November 29, 2011
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in its continuing series of Here Come The Classics is offering a 77 minute compilation of golden age film music from the 30’s to the 70’s in very straight forward arrangements that offer an easy listening orchestration to the material. There are no surprises on this disc other than 4 of the 15 tracks are devoted to Psycho. The one hour plus will certainly bring back nostalgia of some of the classic films of all time!
It is only fitting that the greatest of western themes from Hollywood, The Big Country from Jerome Moross opens this disk. I’m still amazed to this day that this classic score lost the Oscar in 1958 to the Tiomkin soundtrack The Old Man And The Sea. I can’t recall seeing its main theme appear on any compilation recordings but it certainly reinforces my lack of interest in what Hollywood thinks. The swirling strings at breakneck speed complimented by crisp brass are a prelude to the main theme, bold and majestic played by the strings with appropriate harmony from the brass. Moross created a template that Hollywood Westerns used for many years and I’m sure that Copland, father of the Americana sound, would have been proud of. A nine minute suite of the film Casablanca which includes the famous song “As Time Goes By,” not original material written for the film, but one of the greatest songs from a Hollywood picture of all time is offered in an uncomplicated piano solo as well as sweet strains from the strings. Intermixed with the theme are the strains of the Marseillaise (French Anthem) along with original underscore from Max Steiner. 1945 was a very good year for Miklos Rozsa who not only won an Oscar for his Spellbound score but was also nominated for The Lost Weekend, the score he preferred. So popular was the melody that Rozsa made a single movement 13 minute piano concerto that is nicely played by Roderick Elms. It captures the sentimentality as well as the tension. Some of the finest underscore ever written for Hollywood was found in Psycho which is famous for the string slashing motif that went along with the shower stabbing scene in the film. Herrmann was a master at enhancing photographic situations and the four tracks included in this compilation certainly emphasize his ability to create terror from his cues. Guns of Navarone is a splendid example of how the Russian composer Dimitri Tiomkin was able to create wonderful thematic material in a classical orchestration like his fellow countrymen Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky. The arrangement offers bright brass that exchanges the melody with the strings and is nicely complimented by percussion. Two selections “Love Theme” and “Parade of the Charioteers” are the highlight of another Oscar winner, Ben Hur, for Miklos Rozsa. His classical Hungarian training was never surpassed by this epic work. The versatility of Herrmann was clearly evident in his jazzy alto saxophone approach to Taxi Driver a complete 180 degrees from Psycho. The lush solo is performed by Phil Todd and nicely performed by the Royal Philharmonic in a standard arrangement of the material. Being true to the composers he followed, Strauss and Wagner, Korngold created a symphonic masterpiece in his score Sea Hawk. The fanfare of the brass that opens the cue is unforgettable. Performed with the same frequency as Spellbound the Warsaw Concerto is a showpiece for a concert pianist and is nicely played by Roderick Elms in this sentimental version from the film Dangerous Moonlight. No compilation would be complete without Tara’s theme from Gone With The Wind. Selznick’s greatest film achievement is perfectly enhanced by the writing of Max Steiner. Magnificent Seven is offered in a new fresh arrangement from Paul Batemen that includes a rousing prelude, brightly colored brass, and crisp strings in the best performance on this CD.
