November 24, 2012
Did you know that the novel written by Lew Wallace in 1880 sold nearly as many copies as the Bible and was blessed by the Pope? This is just one of the many facts that are revealed in the liner notes about the book and production of the film. When the name Ben-Hur comes up in a conversation this reviewer immediately thinks of Miklos Rozsa and Charlton Heston and the 1959 multi Oscar winning film, but I’m confident that Carl Davis had other ideas when he composed a superb score for the original version of the 1925 MGM film and brought it into the spotlight. Among his many projects which are too numerous to mention Davis has concentrated some of his time to silent films and has sparked an interest in this reviewer to the point that I have all of his releases on his label.
“Opening Titles” introduces us to the score with a sound of Strauss and Wagner. The low rumblings from the lower register followed by proud and majestic strains make one think of “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” It quickly changes to a Wagner style, also majestic but mixed with sounds that will remind you of his operatic overtures. For those of you who enjoy putting together compilations this would be an ideal one. “Star of Bethlehem” repeats the strains and continues the development of the material. “The Adoration of the Magi” adds organ and harp to the mixture making it deeply spiritual. “Esther and the Young Prince” is a beautiful mixture of a love theme and a flute that depicts the dove escaping and then being caught again. The growling lower brass (tuba and trombone) and trumpet fanfare perfectly depict “Gratus’ Entry into Jerusalem” If you’re into action tracks you’ll love “The Race” with a nonstop pounding pulsating timpani mixed with brass fanfares and strings which convey a strong sense of urgency. It is a track that does have a feeling of a silent film. This would be another track you could add to your compilation CD! Beginning with a fanfare followed by a lingering cymbal the majestic chord with harp as a harmony brings to a conclusion “The Resurrection,” another spiritual track.
The seventy plus minutes passed by too quickly as the score makes your emotions rise and fall with romance, tension, urgency, and a feeling of spirituality. It certainly made me want to see the film which I’m confident would enhance the listening experience. The playing from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is top notch, as well as the recording. It offers a solid bass, necessary for the percussion, organ, and lower brass and a high end that is crisp without a hint of shrill so often heard on some recordings. I feel that this is a welcome addition to your collection. Recommended.
1…. Opening Titles (3:30)
2….The Cave of David (1:05)
3…. Star of Bethlehem (1:54)
4…. The Adoration of the Magi (2:22)
5…. Esther and the Young Prince (3:56)
6…. Gratus Entry into Jerusalem (2:21)
7…. Storming the Palace and Arrest (3:40)
8…. Galley Slave (4:56)
9…. Pirate Battle (5:58)
10…Iras the Egyptian (7:41)
11…The Gathering of the Chariots (4:15)
12…The Race (9:43)
13…The Palace of Hur (1:58)
15…The Way of the Cross (2:43)
17…Collapse of the Senate (1:18)
18…The Resurrection (2:27)
Carl Davis conducts the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Total Time is 71:45
November 22, 2012
One of the bonuses when you buy a MMM release are the liner notes that explain everything about the movie, composer, actors, and the soundtrack itself. It’s a short story(20 pages in this case) filled with anything you need to know and it is done with a witty sarcasm so in the end we realize that these films will never reach a top 100 list but are just plain good fun. Hopefully, one day David Schecter will take all of his fabulous liner notes, put them together and release a book. Each chapter in the book could be a film soundtrack he’s transferred to CD and I’m sure that his following would be very interested.
I first became acquainted with Leith Stevens (1909-1970) through old time radio programs such as “Escape,” “Suspense,” and “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.” Later on it was his work on television programs “Mission Impossible,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Mannix.” And yes I did get him mixed up with Morton Stevens, another television writer whose big hit was “Hawaii Five-O.” And yes I did manage to get the films “Rocketship X-M” mixed up with “Destination Moon” but now that I have the release of the soundtrack material it rings loud and clear in my head.
The main title which I’ve included as an audio clip destination moon main title begins with a loud staccato streak repeated four more times with harmony coming in the way of a three note motif from the lower register of the orchestra. This is a prelude to a haunting and disturbing melody which is used somewhat sparingly throughout the score. It is a theme that could have been written for a film noir picture as it offers a yearning style and frankly would have sounded much better than some of the Monogram ‘B’ pictures I’ve watched lately. Other highlights include “Let’s Start Again,” a quiet serene underscore that seems upon repeated listens to spell impending doom. Tracks 5-8 are Woody Woodpecker cartoon tracks written by Clarence Wheeler and quite typical sounding with special effects coming from the percussion section and brass. It might seem out of place but if you’ve seen the movie you’ll quickly understand the relevance. Other underscore includes an all too brief “Harmonica Solo,” several effective danger motifs considering the size of the orchestra in tracks such as “Building Montage.”
