Returning Waves/Karlowicz

November 28, 2008

 

 

 

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While Karlowicz in his native Poland is among the more important composers of the 20th century he has been pretty much an unknown outside his country. In fact until Naxos recently released his (6) symphonic poems this reviewer had no previous knowledge of his all too brief career. Yes there were other recordings but it was something that never caught my attention. Whether by accident or suicide he died in an avalanche hiking/skiing in his favorite part of the world the Tatra Mountains at the age of 33. Months before his death he spoke of suicide due to an unrequited love but this theory has never been supported with any facts.

Written in 1904 “Returning Waves” was the first of his (6) tone poems and while it is performed in a single movement of 24+ minutes there are 5 different sections of the work. Written about a story, which takes place at the Aegean Sea, by Turgenev, it tells a cinematic tale about life, love, and death in the Wagnerian style of motifs. While one can clearly hear the influence of Tchaikovsky, Dukas, Miaskovsky, Glazunov and Richard Strauss in his writing you can also hear his very special style in this neo-romantic period piece.

With the brass making the opening statement, the first section begins yielding to the bass clarinet and strings, which set the mood of a dark and eerie piece. The bassoon offers a motif and it appears thru the entire work further enhancing the overall dreariness of the piece. It offers little or no hope and one can feel the end coming. The second section brightens up considerably with heroic horns offering a moment of happiness and serenity. Perhaps all is well after all? The third section offers a peaceful melody from the clarinet followed by strings, the sea is calm and quiet. In the fourth section one can feel the building of the swirling wind and storm approaching which ends abruptly with a return to the melody from the first section. It is dreary and the decision has been made.

If you like your music on the dark side in a minor key this is an excellent choice especially if your taste in music migrates to the cinema side from time to time. While I certainly cannot put this work in the class of an Scheherazade I’ve found something hypnotizing about it and I’ll return to it on a regular basis. An excellent symphonic poem!

 

Produced and Engineered by Tim Handley

Naxos CD# is 8.570295

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Performing Music

November 18, 2008

One of the nice things today about listening and collecting soundtracks is the fellowship of hobbyist’s that I’ve become involved with the past few years, a direct result of Internet access. Since we are really such a small group many of us have become pretty close and although I’ve never personally met but a small handful of you I feel like I know you as well as a neighbor. The occasional squabble occurs, but until the web there was little if any conversation about my interest in soundtracks except for an occasional concert where questions would arise from time to time. Unlike classical music, my other favorite genre, where there can be quite lively discussions about a work of a particular composer, very little discussion has taken place about film composers since I left performing in the band and orchestra growing up and in my college years, the topic of this article.At the age of 12 my father bought my very first stereo and gave me enough money to go to the local record store and purchase two albums. After spending nearly an hour in the store looking, reading, and studying the Schwann Catalog, I purchased Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini and The Hamlet Fantasy Overture coupled with The 1812 Overture both composed by Tchaikovsky and performed by The London Philharmonic conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. I remember buying the mono recordings because I was able to save a total of two dollars over the stereo version. Because of those albums, the encouragement of my parents, and attending a young people’s concert as soon as I enrolled in 7th grade I began to study the trombone, a hobby and interest I pursued through 4 years of college. As much a cult as soundtrack collecting is, it didn’t even approach my love for playing music such as Conquest, Peter Gunn, Gone With The Wind, or The Adventures of Robin Hood. To this day I can remember performing with the other trombones The Perry Mason Theme harmony in our swing band as well as my well-rehearsed trombone solo in Night Train and our very loud brass bars in I’ve Got You Under My Skin, the arrangement that Nelson Riddle did for Frank Sinatra. Many members of the band lived for the next day when we might get a new arrangement to practice. We had become part of the music! Yes I enjoyed listening and attending concerts but playing was everything and couldn’t compare to a recording.

Over time I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture 100’s of time and have had the pleasure of attending many live performances. There is one performance however that stands out in my mind. While attending the University of Minnesota we once performed the 1812 Overture with the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra). As they performed on stage in Northrop Auditorium the band formed a circle in the aisles all around the hall and we were extra brass so to speak for the finale. It is one I shall never forget! With that I rest my case.

benjamin-button1“I was born under unusual circumstances,” is the tag line to this most unusual story. Based on the story from F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who lives his life in reverse, aging from an 80-year-old man to a child. Directed by David ‘Zodiac’ Fincher with screenplay by Oscar winner Erik ‘Forrest Gump’ Roth, the film stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton. With a 150 million dollar budget, Paramount is betting that Brad Pitt and crew will be a huge success as well as receiving some coveted Oscar nominations. The film is set for release on Christmas Day.

