Symphony No. 1/Roussel

November 27, 2009

When one thinks of France and classical music at the beginning of the 20th century Debussy and Ravel immediately come to mine at least as far as this reviewer is concerned. Yet Albert Roussel (1869-1937) compositions should be recognized and with the exception of his ballet Bacchus et Ariane (1931) he is forgotten by most.

Written between 1904-06 Roussel’s First Symphony was given its premiere in 1908 in Brussels. Poem of the Forest, the subtitle, refers to how the four seasons affect the forest during the year. The order of the four movements are winter, spring, summer, and fall. One can clearly hear the influence of Debussy and his teacher D’Indy in this work. “Foret d’hiver” (winter) paints a bleak picture featuring the soulful oboe carrying the melody followed by agitated string play and ending with the horn. “Renouveau” (spring) begins immediately without pause with flutes, and woodwinds as the forest is becoming alive with life. The pace quickens and the horns and the harp join in the coming of spring. “Soir d’ete” (summer) offers a nocturne of a quiet serenade on a summer evening. The very Debussy like sound fills the air with love and romance. “Faunes et dryades” (fall) is a lively movement and is the most complex and longest of the four with themes coming from woodwinds, horns, and Spanish type percussion very quickly. As the foreboding music rises it suddenly changes to tranquility from the flute and harp and without notice the agitated music returns again with horns taking the spotlight. Finally the movement ends on a quiet moment returning to how it began in the winter movement. Overall this is an excellent first effort at a symphony from Roussel.

Resurrection-Symphonic Prelude, Op. 4 written in 1903, was the first attempt of Roussel at doing an orchestral piece. Named after the final novel of Tolstoy the relatively short composition seems to be merely an exercise in orchestration and arranging. The overall darkness of the work might have an appeal to some but I found it to be rather dull and uninspiring and I could find no tie in to the novel what so ever. However, it should be remembered this was from a newcomer and I’ve heard worse.

Le marchand de sable qui passe (The Sandman) Op. 13 was composed in 1908 for the pantomime written by George Jean-Aubry and the premiere was conducted by the composer. It was originally written for flute, clarinet, horn, harp, and string quartet but the strings of the symphony are substituted in this incidental music that has a nice flavor to it. I found the use of the harp to be an enchanting part of this lovely music. Listening to the music was somewhat like listening to a soundtrack and not having seen the film. In this case if I’d seen the pantomime it could have given me a greater understanding of the material which was quite pleasing in either case.

Overall, it is nice to see Stephane Deneve and the Royal Scottish Orchestra recording the works of Albert Roussel, a composer that many should explore. Recommended.

Produced and engineered by Tim Handley

CD# is Naxos 8.570323

Track Listing:

Symphony No. 1, Op. 7, “Le poeme de la foret”

 

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Deneve, Stephane, Conductor

 

1. I. Foret d’hiver 00:05:27

 

2. II. Renouveau 00:07:04

 

3. III. Soir d’ete 00:08:34

 

4. IV. Faunes et dryades 00:14:26

 

Resurrection, Op. 4

 

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Deneve, Stephane, Conductor

 

5. Resurrection, Op. 4 00:10:48

 

Le marchand de sable qui passe, Op. 13

 

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Deneve, Stephane, Conductor

 

6. Prelude 00:04:18

 

7. Scene 2 00:03:40

 

8. Interlude – Scene 4 00:04:59

 

9. Final Scene 00:05:11

 

 

 

 

Total Playing Time: 01:04:27

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes I wonder if getting to do an Xmas album with a lot of schmaltz means you’ve made it in the record industry with the seemingly endless stream of releases. When there is finally something different from a group this reviewer immediately takes notice. Such is the case with the Cool Yule release.

Operating under the guiding principle of what would Django do with bumper stickers available (www.hcsf.com), The Hot Club of San Francisco have released a refreshing change in a Xmas album for 2009. Patterned after the music performed by Grappelli and Reinhardt with the Quintette du Hot Club de France in the 30’s which featured string instruments (no percussion) in a unique jazz style. Even if you like percussion as I do your ear will quickly adapt to the bass beat.

