken! While this track was likely effective in the film itself, it is not a good stand alone example of film music. Cues like Unrest and Rafik is Arrested are what Stravinsky calls "filler material" for the screen. There are very small sections of music that comes through with the "Howard Sound" attached to them. Motifs that will be forgotten in a rather short period of time but pleasant enough to listen to. Tracks such as Riot, I'll Come See You and Little Angel while not melody memorable do feature the piano, clarinet, and soft strings we are accustomed to hearing from James. The harmony chords from the strings are there to give it that "Howard Sound." There is just no melody at all, only some soft and warm cues. While the mixing of the electronics was evidently necessary and important to Roth, I found it more like combining pickled beets with applesauce. They just don't mix too well! Listen to Did They Arrest Someone with the blend of synth, electronic noise, and strings. In the background of this track it sounded like airplane noise! Sometimes names for tracks can also be misleading and one should be careful. Riot is actually one of the softer cues on the CD!

These days sound, mixing, editing, and recording do not seem to be a problem anymore, especially with the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra. It might be a hit or miss with the City Of Prague Orchestra but never with the likes of the professionalism the Studio Symphony has to offer. They are top notch and can always be recommended to give a fine performance, which they do on this recording. The problem is not them but the music itself. If you are a fan and admirer of Howard, likely there is a completeness of having to have everything so you will get this regardless. Keep in mind this is not "Signs", "The Village", or "Wyatt Earp", not even close. This has to be put into the category of "Some music I just don't understand" category. Now one could choose to download just the Freedomland track and have something from the soundtrack. Just a thought. Not recommended.

Score Review Rating **

Track listing

1.

Main Title (03:43)

2.

The Lie (02:58)

3.

Brenda's Apartment (02:27)

4.

Unrest (04:26)

5.

Did They Arrest Anyone? (02:17)

6.

Rafik Is Arrested (02:08)

7.

Freedomland (06:01)

8.

Inside Freedomland (03:02)

9.

You're In The Wrong Park (04:01)

10.

Burning (04:26)

11.

Riot (04:25)

12.

I'll Come See You (02:21)

13.

Little Angel (02:48)


Total Duration: 00:45:03

Varese Sarabande # is 302 066 717 2

Produced by James Newton Howard and Jim Weichman

Performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Pete Anthony

March Of The Penguins

by

Alex Wurman

 

March Of The Penguins not only achieved a huge box office success for Luc Jacquet in 2005 but the prized Oscar for the best documentary. In fact one could argue that it was the best picture of the year! The true story that is told of the emperor penguin and the incredible challenge facing them to mate is beyond anything that words can describe. In March the emperor penguin begins this long arduous, perilous, seventy mile journey inland to a mating area. Once the mating occurs the female begins the journey back to the ocean to feed while the male carefully guards and keeps warm the egg. It is only after the hatching occurs and the female has returned that the male leaves for the ocean to feed. He returns also to help protect, feed, and care for the young penguin. There are times when the temperature can fall to 100 below! And yet somehow they survive. Eloquently told to the viewer by Morgan Freeman one learns the true meaning of courage by the end of the film.

The Alex Wurman score, orchestrated by Tom Calderaro, falls into the category of a new age sound and style. It is scored for strings, flutes, harp, vibes, percussion, piano, and a bassoon which produces a tranquil sound. The volume rarely moves past soft. Even in the dangerous moments in the film the volume hardly moves. The main theme, given to us by the piano, is repeated often enough in the score, to put in the memorable category. A theme which will likely appear on a future Milan compilation CD featuring peace and tranquility as a trademark and probably take its place as the first track. In fact one could make the statement that this is nearly perfect music for one to be on hold to, while waiting on the telephone! And I certainly mean this as a compliment! It is a CD that one could play in the evening before going to sleep or at anytime one is looking to relax and enjoy life. Yet when one listens more seriously to it there are many clever and wonderful aspects to it slightly hidden beneath the surface. "The March" has the strains and quirkiness Thomas Newman has made so famous, yet Alex puts his own brand on it too! With the use of the percussion, the shaking of the snow off of the penguin is translated into an audio sound one can just close your eyes to for a brief moment and visualize. "First Steps" is a comic reproduction of the newborn feeling their way around for the first time complete with the percussion pecking of the birds. The flute driven melody backed by strings, piano, and the bassoon is a perfect orchestration to this great track. In fact the bassoon is used in a humorous manner quite unlike the dark somber treatment it is usually given. My memories of the sound of the bassoon began with the depiction of the grandfather in Peter And The Wolf. This use of it is quite the opposite and a novel idea in the use of instrumentation. For being a graduate of media ventures and working on some bombastic Zimmer scores you would never know it from this series of tracks! Think chamber orchestra and you will have a much closer idea to the sound of this score. While the three minute average time per track is a minor point, it is just a nice little bonus. Some soundtracks can have fifteen or twenty fifty second tracks which can drive you crazy with the constant changing on your cd player.