One of the Oscar nods likely will go to Desplat who in recent times has had a long string of successes ranging from Lust, Caution to The Queen to Girl With A Pearl Earring. Having already won a Golden Globe for Painted Veil and an Oscar nomination for The Queen, the trophy is getting really close for this outstanding composer. In fact he has been involved in over 50 films since 2000, giving him little if any time off! He has completed scores for The Tree Of Life, Largo Winch, and Cheri, all soon to be released pictures.

The soundtrack is divided into (2) CD’s with the first being original material from Desplat and the second consisting of source material of the time. Benjamin’s Theme, the only one that is constantly repeated, first appears in “Postcards” with Alexandre’s familiar trademark of the harp, which leads us immediately into the main theme, introduced to us with the strings with backing from the piano, cimbalon, and a calling from the mournful muted trumpets at the end of the cue. This theme has had enough impact on this reviewer that I’ve been humming it ever since I first heard it. The theme, according to Desplat, is among others in the score that “could be played both forwards and backwards, [a musical palindrome] and chords could be switched.” The love theme, which appears in “A New Life” with the romantic viola, lush strings and muted trumpet, is as moving as the scenes it underscores in the film. “Love in Murmansk” is a wonderful waltz like melody with harmony from the muted trumpet and cimbalon. You’ll sigh and think of your significant other as the romantic bars unfold. If there is anything that even resembles an action/noisy track it is “Submarine Attack” with unrelenting percussion although as far as other composers are concerned this could be considered rather passive! Themes come and go in this score, as one must remember that a lifetime unfolds before your eyes. While the love part of the film makes up a great deal of time there are other periods such as World War I, college days, toddler times etc. Nothing is even remotely close to being over the top except for the one track “Submarine Attack” which I described earlier. The brass ensemble is pretty much the muted trumpet. The reed work is a saxophone and alto flute. The abundance of the instrumentation is from the strings, harp, and keyboard. I was immediately reminded of The Queen sound coming through loud and clear in an anxious movement track such “Mr. Button.” Listening to this for the first time it won’t be terribly difficult to hear that Desplat sound. The tracks (23) over a 60-minute period are long enough to feel a sense of some development, although I could easily see that a nice orchestral suite could be developed at some point.

The second CD consists of (10) extremely short sound snippets, 15 seconds average, and a series of period source material depicting the time frame. Featured are such artists as Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Bix Biederbecke, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The transfer of the material from analog to digital is quite good! Don’t expect to hear that typical scratchy, hissy material as we sometimes do. The fact that the sound bites break-up a bit of the flow on the source CD is not really an issue as many of these recordings are from different eras of time with different styles. Since the overall cost of the soundtrack is little more than a normal CD, the 2nd CD is just an extra topping anyway.

Overall the CD is on the quiet side, never over the top and always taking a back seat to the film itself. Some might find it too tranquil and would easily fall asleep if they were listening while relaxing. Due to the fact that Desplat is my favorite modern day composer I admit to being somewhat prejudice about this score and give it my highest recommendation. While not available until December 23rd this is not a limited edition item from Concord so the words low quantity alert won’t be seen in regards to this release. See the movie and purchase the soundtrack. You won’t be disappointed.

Track Listing CD (1)
1…Postcards (2:51)
2…Mr. Gateau (3:02)
3…Meeting Daisy (1:22)
4…A New Life (3:39)
5…Love in Murmansk (3:53)
6…Meeting Again (2:41)
7…Mr. Button (2:05)
8…”Little Man” Oti (2:02)
9…Alone At Night (2:33)
10.It Was Nice to Have Met You (1:43)
11.Children’s Games (4:10)
12.Submarine Attack (2:40)
13.The Hummingbird (2:35)
14.Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain (3:33)
15.Daisy’s Ballet Career (2:03)
16.The Accident (2:38)
17.Stay Out of My Life (1:44)
18.Nothing Lasts (2:54)
19.Some Things You Never Forget (4:36)
20.Growing Younger (2:14)
21.Dying Away (2:58)
22.Love Returns (1:44)
23.Benjamin and Daisy (2:32)
Total Time is 60:08