Starting off with “Cool Yule,” a somewhat obscure Steve Allen song, the group sets the tone for the CD. Featuring a cool vocal, guitar, and violin solos in a foot stomping style the table is set. The gypsy/latin arrangement of “Don Rodolfo” follows in an arrangement of Rudolph the likes of which I’m sure you’ve not heard before. “Sugar Rum Cherry,” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and originally arranged and performed by Ellington is an example of what a jazz group can do with any melody. You can certainly hear the influence from Duke with the wa- wa trumpet. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is the only arrangement that schmaltz is the order of the day. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is the other vocal number on the CD and it is a pleasant exchange between Isabelle Fontaine and Jeff Magidson.

If your looking for something unusual and out of the ordinary for some of your Xmas music for this year I think you’ll find this release to be an attractive offering. Recommended.

CD# is Azica AJD-72242

Produced by Alan Bise

Mixing and Mastering by Alan Bise

Track Listing:

1. Cool Yule (2:17)

2. Don Rodolfo (5:00)

3. Carol of the Bells (4:53)

4. I’ll Be Home for Christmas (3:00)

5. Baby It’s Cold Outside (4:23)

6. Djingle Bells (6:51)

7. Sugar Rum Cherry (3:35)

8. I Wonder As I Wonder (4:49)

9. March of the Toys (4:55)

10. The Christmas Song (4:52)

11. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (2:54)

12. Auld Lang Syne (7:40)

Total Track Time is 51:09

 

John Woo, director of Red Cliff, is likely known in America for the films Face/Off, and Mission Impossible II but in addition he is quite an active director in Asia as well as having several films in the development stage to be released over the next couple of years. The film is actually part 2 of the 1992 classic Hard Boiled both starring Tony Leung and reuniting Woo and Leung for the first time since that film. The film was wildly popular in Asia and is advertised as the most expensive film ever made in the orient at least at the time of this writing. The story takes place in 208 A.D. involving the Han dynasty and their fight for power. The ensuing battle marks their end of rule in this loosely based historical drama.

Not having seen either film but considering the plot and my surmising that there was a lot of non-stop action, I was quite surprised at the restrained symphonic quality of the score and the minimal use of electronic programming from Taro Iwashiro, who I’ve had no prior experience with but certainly wish to explore further. The soundtrack was the winner of Best Original Film Score at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards. It also features a vocal of the main themes by Chinese J-Pop star alan.

“The Battle of Red Cliff,” is a pretty theme that would hardly be a description of a battle involving the Han dynasty but more like a theme from a melodrama with emphasis upon the fortunes of war through the percussion. It is a theme that is used throughout the score. “Light Of The Evanescence” is a soft tranquil theme in an andante tempo that depicts a quiet time in the forest by a brook or the aftermath of the battle. It too is repeated in the score and is really quite a moving piece. “Decision for Justice” is a proud heroic theme that indicates the resolve to solve the conflict at hand. While this is a military piece you don’t get the feeling of similar situation written for an American film. “Precious One” is a love theme version of “Light Of The Evanescence” with delicate flute and oboe in the forefront. “Red Cliff-River Of No Return” sung by alan is very oriented to the pop market and I’m sure the $ signs were in the eyes of the producer and director as this was being recorded. It is a pleasant theme and I’m sure many of you will enjoy it but it really doesn’t fit a film that takes place in 200 A.D. The score, performed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, has an overall Asian flavor with the use of a Bamboo Flute and Chinese Harp but still has its own unique identity and style. I never got the feeling of a 110-piece orchestra with extra brass to emphasize the military aspect of the film. This is definitely one to explore if your taste lends itself toward the classical side of film soundtrack listening. Recommended.

CD# is SILCD1296

Produced by Taro Iwashiro

Track listing

1. The Battle Of Red Cliff (03:05)

 

2. On The Battlefield (08:43)

 

3. Light Of The Evanescence (02:32)

 

4. Shadow Of The Evanescence (02:26)

 

5. Shooooot! (01:43)

 

6. Decision For Justice (03:58)

 

7. Secret Stratagem (01:51)

 

8. Closing In Upon The Enemy (04:13)

 

9. Unseen Locus (03:01)

 

10. Precious One (05:22)

 

11. Sound Of Heartstrings (01:35)

 

12. In Loneliness (05:35)

 

13. Beyond The River (04:19)

 

14. Red Cliff (End Roll Version) / Theme Song Of Part I (07:12)

Performed by Alan

15. Outroduction Of Legend (05:16)

 

16. Red Cliff (End Roll Version) / Theme Song Of Part II (03:32)

Performed by Alan

Total Duration: 01:04:23

The 5-Man Army/Morricone

November 19, 2009

One of the more successful spaghetti westerns, due to backing from MGM and the hot box-office actor Peter “Mission Impossible” Graves, the The Five-Man Army (1969), directed by Don Taylor, provided an above average story of a $500,000 train robbery. The suspenseful 30-minute train robbery, one of the better filmed, makes this well worth watching. If you haven’t seen the film before, the ending is also a bit of surprise. Overall, a good watch.