There was much controversy about the Horner/Yared Troy scores. Pages and pages were written about it along with 1000's of posts as to the unfair replacement of Yared. To date the film Troy has grossed in the area of 137 million. On the otherhand Emile Simon was replaced with Alex Wurman in the US release and there has been little or no talk at all about it. Having had the opportunity to hear both scores the change to Alex was the correct one. The March Of The Penguins just for comparision has grossed 108 million dollars. Odd how things are viewed sometime! Warner Bros. has to be thrilled because the actors and actresses performed for free!

The Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra, Mixing and Mastering, and CD Cover artwork are all superb. Other than a paragraph from Alex Wurman there are no liner notes. And while apparently not important in a release like this, the more information you have about the film, score, composer etc. the better. But then this fine release goes far beyond the soundtrack collector. This is a good solid score that is recommended. You'll share my enthusiasm and not be disappointed.

Movie Music UK rating ***1/2

Produced by Alex Wurman

Recorded and Mixed by Samuel Lehmer

#Milan M2-36131

Total Time is 42 minutes

Track Listing:

1. The Harshest Place on Earth (3:57)

2. Walk Not Alone (:42)

3. The March (5:22)

4. Found Love (3:59)

5. The Egg Arrives (2:27)

6. The Mothers' Second Journey (2:01)

7. Arrival at the Sea (3:12)

8. Walk through Darkness (6:19)

9. First Steps (3:19)

10. The Dangers Remain (3:15)

11. Reunited (2:17)

12. Going Home for the First Time (4:43)

This is the second film that I will discuss in my film discussion class at the SD Library the beginning of next month.  1945 was a year that Miklos garnered not one but two oscar nominations.  This film lost, but the other, Spellbound, did win for him.  This is yet another of those releases which has no OST release.  Oh there are many releases  http://www.soundtrackcollector.com/catalog/soundtrackdetail.php?movieid=36294  but 32 minutes is about what you will hear and in a symphonic suite of sorts.  Ray Faiola, quite a famous sound engineering expert has informed me that the tapes are no longer available anymore.  Even though it is a Paramount film Universal bought the rights to all of the pre 1950 sound films.  You will see the Koch release on the attached link and this is a good one to obtain because you also get Double Indemnity and The Killers.  These are three of the better noir films Rozsa did.  The Lost Weekend includes his very early use of the theremin an eerie sounding electronic device that became very popular in the 50's science fiction films such as The Day The Earth Stood Still (Herrmann used two of them).  I think the most popular number I can think of is its use in Good Vibrations from the Beach Boys.  Paul Tanner, a former trombone player for Glenn Miller and Capitol records learned how to play it well and had many gigs as a result of this self taught knowledge.  In fact, Rosza also used the theremin in Spellbound, his other 1945 entry and although it was filmed first Lost Weekend came to the theaters first and Hitchcock/Selznick were quite upset over its use in the film.  They thought they had exclusive rights to the use of it!  Needless to say words were exchanged and Rozsa and Hitchcock never worked together again.  This is at least how I heard the story.  Whether it is true or not is another matter.  The Killers is where the famous dragnet theme came from.