The seasoned collector is going to find little appeal to this offering as he likely has Charles Gerhardt, John Williams, and others performing this material in their collection already. The occasional film music listener, fan of the Royal Philharmonic, and pops enthusiast, will find this well recorded and performed offering delightful listening. I’ve included my favorite track on the CD for you to enjoy. Magnificent Seven – 15 – Track 15
1… The Big Country: Main Theme (3:01)
2… Casablanca: Suite (9:10)
3… Spellbound: Concerto (13:20)
4… Psycho: Suite-Prelude (2:11)
5… Psycho: Suite-The Stairs (1:39)
6… Psycho: Suite-The Murder (0:56)
7… Psycho: Suite-Finale (2:10)
8… The Guns of Navarone: Main Theme (2:36)
9… Ben-Hur: Love Theme (4:35)
10.. Ben-Hur: Parade of the Charioteers (3:22)
11.. Taxi Driver: Main Theme (7:41)
12.. The Sea Hawk Main Theme (8.25)
13.. Dangerous Moonlight: Warsaw Concerto (9:25)
14.. Gone With The Wind: Tara (4:36)
15.. The Magnificent Seven: Overture (4:12)
Total time is 77:26
November 28, 2011
It’s so nice to see Shostakovich finally get the recognition he deserves for the soundtrack material he wrote during his composing career. This is the third Shostakovich project that Mark Fitz-Gerald has recorded for Naxos, the other two being Alone (8.570316) and Girlfriends (8.572138). In addition Delos has re-released five Russian Disc recordings from the 90’s and Chandos has released material for 2 CD’s as part of their film music series. While there have been recordings of the silent film New Babylon this new Naxos offering (8.572824) offering performed by Basel Sinfonietta offers two firsts. The string section consisting of five players was added to the new recording “… which immediately creates both greater clarity and enhanced character…” wrote Mark Fitz-Gerald in the liner notes. The original scoring, which was played and performed by the salon orchestra of Ferdinand Krish, had a maximum of 14 players, which was the number of parts that Shostakovich wrote. Included in the original orchestration but not in this release is the use of an obscure percussion instrument, the flexatone quite popular in variety shows in the 20’s. Shostakovich was 22 at the time, very much a free spirit and created a very unique soundtrack for this silent film. He had not yet been beaten down by the political system he had to endure for the majority of his composing life. If this is your first experience with this material you’re in for a real treat as you’ll hear a carefree sound you’ve likely never heard before. The film directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg deals with the Prussian invasion of Paris in July 1870. In his memoirs as related to Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich had this to say about his first film. “Films have generally meant nothing but trouble for me, beginning with my first one New Babylon. I’m not talking about the so-called artistic side. That’s another story and a sad one, but my political side began with New Babylon.”
The score is divided into eight acts with each one constituting one roll of film. The bonus track is the original ending of the 8th reel. Reel No. 1 offers a lively mocking melody from the trumpets with the horns, trombone, percussion and strings complimenting them. It is a tonal movement that is allowed to fully develop and is really a lot of fun with constant changing of tempo and mood. Even though Shostakovich is having fun with this it is also mournful like his sound in later years. Just as it appears to go into one key and perhaps dissonant and atonal it quickly changes. The wind section is featured in the second part with clarinet, flute, and bassoon all having their opportunity. Reel No. 2 starts with a fanfare and we’re given more orchestration like the first reel with the addition of Offenbach’s “We All Need Love.” Part of the orchestration includes a reference to “Can-can” from Orpheus in the Underworld. Shostakovich is somewhat circus like in his approach to this. The reel also gives the trumpets and trombone a workout! Reel No. 3 changes to an adagio pace with melody not being important. There is an unusual combination of trombone and bassoon performing together, something you won’t hear very often. The bassoon in disguise offers the Marseillaise theme. At the end of the reel you hear snare drum with tremolo tension from the strings. Reel No. 4 begins with the lower bowels of the orchestra the double bass and the bassoon in a very dark opening with a cleverly hidden reference to the Marseillaise. Tension mounts from the strings as the horns offer up a dose of dissonance. The overall feeling is one of chamber like but quickly shifts gears to the style of gaiety found in the opening track. The cue also features a straight forward arrangement of the Marseillaise with further references being made to “Can-can.” Tremolo from the strings creates an air of tension beginning Reel No. 6 with references to Marseillaise before the mood changes to one of dissonance from the brass. The reel ends with a short piano offering of Tchaikovsky’s “Old French Song.” Reel No. 7 begins in solemn underscore. The mood shifts to a flute fluttering very upbeat followed by a return to the gaiety that we heard in the beginning being replaced with solemn material. Reel No. 8 is very grave paced with a solo from the bassoon. Gone is the fun love material we heard in the beginning, being replaced with funeral like material. Reel No. 8 Original Ending is a buildup of tension as Shostakovich makes use of the “Dies Irae” motif cleverly disguised. Powerful chords bring the reel to a conclusion.