This original soundtrack from 1950 is a mono archival recording and as a result don’t expect to hear glorious sound from your surround sound speaker system. Ray Faiola did a fine job in “cleaning it up” and making it a pleasant listening experience but you’ll hear a bit of crackle and pop which is unavoidable if you also want to avoid the shrill compressed feeling that in my opinion sounds worse. One of the things that this reviewer has done is to listen to these types of recordings through a single older style speaker. I was able to find a wooden enclosure three way 10 inch speaker for $10.00 that will enhance the sound of the recording. Also keep in mind that this is a 1000 unit limited edition recording and it will sell out at some point so it is better to act sooner rather than later.
Total Duration: 00:56:33
November 19, 2012
Continuing their series of releasing Russian Disc material Delos offers a third offering of Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894), his Dramatic Symphony written in the summer of 1874 and first performed in Europe and Russia in 1875. Maturity was on the side of Rubenstein as he undertook this 65 minute project. Primarily known as virtuoso pianist, his other side wrote several symphonies, piano concertos, and operas. Unlike his contemporary Glinka, Anton never integrated any of the Russian folk material into his works but chose instead to take the approach of Schumann and Mendelssohn, the Germanic sound. As a result he never achieved popularity as a symphonist. I can remember my first encounter with his Ocean symphony on the defunct Vox/Turnabout label and feeling disappointed because I didn’t hear those wonderful Russian folk melodies which attracted me to the Russian sound I’ve grown to love and appreciate in my fifty plus years as a classical listener. Moussorgsky described the work not as the Ocean symphony but a “puddle” and while I wouldn’t be that derogatory I would say I’ve had to listen to it many times before I got the feeling of the work and began to understand what he was attempting to accomplish. Such is also the case with his 4th Symphony. It is not one that you’ll not instantly warm up to but repeated listens will reveal the depth of what it has to offer.
The ominous chords of the cello and double with a violin melody in counterpoint certainly live up to the name dramatic and set the mood for much of the work in D minor. In between the dramatic chords which are now featured on the violin there is some lovely material from the brass. The second movement a Scherzo offers excellent interplay between the wind instruments and the slightly romantic violins. I very much enjoy the staccato rhythm of this movement. There is an all too brief fiddling solo from the violin that reminds me of more modern material. The adagio in F major is a yearning theme which makes you think of a quiet romantic setting near a favorite lake with a picnic basket. The final movement, which has been highly criticized, returns to the ominous chords and a return to the principle theme. Trombones and piccolos introduce the return to the main theme.
This is the second recording that I have of the “Dramatic” Symphony the other being a Naxos (8.555979) with the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Robert Stankovsky. I find the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia to be a little more at home with the work and give a slightly better performance although either recording is acceptable. There is a shrill at the beginning of the first movement but this is heard on both recordings and must be the way it was written. The recordings are both digital and exhibit the noiseless characteristics. They seem to be properly miked. I would urge the listener to give this repeated listens. It is only then that you’ll come to realize the full meaning of the work.
1…. Lento-Allegro moderato (22:12)
3…. Adagio (1 5:13)
4….Largo-Allegro con fuoco
Total Time is 65:24
Igor Golovchin conducts the State Symphony of Russia Delos #DRD2012
Available as a digital download from http://www.classicsonline.com/UserLogIn/SignUp.aspx
November 11, 2012
Benjamin Frankel (1906-1973) like many other British composers is right at home in classical compositions as he is in composing for the silver screen. In either type of music he hasn’t received the recognition he deserves. His style of composing is quite unique and should definitely be explored. What better way to start than listening to his last and best score “Battle of the Bulge” (1965) for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe award? While this release is a direct reissue of the Warner Brothers LP #WS1617 and there have been other releases of it they are all forgotten and very expensive to obtain. It offers a retail selling price from Perseverance of $12.98 and sales are limited to 3000 units. Better to act sooner than later on this golden age material. If you wish a reconstructed score that is longer (78 minutes) it is still available on the CPO label #999 696-2. It is performed by the Queensland Symphony conducted by Werner Andreas Albert. The Queensland ensemble also recorded his symphonies and a recording of Music from the Movies.
