August 30, 2009
Directed and co- written by Sam “Spiderman” Raimi for Universal, “Drag Me To Hell” was not made for the target market that I’m in these days. However, as of this writing in August 2009, the box-office figures show it is a huge success, meaning they hit their target market just fine without my advice. I saw the poster, read the press release, and said to myself, why bother with this at all. This has all of the makings of yet another slasher horror film with the wailing, irritating slashing strings, and loud, louder, and loudest. I bothered because the music is from Christopher Young an excellent underrated composer of the first order. I wasn’t disappointed in anyway and quite pleased at what I heard from the first bars of the main theme. Besides, Young has such thought provoking interesting track titles such as “Muttled Buttled Brain Stew” it is hard not to at least have a listen.
“Drag Me To Hell,” the main theme, begins with a reference from Jaws and ends with a reference from Star Trek. In between is a theme that isn’t your standard horror one at all but a melody you might hear in any number of genre of films, perfectly complemented by a solo violin, which represents the devil himself as explained by Young in the CD liner notes. Immediately the sounds of the violin of Saint-Saen’s Danse Macabre began to fill my head with the vision of a skeleton playing the violin with both hands while the bow was moving on its own, also explained in the liner notes as impossible to do without overdubbing. It is the same theme that you’ll also hear in “Concerto from Hell” which features an extended violin solo complete with trills.
“Tale of a Haunted Banker” starts with a piano lead which segues to a patented classic Young melody performed on a toy piano. It is simple, elegant, and one of those catchy melodies that puts a small lump in your throat. Tempo and lead in are different but the same theme as Haunted Banker is used in “Familiar Familiars” and “Brick Dogs a la Carte.”
There are plenty of horror tracks with chorus, ‘devil’s horn’, on the edge of your seat excitement in such tracks as “Mexican Devil Disaster,” “Auto-Da-Fe,” “Loose Teeth,” “Lamia,” and “Black Rainbows.” While this is top drawer writing for the horror genre this overall style of music has never been my cup of tea and it was difficult for me to get my teeth into it. The horror fan will have no trouble listening to it over and over.
This release comes highly recommended to any fan of Christopher Young and horror genre music. Even the classical listener will enjoy the “Concerto to Hell” as the violin playing is quite good.
Maintitles rating is ****
Produced by Christopher Young and Flavio Motalla
CD# is Lakeshore LKS 34091
1. Drag Me To Hell (02:33)
2. Mexican Devil Disaster (04:33)
3. Tale Of A Haunted Banker (01:52)
4. Lamia (04:06)
5. Black Rainbows (03:24)
6. Ode To Ganush (02:23)
7. Familiar Familiars (02:11)
8. Loose Teeth (06:31)
9. Ordeal By Corpse (04:35)
10. Bealing Bells With Trumpet (05:12)
11. Brick Dogs Ala Carte (01:46)
12. Buddled Brain Strain (02:51)
13. Auto-Da-Fe (04:31)
14. Concerto To Hell (05:59) Total duration is 52:29
August 28, 2009
Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) wrote music at the same time as his fellow Norwegian Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and while Grieg is a household name in classical music Svendsen is pretty much of an unknown. He actually supplemented where Grieg was less productive as Johan’s instrument was the orchestra: it was the one he knew best and the one he wrote most of his compositions for. He wrote somewhere in the middle of the Romantic period yet form wise much of his material is as that of a classicist. Writing primarily in a major key his work is upbeat and lively, a perfect setting for Norwegian folk material.
The (4) “Norwegian Rhapsodies” were written during the 1876-1877 period of time and are based on themes found in Lindeman’s “Older and Newer Norwegian Mountain Melodies,” material that Grieg also availed himself of for several of his works. In fact Svendsen’s No. 1 Norwegian Rhapsody and Grieg’s No. 3 Symphonic Dance use the same theme from the collection of Lindeman melodies. The 40+ minutes for the (4) rhapsodies are everything one might imagine of country life in Norway. A tranquil setting, folk dancing, a romantic interlude, mountain streams, and picturesque landscape are all things that come to mind when you listen to this music. These are pleasant and easy to listen to with melodies and orchestral arranging showing his strong command.
“Romeo and Juliet” ranks near the top of stories that have been put to music by composers and the Svendsen treatment while not as strong a work as Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, and Prokofiev it still depicts the romance and tragedy of lost love in a short overture. Svendsen wrote this work after the 1st Rhapsody and before the 2nd in 1876. The premiere of the work was only met with mild enthusiasm, perhaps because it wasn’t what audiences really expected.