This is a wonderful recording that offers a complete version of this first effort of Shostakovich doing film music. When you are listening remember that the year was 1929 and this was quite radical. The influence of Stravinsky is evident from the very beginning. Repeated listens will further enhance your listening pleasure. It is well recorded and in addition there are wonderful liner notes from John Riley, Mark Fitz-Gerald, and Nina Goslar. This would make a welcome addition to your Shostakovich collection.
Naxos CD# is 8.572824-25 (2 CD set)
Reel 1: General Sale. ‘War-Death to the Prussians’ (9:02)
Reel 2: Head over Heels. ‘Paris’ (10:01)
Reel 3: The Siege of Paris (10:51)
Reel 4: 18th March 1871. ‘On the morning of 18th March the workers still guarded their guns (13:21)
Reel 5: Versailles against Paris. ‘Paris has stood for centuries’ (10:21)
Reel 6 The Barricade. ‘The 49th day of defence’ (14:51)
Reel 7: To the firing squad. ‘There is peace and order in Paris’ (10:39)
Reel 8: Death. ‘The trial’ (8:11)
Reel 8 (continued): Original ending (4:07)
Total time is 1:31:23
November 24, 2011
Set for release in theaters on 12 – 2 – 11 in the USA Shame directed by Steve McQueen who also co-wrote the screenplay stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and deals with sexual obsession/addiction. The film has already garnered 13 nominations in Europe with four wins in the Venice Film Festival.
The score, a compilation of material that leaves no stone unturned in terms of variety, offers four tracks of Glenn Gould playing Bach; Carey Mulligan singing the slowest version I’ve ever heard of New York, New York; a 1952 recording of Chet Baker singing “Let’s Get Lost;” John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner playing their classic recording of “My Favorite Things,” from 1961; Howlin Wolf and “You Can’t Be Beat; Blondie’s “Rapture,” and others. There is 20 minutes of original material on three tracks from Harry Escott.
“Brandon,” an original track from Escott begins with the steady pulsating sound of a clock before lower register strings play a series of long minor key chords. The string section enters and offers a higher register series of chords all performed with the clock sound continuing. There is a pause in the strings but the clock continues until it picks up again playing the same chords. There is another pause and the lower register strings start up again for the third time this time with not only the clock but a bit of synthesizer percussion. The track reaches a forte with the strings and it ends on a quiet note without the clock percussion. This track offers no melody but does give you harmony which creates the mood the film required. “Unraveling” offers very similar material to track one with the cellos and basses along with the clock and a swirling percussion like noise. The violins toward the end of the track offer an upper register religious feeling still no melody but a bit more complex with the harmonic chords. The “End Credits” offer the same chords as “Unraveling” and “Brandon” but it begins on a solo piano without the clock. The chords are complemented by another line on the piano somewhat uplifting which ends the score. Minimal is the best word to describe what Escott had to offer. Having not seen the film I have no idea how his material fit into the film.
A real treat for jazz fans is the 1961 recording on Atlantic Records (SD – 1361) of Coltrane playing the soprano sax in two very long extended solos ably assisted my McCoy Tyner on piano. The stereo recording leaves a bit to be desired as these were early stereo days and the piano is only on the left channel and the sax on the right. No matter, the 13 minutes goes by way too quick. Another treat for jazz fans is a 1952 recording from Chet Baker who plays trumpet and sings one of his standards “Let’s Get Lost. This is a recording that made the west coast cool jazz so famous. Jazz of another sort are the four Bach pieces performed by Glenn Gould a master interpreter of Johann. For those who are not familiar with Glenn the sound you hear in the background is his humming the melody!
While this soundtrack is a little short on original material you are certainly compensated with a wide range of source material making it a pleasant listen if your collection doesn’t include Trane, Gould, Baker, and the other groups. Good job on the re-master and the original soundtrack material. The soundtrack will be released in digital and CD on December 6th.