The film was one of many war films of the 60’s era featuring all star casts and large budgets. This one featured Robert Shaw, Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Telly Savalas, James MacArthur, Robert Ryan, Ty Hardin, Charles Bronson and others. It was the last gasp fight that Germany had to offer before their supplies were depleted. If you want to see the film get ready for a full evening as the running time is approximately 160 minutes.
The 40 minute score uses the somewhat traditional leitmotif style where the Americans and Germans have their own theme and there are descriptive melodies for some of the actors and actresses. “The Prelude” which I include as an audio track (remember these are low quality) Prelude to the Battle of the Bulge – 01 – Track 1 features a new military march which is dissonant (war isn’t?) but also tonal in nature making one think it could have been a Sousa march. If you listen to the 4th movement of the 5th Symphony of Shostakovich you’ll hear some of the same ideas. I’ve also included the entire 4th movement so that you can compare. 04 – 4th Movement Symphony #5 Shostakovich Also included in the track is the first offering of the traditional German Tank men’s Song, with lyrics and melody from Kurt Wiehle. The tune has international acceptance as it is also used by South Korea, Chile, and South Africa. The song is performed by the tuba and it is this instrument that makes it comical and pretentious. It is a striking contrast to the main title and makes for an interesting listen. “Interlude with a Courtesan Ist Class” begins as a pentatonic oriental flavor which is light and airy and again a radical change from some of the heavy Wagnerian material you’ll hear. “Panzerlied” is a male chorus singing the patriotic tankmen composition. “Kiley’s Plane Chases Hessler’s Car” gives us a theme for Kiley in the form of a proud majestic horn in addition to grumbling brass giving off dissonant phrases where there seems to be no structure (there is I just can’t hear it). The final track “Victory and Prelude” restate the tankmen theme, again on the tuba in a grave tempo and the main title proud and majestic bringing this soundtrack to a finale.
If this is an OST that you’ve neglected purchasing now is the opportunity to take advantage of the low price that Perseverance has to offer. It will introduce you to a composer that you’re not familiar with. I urge the listener to give this one repeated listens as some of the inner layers of the score will be revealed to you. The remastering is a typical sound from the 60’s. I found myself adjusting my equalizer to take the edge off of the high end. The brass was a little distorted so I had to turn the volume down a bit from my normal listening levels. None of this is any reason not to purchase the CD. New liner notes were written by Dimitri Kennaway stepson of Frankel and provide an excellent explanation as to how it was put together. Recommended. Total time for the CD is 40 minutes
November 6, 2012
The ever popular story of the Helen of Troy and the Trojan horse is told yet again in a three hour miniseries for television under the guidance of Universal Studios. The film starred Sienna Guillory as Helen of Troy and Matthew Marsden as Paris and got some looks as it was nominated for an Emmy and won four other awards.
Joel, son of Jerry Goldsmith, may have fallen short in terms of popularity (compared to Jerry who didn’t), but his talent level was high and listening to this soundtrack will reveal this. The impressive thing about this soundtrack was the limited budget given to Joel and how brilliantly well he handled it. Joel through his knowledge of synthesizers and sound sampling made the soundtrack sound as if it were a studio orchestra to the untrained ear. While there was a studio orchestra conducted by Nicholas Dodd there was a lot of very clever mixing and editing going on making this a spectacular recording. My first experience with Joel was a west coast cult classic “Laserblast” (co-written with Richard Band) and I can say without reservation that he has truly come a long way from the 1977 film.
The Main Title with its pounding percussion immediately sets the stage for the strings which offer the melody followed by the brass which complement nicely. I’ve included this track as an audio clip so you can hear the powerful theme. helen of troy main title A flute quietly offers the theme Helen with backing from a harp giving it a touch of delicacy. The strings take over with harmony still provided by the flute and harp. The last stanza is the horns restating the main title theme. First Look at Troy is a wonderful blend of ethnic style material along with some lush strings providing a restatement of the main title theme with a variation. Troy Will Burn offers a Greek dance style with the percussion playing a strong part in the success of the track. Helen Tries Suicide begins with a dreamlike sequence complete with harp glissando which leads to a restating of the Helen theme once again. Entering Sparta begins with another ethnic dance but changes gears to ominous chords as a warning of what is going to come. End Credits restates the main title in a proud and majestic fashion and concludes with the beautiful Helen melody.