Track Listing CD (2)
1…”My name is Benjamin” (: 21)
2…We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City-Doc Paulin’s Marching Band (2:56)
3…”Some Days I feel different” (: 18)
4…Ostrich Walk-Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke (3:06)
5…”How old are you?” (: 12)
6…That’s How Rhythm Was Born-The Boswell Sisters (2:53)
7…”When was the last time you had a woman.” (: 13)
8…Freight Train Blues-Billie & DeDe Pierce (5:35)
9…Basin Street Blues-Preservation Hall Jazz Band (7:34)
10.”Thanksgiving, 1930.” (:08)
11.If I Could Be With You-Louis Armstrong (3:35)
12.”What’s your secret?” (: 25)
13.Chanson Sur Staline-Choeur de la Cathedrale de la Rue Daru, Paris XVII (3:06)
14.”A date which will live in infamy…” (: 17)
15.Arabeske for Piano in C Major Op. 18 (3:18)
16.”Coming home.” (: 12)
17.Out of Nowhere-Sidney Bechet (3:00)
18.Dear Old Southland-Louis Armstrong (3:17)
19.”Defined by opportunities.” (:05)
20.Skokiaan-Perez Prado & His Orchestra (2:38)
21.”Things were becoming different for me.” (: 17)
22.My Prayer-The Platters (2:46)
23.Bethena (A Concert Waltz)-Randy Kerber (5:43)
Total Time is 52:00

from-a-moonlit-ceremony1The most important thing about McKay, at least to this reviewer, is the melodic content to his music. It flows as freely as a Max Steiner score with theme upon theme and variation and harmonizing of those melodies. The only lacking ingredient is the silver screen itself which can easily be conjured up in ones mind given the opportunity as I have done on so many occasions. The fact that this composer has been so overlooked for such a long time is puzzling. One can only speculate that living in the upper northwest as opposed to New York had something to do with it. Yet during his lifetime Stokowski, Beecham, Hanson, Fielder, and Dragon performed his works among many conductors.

Written during his second musical period “The Years of Western Flavor” (1937-1949), the work 15+ minutes is divided into 4 sections. It is based mostly on material that McKay studied during a visit to the Muckleshoot tribe near Mt. Rainer where he was given the opportunity to experience the religious ceremony, dances, driving away of the demons and a thanksgiving feast. “Evocation” is a wonderful single theme that weaves in and out of flutes, reeds, brass, and strings for the entire 4 minutes. The cowboy suddenly appearing out of the horizon heading toward the ranch to return to his family is a picture that one can easily conjure up. If you’re familiar with “Call of the Faraway Hill” you’ll enjoy this theme every bit as much. “Demon Dance” with its driving tom-tom rhythm is a McKay original theme complete with everything you would expect to hear of a dance that would drive away the evil spirits. Sacred is the key word for “Spirit Song” an elegant hymn for piece. The woodwinds start the theme that almost naturally slides into the strings to properly set the mood, followed by the call of the brass, proud and majestic. “Festival Dance”, the final selection, consists of three Muckleshoot themes with McKay providing the theme for the harmony. Very Native American it truly depicts a time of being grateful and happy. While parts were performed in the 40’s it wasn’t published until McKay revised it in 1969 which is the version performed on this recording.

This reviewer can only marvel at how well a Soviet orchestra can perform a work that is as American sounding as “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” We have truly become global at least in terms of performing music these days. The conductor John McLaughlin Williams has also done an additional recording of McKay works as well as a recording of more neglected works this time from American composer John Alden Carpenter. Perhaps there will be more of this wonderful American composer in the future. The Naxos American Classics are expanding as I type and we can certainly expect more from this fine series in the future.

Performed by the National Symphony of Ukraine conducted by John McLaughlin Williams

Naxos CD# is 8.559052

Track Listing:
1…Evocation (3:48)
2…Demon Dance (2:59)
3…Spirit Song (3:58)
4…Festival Dance (4:28)

howard-hanson-american-masterworks

 

 

 


Douglas Moore unjustly has fallen into nearly complete obscurity over the last 20 years. While his discography was never huge Douglas still made a wonderful contribution to 20th century American classical music. To my knowledge this Howard Hanson recording in 1958 on Mercury Living Presence (SR90206) made available in this (5) CD set is the only way to obtain this masterpiece of Americana. Mercury used original vacuum tube equipment for the CD transfer and it does make a difference. There is a warmth that comes through the speakers loud and clear! 