01 Harry Escott – Brandon (8:26)
02 Glenn Gould – Goldberg Variations ; BWV 988 – Aria (3:02)
03 Tom Tom Club – Genius Of Love (3:25)
04 Blondie – Rapture (5:32)
05 Chic – I Want Your Love (6:55)
06 John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (13:40)
07 Carey Mulligan – New York New York “Theme” (6:56)
08 Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost (3:42)
09 Glenn Gould – Prelude No. 10 in E Minor, BWV 855 (2:50)
10 Glenn Gould – Goldberg Variations – Var. 15 Canone Alla Quinta (5:01)
11 Harry Escott – Unravelling (9:35)
12 Howlin’ Wolf – You Can’t Be Beat (3:06)
13 Mark Louque – The Problem (5:14)
14 Glenn Gould – Prelude & Fugue No. 16 in G Minor, BWV 885 – Praeludium (3:10)
15 Harry Escott – End Credits Film (1:45)
November 17, 2011
Toward the end of his composing career one of the epic projects Tiomkin tackled was the Samuel Bronston production 55 Days At Peking. Bronston had burned bridges with Rozsa and ended up using Tiomkin for his last three major pictures which also included Circus World and The Fall Of The Roman Empire. All three pictures were Golden Globe/Oscar films for the talented Russian born composer. La-La Land has released a limited edition 2500 unit 2 CD release consisting of 114 minutes of material. Included are many previously unreleased tracks and six mono 45RPM recordings. Included is the Andy Williams pop version “So Little Time.” Nominated for best score and song this was the year of Tom Jonesand “Call Me Irresponsible,” the winners. The film starred Charlton Heston, Ava Gardener, and David Niven and dealt with the Boxer Rebellion which took place in China in 1900.
“The Overture” introduces the major melodies of the film in a three minute compilation. The Rebellion theme is offered in an easily recognizable Tiomkin style. The pace is very presto with the trombones of the Sinfonia of London orchestra giving it a dissonant feel. The trombone players had to do a lot of doubling tonguing! This Rebellion theme is going to appear in many disguises and orchestrations. The overture switches to the Natasha theme also offered at a presto pace. The love theme “So Little Time” is played in an easy listening style, a song designed
For the popular charts, something Tiomkin did on a somewhat regular basis. Don’t confuse this song with the Henry Mancini “Too Little Time” from the Glenn Miller Story, something I did. “The Main Title” introduces a 4th theme called “Moon Fire,” one in the tradition of a lush romantic offering Tiomkin is famous for. This is the theme for Theresa and is used throughout the score. Included in the bonus selections is a 45 RPM version that was on the ‘B’ side of “So Little Time.” “Welcome Marines is a band parade military march that has a classic style with an interesting twist. Its counterpoint is the strings playing the “Moon Fire” theme as well as a reference to the “Yankee Doodle Theme.” “Dance at the British Embassy (The Belfry Two-Step) is a waltz this time source music, a tune called “Mosquito Parade.” It features a smaller ensemble of brass, percussion, and woodwinds in an appropriate period track as it was written in 1899. “Natasha’s Waltz” is the Natasha theme with variations performed to sound like the time period, somewhat Strauss Jr. like. There is a short reference to “So Little Time” at the end of the track. “So Little Time” is an instrumental version and the rhythm from the percussion gives it a feeling of somewhat Oriental. I can only say somewhat because the theme is really a modern one. “Children’s Corner” is an arrangement of the Arthur Pryor “The Whistler and the Dog” song, a happy uplifting cue that sounds like a Leroy Anderson composition. “Hotel Blanc” offers the Natasha theme on solo violin and bayan. “So Little Time,” also known as the Peking theme is arranged very easy listening style with reverberation for the voice and elevator orchestration. “Death of Natasha” begins with solo harmonica of the “So Little Time” theme followed by a small chorus singing the words also without orchestra. Both parts are very soft and delicate and the tempo is quite Largo. “Help Arrives” features the percussion, lots of drums, and a compilation of majestic material including bagpipes, which represent the Allied nations. “Attack on the French Legation” is a variation of the Rebellion theme with counterpoint being the Natasha theme. Tiomkin switches the themes back and forth with the Rebellion theme also becoming counterpoint. It ends with the Natasha theme. There are six bonus selections included, all mono and arranged for the easy listening crowd. If one had not seen the film and recognized the melodies the listener would have no idea the kind of film it came from if a movie at all.