Ennio Morricone, of the most prolific composers of all time, created a theme even more memorable than his previous spaghetti western films. Using an unusual quirky combination including flute, woodwinds, and violin fiddling the haunting melody will definitely get into your brain and if your anything like me it will be stuck there for quite sometime and yes it is repeated a lot but downloading just the main title track (the only one in stereo) would cause you to miss a lot of good additional material.

The death march theme “Muerte Donde Vas?” appears first as a lyric sung in Spanish to a condemned man, a quieter version played on the Cor Anglais as traveling music out of the city, and a slow funeral like pace again featuring the English Horn. The “Death of the West Theme” is a quiet somber one also that could remind you of similar themes in other western films Morricone did. Used in the background when the group was recalling old times and as a motif that refusing to cooperate meant death it is yet another effective theme. Both themes are one that could easily be mistaken for any of a 100 similar themes that Ennio composed over the years for his endless output of material for the Italian silver screen. In addition to these three main themes that dominate much of the score there are some nice additional underscore tracks, which are noteworthy. “I Bambini e I Fiori” is a romantic interlude for guitar, “Tension Theme,” a somewhat dissonant escape cue with uneasiness in the music. No score from Morricone would be complete without a harmonica solo and albeit a short cue “Harmonica Source “ offers a somewhat comical one. “Out of Time” features repetitive bars with the sound of a clock adding to the urgency of the scene.

With the exception of the “Main Title” this recording is in monaural with a very slight amount or reverb added. According to the liner notes previous recordings have had issues with speed among other problems. As a reviewer who has listened to this recording multiple times I found no issues with this FSM release. The liner notes from Bender and Kaplan were well written with all of the appropriate information included about the film and the tracks.

This is yet another score that will definitely grow on you with repeated plays and is one to consider for your collection to even the casual Morricone listener. If you already have one of the previous releases this one may very well be to your liking considering the audio improvements and the addition of extra material. This is not a limited release. Recommended.

CD# FSM Vol. 12 No. 16

Produced by Lukas Kendall

Digital Mastering by Douglas Schwarz

Track listing

1. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (Main Title, stereo) (02:53)

 

2. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (The Chicken Farm/The Mining Colony) (02:04)

 

3. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (The Circus/To Morales) (02:42)

 

4. Muerte Donde Vas? (The Execution) (02:32)

 

5. I Bambini e i Fiori (Flowers and Food) (01:17)

 

6. A Cinque Amici, Cinque Eroi (Introductions) (02:18)

 

7. Muerte Donde Vas? (The Journey) (02:49)

 

8. A Cinque Amici, Cinque Eroi (Interrogation)/Muerte Donde Vas? (Captured) (01:46)

 

9. Tension Theme (Escape) (03:31)

 

10. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (Maria’s Goodbye/Pursuit) (02:13)

 

11. Muerte Donde Vas? (Rebel Aid) (01:23)

 

12. Heroic Theme (The Train) (00:33)

 

13. Comic Theme (Ambushing the Truck) (00:12)

 

14. Harmonica Source (To the Station House) (00:42)

 

15. A Cinque Amici, Cinque Eroi (Already Dead) (02:17)

 

16. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (Departure/Army in Disguise/Underneath the Train) (01:57)

 

17. Comic Theme (Close Call)/Tension Theme (The First Move)/Tension Theme (The Next Move) (02:51)

 

18. Una Corsa Disperata (Samurai Runs) (04:14)

 

19. Contro il Tempo (Surprise Guests)/Contro il Tempo (Mesito Prepares) (00:58)

 

20. Contro il Tempo (Out of Time) (04:25)

 

21. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (Success) (01:02)

 

22. Muerte Donde Vas? (The Dutchman’s Cause) (02:44)

 

23. Tension Theme and Muerte Donde Vas? (New Recruits) (04:59)

Bonus Tracks

24. Un Esercito di Cinque Uomini (Main Title, mono) (02:54)

 

25. Muerte Donde Vas? (Album track) (04:11)

 

Total Duration: 00:59:27