 

The 17+ minute suites written in 1924 are divided into 5 sections and tell the story of P.T. Barnum and the circus. “Boyhood at Bethel” depicts childhood dreams of the circus with some fiddling hoe down music along with a representation of what he sees in awe for the very first time. “Joice Heth-161 year-old negress” is an original spiritual featuring oboe and violin in a moving piece about the nurse of George Washington. While many of the folk/spiritual songs were taken from pre-existing material Douglas was an exception and did write his own original songs. “General and Mrs. Tom Thumb” is a clever comical piece in the style of Leroy Anderson with a nice array of percussion noises. One could easily conjure up a cartoon of some wild scheme thought up by Tom and Jerry. Elegant is the word for “Jenny Lind” complete with a flute solo nicely harmonized by the harp. Soft and relaxing, it could easily put you to sleep. “Circus Parade”, the concluding piece even has a slightly out of tune mimicking what a steam calliope might sound like. A nice rousing piece to conclude this all too short suite.

At the time of this writing the (5) CD set was available at a very attractive price ($19.95) through Berkshire Music http://www2.broinc.com/index.php . One can hope that Naxos will offer a CD or two of even more of his material. It certainly deserves a place in American classical 20th century music. And this is only one work out of 19 more in the collection! Recommended

1… Boyhood at Bethel (2:46)
2… Joice-Heth-161 year-old Negress (4:03)
3… General and Mrs. Tom Thumb (2:21)
4… Jenny Lind (4:38)
5… Circus Parade (3:55)

Mercury CD# 475-6274

Downloading

November 5, 2008

 

Naxos announced the availability of nearly 22,000 albums on their classics online website today in a move toward making downloading a lower cost alternative and offering very high quality 320 kbps DRM-free files. In my mind this is just another nail in the coffin of the purchase of a hard copy of a CD. We are already seeing fewer choices of places to shop in a traditional brick and mortar operation, especially in the area of classical and soundtrack material. Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart are not the best places to shop for classical material unless you want the greatest violin concertos of all time. Naxos, being a leader in the distribution of classical material, has made a statement that not only is downloading here to stay but it is the future of obtaining music.

Any new technology is going to be met with a certain amount of opposition and this is no exception. LP to CD, Analog to digital, reel to reel to cassette, film to digital, rotary hard wired telephones to cell ones, and tubes to transistor as the list can go on and on. As I type there are sides being taken on this one. A recent comment complained that the Chandos lossless files while superior were too expensive. Yet in the same breath the exact same material on Naxos at the 320kbps download at half the price wasn’t good enough quality. It is true that while the 320 are very good quality there is a difference between that and a lossless or CD quality. The argument is made that a lossless file should be made available and then the consumer saves this as his master and decides what size he wants to use in a particular device. Using something called a zip file, the material can be compressed to ½ the size and there is no loss of quality. Putting together some rough numbers a person could store somewhere between 1500 and 2000 CD quality digital files on a 500-gig external hard drive. Of course because everything should be backed up that means two are necessary at an approximate cost of $200.00 for both. Always back up all files no matter what. In case of fire or damage to your dwelling it is also a good idea to have the back-up unit in another location. Always better to error on the side of caution. With the overall lower cost for downloading as opposed to buying a new CD this cost can be made up in a fairly short period of time. If you still want to be able to hold the product in your hand you can download onto a CD, purchase a jewel case, and print the booklet.

One thing that I would do with the decline of the CD is to seek out an extra player for your stereo system especially if you’re looking for one of higher quality. In years to come you’ll be saying to yourself that this a good move. With the way a lot of equipment is made these days saying “I’ll get it repaired” is almost like telling a joke! Look at it this way. You might still have 8 tracks but can you buy blank tapes and record anymore? Always look ahead in these matters.

The 320kbps file size seems to be a compromise. While the majority will be satisfied with 128 or 192kbps and a select few will only accept lossless the in-between seems to be the norm for right now. I would encourage all to signup at

http://www.classicsonline.com/

and check out their services. It is a free signup with no credit card necessary and you’re entitled to three free download tracks for trying it out. If you have a CD that they have I would urge you to download one of the tracks to compare the quality difference between 320kbps and lossless (your original cd).