Historian/writer Frank DeWald provided 20 pages of excellent material about the making of the film, Tiomkin, and a track by track analysis of all the music. Once I warmed up to this score I found it to be every bit as good as any material he has ever written. This is a complex score with true classical ideas such as counterpoint, a scherzo, waltzes, and harmonies. In addition there is popular, military, and some new to the ear source material. As long as you remember that this is material from 1963 the sound is fine although there is a bit of switching between mono and stereo sources, all clearly noted in the track listings. This score has something for everyone who has an interest in Tiomkin or golden age material. This release has to be given consideration for re-release of 2011. It is that good.
Total Duration: 01:54:09
** Tracks from original Columbia CS8828 release from 1963
November 17, 2011
Reel One of the New Babylon recording from Naxos
November 13, 2011
This new Delos offering (DE 3421) is in celebration of the birth of American composer Alan Hovhaness and features a nice compilation of his material. While this material is previously released it is an excellent overview of his work. If you’re not familiar with his work you’re in for a real treat. Unlike many of his contemporaries Alan offered well thought out melodies and harmonies. Like Howard Hanson some of his material has the romantic 19th century sound to it, although his concept and ideas are quite unique. Born in Massachusetts to a Scottish mother and Armenian father his love of nature and astronomy at an early age had an influence on his musical writing. Quite prolific he has over 500 compositions to his credit.
“Prayer of St. Gregory,”(4:53) op. 62b is a moving religious work that features a trumpet solo from Charles Butler with strings from the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz. Very solemn and moving, the trumpet is a complement to the strings.
“The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam,” (13:54) op. 308 offers a narrative from Michael York, the accordion of Diane Schmidt, and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra conduct by Gerard Schwarz. The narrative tells the story of the 11th century Persian writer Omar Khayam and the music provides a modern sounding piece that is a showpiece for the accordion. The dances are Greek filled with rhythm, romance and colored orchestrations. Poetry with music.
“The Four Bagatelles,” (8:50) op. 30 is performed by the Shanghai Quartet. The first is a definite Oriental flavor somewhat pentatonic. The melody from the violin is backed by string plucking. The second melody is more complex in nature with a reference given to the melody we heard in the first Bagatelle. It is written in a gentle free spirit form. The third offers a variation of the first melody but this time there is no pentatonic rhythm. The mood is a yearning one with harmony. The fourth returns to the mystery of the Orient with string plucking. It is a variation of the original melody, while the second has a definite Celtic flavor to it.
“Symphony No. 2” ‘Mysterious Mountain’ (17:07), op. 132 is a rather brief three movement seventeen minute work. The first movement, an andante, relates the majestic beauty of nature. A religious melody, right out of a Hollywood epic film the oboe, harp and trumpet are featured. The second movement is a fugue, classic in structure and sound. As I close my eyes I could hear this performed on the organ with the exception being the horn motifs. The third movement returns to another andante this time a very tranquil and peaceful setting. While part of the movement has an eerie feeling from the horns and swirling strings, creating a frantic filled moment it leads to a variation of the first movement theme. It too offers a religious statement as the celestial feeling is felt from the harp. The work is performed by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz.
“String Quartet No. 2,” (3:09) op. 147 are two of a five movement work performed by the Shanghai Quartet which have a similar style to the Bagatelles which is a single instrument carrying the melody. The first one is pentatonic style while the second offers a yearning theme with string plucking as harmony.
“The Flowering Peach,” (15:04) op. 125 is an unusual combination for chamber ensemble consisting of alto saxophone, clarinet, harp, and various percussion. It is based on a play about Noah’s Ark and tells the story including raindrops and hammering. This is not one of his tonal works. It is performed by the Ohio State Concert Band conducted by Keith Brion.