“Zorahayda” is a true program work, which is based on a Washington Irving story The Legend of the Rose of the Alhambra that tells the story of a Moorish princess and her love for a Christian knight. This is quite the delicate work offering solo violin, oboe, horn and pizzicato from the strings in an easy to listen to style. It seems to be well suited to the slightly smaller size South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Bjartre Engeset certainly has the feel for conducting Scandinavian type music. His enthusiasm is definitely translated to the recording.
While we couldn’t classify Johan as an unknown composer he is certainly rarely if ever performed. This CD, along with Naxos 8.553898, his two symphonies are ones to be explored. Recommended.
Produced and engineered by Tim Handley
Naxos CD# is 8.570322
Performed by the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bjarte Engeset
1.… Romeo and Juliet, Op. 18 (12:17)
2.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 17 (9:13)
3.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 2, Op. 19 (8:51)
4.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 3, Op. 21 (9:54)
5.… Norwegian Rhapsody No. 4, Op. 22 (12:18)
6.… Sorehead (12:21)
Total Time is 64:55
August 17, 2009
From the very first listen this new CPO # 777 442-2 release of Holbrooke’s Symphonic Poems got my attention and immediately got me to wondering why I had not listened to this composer before. The CD notes, quite extensive, told the sad story of how Josef ended in obscurity in spite of his efforts at self-promoting. From the little material that I was able to read about him it became quite clear that Josef composed in the wrong century and was born in the wrong country, as England wasn’t exactly a hot bed for composers. His style didn’t fit in the 20th century. His remarks of England were quite caustic and reflecting back on history one can certainly see why he had the attitude he did. He deserves a much better fate than obscurity.
Holbrooke had an obsession about putting the prose of Poe to music, having done it 35 times. “Amontillado,” Dramatic Overture, op. 123 was written in 1936 but not premiered until 1946 exactly 100 years after Poe wrote the story “The Cask of Amontillado.” The 9+ minute work consists of themes, which are used and melded together in an orchestral arrangement, which is easily accessible for the average listener. You’ll hear a bright and sprightly theme featuring strings, crisp percussion, and brass as well as a melancholy one from the woodwinds.
“Ulalume,” Orchestral Poem No. 3, opus 35 is based on a poem by Poe about the loss of a woman in his life, and is a good venue for a symphonic orchestral work. Overall on the dark side, there is a portion of quiet reflection, a romantic interlude, as well as action and tense moments.
“The Viking,” Orchestral Poem No. 2, op. 32 has a love theme straight from a film like Rebecca. Intermixed with this theme are action moments which are similar to tone poems such as “The Isle of the Dead” from Rachmaninoff or “The Island” from Sainton. Originally called “The Skeleton in Armour” this symphonic poem is also fairly accessible to the listener as the orchestral arranging of Holbrooke is most pleasing to the ear.
“Three Blind Mice-Symphonic Variations on an Old English Air,” op. 37, No. 1 is just a fun piece to listen to filled with a lot of musical fun. While the piece really doesn’t fit with the dark and brooding nature of the other three it does show off the versatile side of Josef.
While this reviewer has never heard any of these particular works before it certainly sounds like the Brandenburg State Orchestra of Frankfurt conducted by Howard Griffiths have the right amount of enthusiasm for the works. The recording is done properly with a nice emphasis being placed when appropriate. I site the percussion in “Amantillado” as an example. I also found the liner notes to be quite extensive including small score examples as well as a complete explanation on how the work ended up being written.
In conclusion I found this work of Holbrooke to be a wonderful new discovery for me. This is one CD that even a person with limited classical listening experience would find extremely satisfying. I hope that CPO will choose to record more of this sadly neglected composer. Recommended
CD# is CPO 777 442-2
1.… Amontillado (9:26)
2.… The Viking (19:02)
3.… Three Blind Mice (14:37)
4.… Ulalume (12:56)
Total Time is 56:26
August 9, 2009
One could argue 1962 was the pinnacle of picture making for Hollywood with the likes of Miracle Worker, Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Days of Wine and Roses, Birdman of Alcatraz, Music Man, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Sweet Bird of Youth. Released in another year could have resulted in an Oscar or two for Lonely are the Brave including the outstanding score of a young Jerry Goldsmith. Screenplay by award winning blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, itself a story, the film starred Kirk Douglas, Gena Rowlands, and Walter Matthau in a modern setting western about an out of place cowboy. This was not your typical cowboy story and Douglas whose production company produced wanted it released to the art houses, which Universal refused to listen to. Yes it had a western flavor to it but the story went a whole lot deeper. With the above list of 1962 films one can see why it quickly came and left theaters, much to the disappointment of Kirk who felt it was his favorite movie, quite a statement considering the list of films he starred in.