Command Records

April 11, 2006

My father sent me quite a nice surprise in the mail today, an Enoch Light album of the year's most popular themes in 1963. At first I groaned in pain, thinking not another album of elevator music of tunes I have collected for over 40 years! It smelled moldy, it had gotten wet so I had to pull the gatefold cover apart tearing it, and when I looked at the vinyl  it was all full of fingerprints and dirty. I saw yet another Lawrence of Arabia, Days Of Wine And Roses, and More but then I noticed Hud and The Peking Theme. To be honest I had no idea who composed Hud or this Peking thing but discovered Elmer Bernstein did Hud and Tiomkin did the Peking theme. Well I put the second side on first after a cleaning and discovered that Hud was in wonderful condition and what a great theme and a couple of good solo performances from Al "Glenn Miller" Klink and Doc Severinson. It is a little like The Man With The Golden Arm but has a bit of western flavor to it. Light likes percussion and lots of brass which he uses to full advantage on the 35mm Magnetic Film. This is what Command used for recording purposes and there sound was superior to most! It was followed by the main theme from Mutiny on the Bounty again decently arranged and performed. Excellent brass and again it had hardly been played. The same thing cannot be said about Days of Wine and Roses. This likely could have been one of the reasons why they purchased the album. It was awful! The Peking Theme or "So Little Time" had that oriental sound to it that we are accustomed to listening to and just as I started to tune it out, it got interesting. The electric guitar was set up to sound like a lute! Tony Mottola, a famous guitar player in his day, had turned all the bass off and created a pretty cool sound. Phil Bodner, another good reed player, added a neat sounding english horn solo to make this a nice tune indeed. And it was followed by a tune from Max Steiner I had never heard, that from Spencer's Mountain with a good solo from Severinson. There was also a nice rendition of Antony and Cleopatra, using english horn solos by Irving Horowitz, who also was a pro wrestler!  What a combination.  The Lawrence of Arabia theme featured a lot of brass, a decent arrangement.  Light seemed to have found some good sidemen in New York, where his studio was located.  This was a nice find in an lp by my father, as I have already put it onto a CD'R to enjoy.  Now if I could just get rid of that moldy smell!

We had the discussion last night about the film and the music and all went very well.  There was quite a little bit of talk about the men protecting her until of course she became completely out of control at the end.  Did DeMille help or hurt her?  Interesting question that I never pondered before.  Doing the research of 1950 films I did discover that the film had nominations for actor, actress, supporting actor, and supporting actress and came up empty.  All About Eve had all (4) actresses nominated and came up with nothing.  While the film is certainly placed higher in polls than Eve, it still only garnished (2) Oscars for screenplay and film score.  Playing part of the main "paramount news reel" theme from Gerhardt, OST, and McNeely I was able to point out to all why the OST was better even though it was mono.  One person actually wanted to purchase the soundtrack which gives hope to my small hobby.  A couple of conclusions that we all came to were no talking during the scenes I selected all to see.  Discussion would be afterward.  And try to find a little darker area to do the viewing.  I was surprised that many people didn't recognize Jack Webb, as he was quite a bit younger and dressed completely different than he was in Dragnet.  The silent stars or the "waxworks" were a surprise to some and all were surprised over Livingston and Evans except for Marilyn.  We all agreed that this Wilder classic was a top 25 film.  I will have to do a column on this entire experience especially the music part.

In preparing for my monthly film discussion meeting at the SD Library I found myself spending a lot of time listening to the three versions of Sunset Boulevard I have acquired over the years.  One really doesn't count because it is a suite on The Classic Scores of Franz Waxman, a Gerhardt/National Philharmonic recording.  In 2002 Varese Sarabande (302 066 316 2) chose to record it with Joel McNeely conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.  While the sound is vastly superior to the bootleg OST, the playing is not.  The Paramount Orchestra was excellent and while the recording is in mono and it has been somewhat noise reduced the sound is still superior.  As I listen to more and more recordings of music that have been redone I am less and less impressed with them.  The violin solo performed in the first track, which has been named the Paramount News Reel Music Theme is vibrant and full of life, literally jumping out of your speakers!  The style reminds me of a part of An American Paris from Gershwin, horns depicting traffic, a somewhat frantic pace of life moving quickly in Los Angeles.  The Gerhardt/National Philharmonic recording is a slower pace (conductor decision I understand), no violin solo (?), no piano (?), and a less than full sound from the percussion.  I also understand this is just a 7 minute suite which incorporates the three main themes, but the orchestrating decision is at best questionable.

Now the question is why has there not been an official release of this Oscar winning score is beyond me.  Is it Paramount who is holding this score back.  I suspect as much because Shane, another fine score has never been released either.  Or am I just getting too old and no one cares about 50+ year old films.