“And God Created Great Whales,” (12:16) op. 229 uses actual sounds of the humpback whale. This makes this work unique because of this. In addition there are parts where the orchestra is allowed to improvise making a one of a kind symphonic work. The orchestra uses an oriental style but a highlight of the work is the sliding trombones that mimic the sound of the whales in a dissonant sort of way. This recording is also performed by the Seattle Symphony with Gerard Schwarz conducting.
For those who are not familiar with the work of Hovhaness this is an excellent introduction to his material.
November 10, 2011
Available as a download only from MSM (MMD 0014) http://www.moviescoremedia.com/alleged.html
Alleged (2010) is a film that dealt with the teaching of the theory of evolution in Tennessee in the 20’s and the resulting 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee. It also took on the issue of sterilization as one of the main characters Rose Williams (Ashley Johnson) has a racially mixed sister who is institutionalized because of this. John Thomas Scopes was defended by Clarence Darrow in this very high profile court case. William Jennings Bryan argued the case for the prosecution. The film starred Nathan West and Brian Dennehy and was directed by newcomer Tom Hines.
Graham chose strings only for the majority of the score along with an early 20th century made banjo, guitar, and used a ribbon mike that was also made in the 20’s. The composer is new to this reviewer and this is my first review of any of his soundtrack material.
The opening cue “Drive to the Colony,” the main title, offers a memorable melody from the piano backed by the strings and guitar for the harmony. It is an easy on the ears, delicate and peaceful, a track with a simple orchestration and one that you’ll remember after hearing it throughout the soundtrack. “Swinging” is also a track
that is also ethereal almost lulling you to sleep with harp until without warning there is a forceful statement from the orchestra, including a rare appearance from the brass who offer a new melody which we’ll call the ‘Swinging Melody.’ It is bubbly, bright, and upbeat and is used in other tracks. The theme quickly disappears and the track ends in a peaceful mood. “Anticipating Riches,” continues with the ‘Swinging’ melody in a very period sounding piece, with toe tapping banjo, guitar, and some hoe down fiddling. “Ball Game” offers more of a period sound with guitar but also includes more of the laid back piano. This is a track which offers both the modern as well as the period sound. “Train Comes In” begins with a sound of train coming in and offers the ‘Swinging’ melody from the orchestra as well as the banjo in an upbeat track. “Reconciliation” repeats the ‘Colony’ theme in a delicate fashion on the piano with harmony from the strings. It is somewhat similar to the first track. “Leaving Town” begins with a Thomas Newman influenced underscore with flute, strings, and piano. It ends with a few rousing bars of the ‘Swinging’ melody. “Father’s Legacy,” “A Walk in the Woods,” “Charles Dilemma,” “Mencken,” and “Loeb and Loeb” are quiet underscore. “Roaring 20’s” repeats the ‘Colony’ theme this time using the violin, guitar, string bass, and banjo. It is a period sounding piece that is quite laid back and offers rhythm and color to conclude this soundtrack.
I’m glad that MSM has brought this score to my attention. I wasn’t aware of the talent of John Graham and look forward to hearing more of his work. Overall this is an excellent offering with two great melodies that will stay with you for a long time. I like the listening balance between the period tracks and the soft dreamy underscore. The recording and mixing are well done. Tracks 2, 6, and 11 use mix samples and reels to enhance the sound. John did the arranging, conducting and orchestration for the score. Another winner from MSM!
1 Drive to Colony 1.15
2 Swinging 3.06
3 Anticipating Riches 1.15
4 Ballgame 1.25
5 Mencken 3.14
6 Train Comes In 1.42
7 Charles’ Dilemma 2.45
8 A Walk in the Woods 1.24
9 Reconciliation 2.25
10 Judge, Bryan, Darrow 2.25
11 Leaving Town 2.55
12 Father’s Legacy 2.50
13 Loeb and Loeb: You’ve Got Talent 1.30
14 Roaring 20s 1.53