Recommended for the assignment by Alfred Newman, Jerry turned in a score that ranks with the best of the best in the western genre. The main theme is quietly introduced to us 20 seconds into the first track by a guitar with soft harmonizing strings, extremely subtle. Then that theme again is heard first from the flutes and then the lonesome trumpet with some of that Goldsmith sound from the harmony of the brass, and the pizzicato from the string section. One can hear in track No. 3 “3M81” influences of Jerome Moross and Aaron Copland both well known in their writing of Americana music as well as a brief return to that wonderful theme. “Burns Returns” is more of that lovely theme Americana orchestrated. Again one can hear what sort of influence Aaron Copland had on a young Jerry Goldsmith and yet his sound was already being formed. “Bar Room Brawl” is a tense action underscore well orchestrated with guitar, pizzicato strings, blaring horns, and percussion. It ends with a short Mexican style marimba. “World’s Apart” is a longer version (5:28) of the main theme in a poignant lullaby style cue complete with the theme from harmonica, guitar, and a small string section. “On the Run,” “Sudden Intrusion,” “Wounded,” and “Closing In” is tension underscore cues mixed in with the main theme. “Catastrophe” begins with dissonant brass and then becomes a dirge between the brass and the lower strings. The lower register takes the spotlight by playing the theme in a lower key. The “End title” after a short build-up gives us the lonely trumpet and the main theme to conclude the CD.
Don’t let the fact that the recording is mono deter you from a purchase as it is a first class re-master all the way with some added stereo reverb to make it even better. I have absolutely no complaint with the recording at all.
While Goldsmith fans/collectors have already purchased this CD (perhaps 2) the average collector should also not hesitate and purchase this outstanding release before it sells out. It is a limited edition of 3000 copies. This western release ranks with “Tombstone,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “The Big Country.” Highly recommended.
Main titles Rating is *****
CD# is Varese Sarabande VCL 0609 1094.2
1. Lone Cowboy (00:53)
2. Main Title (02:55)
3. 3M81 (02:27)
4. Burns Returns (02:31)
5. 3M52 (01:19)
6. 3M53 (02:40)
7. Going to Town (00:30)
8. Barroom Brawl (03:41)
9. That Dog (00:41)
10. No Surprise / Escape (06:33)
11. Worlds Apart (05:28)
12. 3M96 (01:47)
13. On the Run (01:02)
14. 3M40 (01:49)
15. Resting Up (00:58)
16. Sudden Intrusion (02:03)
17. Closing In (02:56)
18. Anxious Moment (01:30)
19. Surprised Sadist (02:51)
20. Minus Whisky / Hard-Gained Ground (05:59)
21. Run For It (03:08)
22. Wounded (02:58)
23. Catastrophe (03:39)
24. End Title (01:17)
Total Duration: 01:01:35
August 7, 2009
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) was a style that Alex North developed and carried with him for his entire soundtrack-writing career. He has a slow west coast style cool jazz with dissonance in the right places to add some improv flavor to the bluesy tracks. Considered harsh by many, it is certainly a biting unique style that I’ve enjoyed over the years. If North had gone in the direction of a jazz artist who knows how far or where it would have taken him.
While Hard Contract boasted a stellar cast that included James Coburn, Lee Remick, Lilli Palmer, Sterling Hayden, Burgess Meredith, and Karen Black the story itself about a hit man who finds love and a conscious is all too familiar. One and done director S. Lee Pogostin who also wrote the script likely didn’t help matters. His career was mainly as a writer and it probably should have remained that way.
The new Varese Club release (VCL 0609 1097.2) is divided into two sections, mono and stereo surviving material, making the nearly 55 minutes of music misleading. Many of the tracks are exactly the same except for the mono or stereo difference. “Cunningham,” “Sheila,” “Rape,” “Number One Man,” “Number Three Man,” “Main Title,” and “End Title” are the same cue. However, there are a few cues such as “TorreMolinos,” “Fulfillment,” “How To Kiss,” “Number Two Man,” and “Skin” that are unique to the stereo/mono surviving material.