 

 

 

 

 When was the last time you received a CD without a barcode and the liner notes are audio by the producer on the last track of the CD? How many CD’s do you have in your collection that can claim the honor of being in a list of the 50 worst movies ever made? Elysee Productions LLC has introduced Dracula vs. Frankenstein, their second recording in a series of cult soundtrack recordings for collectors (limited pressing of 1000).

Starring J. Carroll Naish (his last film), Lon Chaney Jr. (his last film), Anthony Eisley (Hawaiian Eye), and Russ Tamblyn, this film directed by Al Adamson also is disguised under 6 other names something Sam Sherman did as part of his Independent-International Pictures Company. Adamson and Sherman teamed up on such drive-in classics as Five Bloody Graves, Horror of the Blood Monsters, and Brain of Blood a short list of unforgettable films. Sherman is still working and plans a new feature film Escape of the Living Dead for 2009. This reviewer lived his teen years in the 60’s and while they were playing during that time I can’t remember any of them! Perhaps they were so bad I wanted to forget or I was being distracted.

William Lava, an unknown name to some of you, was one of the busier Hollywood composers spending time on cartoons (100‘s), serials, and low budget films often as an uncredited composer. He also worked on television shows F-Troop, Cheyenne, Pink Panther Show, Twilight Zone, Thriller, and others. I was first introduced to Lava and his fine work that he did on the radio program The Lone Ranger. Even today some of the cues he created still stand out in my mind during danger, action, and suspense situations on the timeless radio show. He nearly always worked with smaller orchestras but managed to produce a fuller sound, as is the case with this soundtrack, which only had 13 in the orchestra and included a theremin and a tuba! Quite an unusual combination.

The soundtrack is divided into three sections of material:

1…The Re-Edited Cues from Samuel Sherman used in the film. As explained in the audio liner notes Sam didn’t really like what Bill Lava came up with and made changes as well as using other cues from Harry Lubin, Universal and others.

2…The William Lava Session Cues originally done for the film. These are by far the best material on the CD in spite of the opinion of Sherman. Lava was a professional, knew what he was doing, and with the budget he had to work with came up with appropriate material. There is no theme I’ll ever remember and the majority is low register underscore mostly dissonant but definitely designed to create the mood of a horror film effectively.

3…Outakes, Radio Spots created by Sherman, and the Audio Liner Notes. The radio spots are fun to listen to especially if you grew up back in the 60’s as it relived some memories but after a listen or two it is just something to have. The same can be said about the outakes, which include the voice of the recording engineer or the composer as part of the cue. They’re nice to have but strictly as bonus material.

Overall this is going to appeal to fans of the film, collectors, and people who enjoy the work of Lava. This CD along with Mad Doctor of Blood Island is available from his site www.elyseeproductions.com.  Here is a chance to own soundtracks from two of the worst movies ever made.

Track Listing:

THE RE-EDITED CUES

1… Main Title (2:55)

2… Dramatic Horror (1:48)

3… Battle of the Creatures (2:11)

4… Walking Demon (1:46)

THE WILLIAM LAVA SESSION CUES

5… Prologue (:41)

6… Main Title (2:33)

7… Cue 4 (1:08)

8… Cue 5 (5:55)

9… Cue 6 (:54)

10.. Cue 8 (1:40)

11.. Cue 9 (:54)

12.. Cue 10 (3:31)

13.. Cue 14 (:53)

14.. Cue 20 (:53)

15.. Cue 21 (Jazz Chase-Not used in the film) (1:50)

16.. Cue 22 (:22)

BONUS TRACKS, OUTAKES & SESSION CHATTER

17.. Prologue (Take 3) (:48)

18.. Main Title (Take 1) (2:45)

19.. Cue 8 (Take 10 and Pickups) (2:37)

20.. Cue 9 (Take 14-Start and Stop) (:27)

21.. Cue 17 (Take 19-Shock Sting ) (:14)

22.. Cue 21 (Take 21-Jazz Chase) (1:59)

THE INDEPENDENT-INTERNATIONAL RADIO SPOT-0-RAMA

23.. Sixteen (16) Radio Spot Commercials

AUDIO LINER NOTES BY SAMUEL SHERMAN

24.. Commentary (13:30)