The “Main Title” begins with two piano chords followed by a Chinatown type theme without strings, slow and melodic, easy to listen to. You will hear this theme in different arrangements such as muted trumpet, guitar, flute, and other combinations. While Hard Contract is not a monothematic score there is quite an emphasis on this theme. “TorreMolinos” is a nicely arranged Samba dance tune for a source situation in the film. “Sheila” is a lush arrangement of the main theme that really cries for strings but the budget wasn’t there. “Number One Man” is a good example of the dissonant style North uses that some find difficult to listen to. “Skin” is a variation on the main theme with some good interplay between muted trumpet, saxophone, clarinet, and orchestra.
As of this writing (08-05-09) the limited edition release of 1000 copies is sold out. I would assume that most of the Alex North fans have already gotten their copy and are enjoying the music. However, http://www.moviemusic.com/ appeared to still have copies available at $24.99. As far as the average soundtrack listener goes I would pass on this one. There is just not enough additional music to justify the purchase price other than the outstanding main theme.
Maintitles Rating is **
Varese Saraland #VCL 0609 1097.2
1. Main Title (02:35)
2. Cunningham (01:43)
3. TorreMolinos (02:18)
4. Sheila (01:22)
5. Number One Man (01:57)
6. Gone (00:37)
7. Rape (01:08)
8. Rape (Alternate) (00:42)
9. Resurrection (00:43)
10. I Do Women (00:31)
11. Hands (01:15)
12. Rest Period (00:39)
13. Him Too (01:00)
14. Number Three Man (01:49)
15. End Title (02:44)
16. Main Theme Demo (02:06)
Tracks 1 to 16: Surviving Stereo Mixes
17. Main Title (02:37)
18. Cunningham (01:43)
19. Sheila (01:20)
20. Fulfillment (02:55)
21. Number One Man (01:59)
22. How To Kiss (02:34)
23. All About God (03:05)
24. Gone (00:36)
25. Number Two Man (01:07)
26. Skin (03:26)
27. Rape (01:07)
28. Resurrection (00:44)
29. I Do Women (00:39)
30. Hands / Hotel Lobby (01:34)
31. Rest Period (00:41)
32. Him Too (01:00)
33. Number Three Man (01:51)
34. End Title (02:44)
Tracks 17 to 34: Surviving Mono Film Masters
Total Duration: 00:54:51
August 6, 2009
It is hard for this reviewer to imagine that this is the 43rd release of material on the Schifrin owned and operated Aleph label. With the exception of one release, The Enforcer by Jerry Fielding, they all feature Lalo material. His latest entry, Aleph 043, is Sky Riders a 1976 film starring James Coburn, Robert Culp, and Susannah York. It is the story of kidnapping and a daring rescue from an inaccessible monastery using hang gliders. I can’t comment too much on the film as I’ve never seen it and likely won’t but I’ve read enough to get the general idea of the film. The director Douglas Hickox never set the world on fire but he did choose his film composers well for his movies. ”Brannigan” with Dominic Frontiere, “Zulu Dawn” with Elmer Bernstein, and “Theater of Blood” with Michael Lewis were some of his other films, all good scores that I have listened to and have in my collection. We can now add Sky Riders with Lalo Schifrin to the collection.
The opening track, “Flying Circus” will take you back to your childhood when you rode the carousel or perhaps attended a carnival. It is divided into two sections, the first being a merry-go-round theme, a memorable one, followed by a circus/magician style theme. “Climbers” is also divided into two distinct parts. The first is a happy theme with pizzicato strings and flute. The flutes definitely giveaway that Schifrin sound and I could easily imagine this cue coming out of the Mission Impossible series. The second part begins with tremulant bars from the strings and follows with more tension underscore. If you are a listener of Schifrin the horn harmony is yet another giveaway for his sound. “The Riders” begins with a pleasant Greek theme but quickly changes to a few bars of the main theme and then it is back to the tremulant tension underscore again. “Gliding,” “The Terrorists,” “The Last Kite,” and all but the ending of “Copters and Gliders” are underscore material for the film. There is no melody and the majority is classified as tension type music, all with the trademark sound of Schifrin. “End Credits (Original Version)” restates the themes that are heard in ”The Riders.”
While this score is certainly not going to be an all time favorite it is Schifrin and for that reason alone there will be appeal to his fan base. The first track will have a huge appeal to anyone interested in circus/carousel type music, some of the best this reviewer has heard in a long time. Take a moment and check out the sound clips.
Maintitles rating is ***
Produced by Nick Redman
Score Restoration by Mike Matessino
Mastered by Daniel Hersch
1…Flying Circus (6:21)
3…The Riders (8:31)
5…The Terrorists (9:14)
6…The Last Kite (6:23)
7…Copters and Gliders (7:13)
8…End Credits (Original Version) (2:09)
Total Time is 48:24