The overall sound of the CD is excellent with restraint being used in the forte parts so that it doesn’t go too loud and disturb the neighbors. I consider this an excellent job in what the synthesizer properly programmed can offer a score, especially one that is on a limited budget. If you purchase from Buy Soundtrax they will also include another Joel Goldsmith soundtrack from the movie “Jobman” (1989) which is making your purchase a two for one buy. The release is on the Free Clyde label(FCM005) and is limited to a 1000 sales. Check out the audio track I’ve included and you won’t be disappointed. Recommended.
November 1, 2012
Audio clip of the overture 01 – Overture-Omens of Nosferatu Audio clip of the 02 – Hutter and Ellen James Bernard (1925-2001), composer of the famous Dracula motif for Hammer films, was commissioned by silent film historian Kevin Brownlow in 1995 to write a score for the F.W. Murnau’s silent classic Nosferatu (1922), the first film version of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula (1897). There was no approval from the Stoker estate for this project and as a result names had to be changed such as Orlok for Dracula and the title of the film to Nosferatu. Little did we know how many versions there would be from the Irish author Bram Stoker (1847-1912). There have been other scores written for the film by composers including the original from Popol Vuh, Sosin, Hourbette and Zaboitzeff, and Williams. I’ve included a link to give you an idea of the variations available for purchase. http://www.oldies.com/search/results.cfm?results=&q=nosferatu&x=13&y=21. Bernard approached this project as if he were composing a symphonic tone poem, combining the themes of Orlok, Ellen, Hutter, and Knock into the 14 track 63 minute work. Bernard’s first and only attempt at composing for a silent film proved to be quite a challenge for someone who was a veteran of 38 movies, mostly Hammer productions. Many times he had to contend with sound effects from the film. While he still had to write for the visual part of the film he had more flexibility and critically listening to it gives one a feeling of hearing it in a concert hall. “Overture-Omens of Nosferatu” introduces the Orlok theme, from the lower register of the orchestra such as the contrabassoon which is sure to challenge your woofers a bit. This theme simply oozes evil and terror and as you listen you just know something terrible is going to happen. While the orchestration and motif have some similarity to his “Horror of Dracula” theme, it is still quite unique. I certainly like the dark harmony he uses to make this track one to be played on Halloween. Without pause the music shifts 180 degrees to “Hutter and Ellen” introduces first the Hutter theme a happy carefree period piece melody played by flutes with pizzicato from the strings. Ellen’s theme is one of yearning as the orchestra switches to strings only with the violins playing the melody and the harmony coming from the cellos and violas. “Ellen’s Disquiet” offers both the Hutter and Ellen theme plus the danger chords of vampire music lurking about at the end of the cue. “Loading the Coffins” introduces the distorted dissonant theme of Knock (Renfield in Dracula), a servant of Orlock. “The Pursuit of Knock” shows why Bernard is at the top of the list when it comes to writing chase music. The strings and percussion just build and build going faster and faster to a climax. I truly enjoy listening to a writer who uses the leitmotif composing style and will change the tempo and the style of the themes depending on the situation in the picture. This score is a good example of what to do to achieve maximum effect with the themes you’ve created. Listening to “Orlok’s Lair” with the switching between themes is a good example of how effective the leitmotif writing can be as it tells the story between good and evil. Nosferatu is just one of a continuing effort (I previously reviewed The Fugitive) by Silva to make available their older releases in a digital format, many CD’s only available at a premium price on the second hand market. Nosferatu is a good example of how to write gothic material. This is one of my top 100 scores of all time and one that I revisit on a regular basis. Highly recommended. Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Conducted by Nic Raine. Originally Released on Silva CD SSD 1084 Track listing: 1. Overture – Omens of Nosferatu (03:03) 2. Hutter and Ellen (02:11) 3. Ellen’s Disquiet (05:12) 4. Journey to Orlok’s Castle (06:04) 5. In the Castle (05:21) 6. Ellen Sleep-walks (06:10) 7. Hutter’s Discovery (03:24) 8. Loading the Coffins (03:58) 9. Ellen by the Seashore (03:23) 10. The Ship of Doom (05:19) 11. Orlok’s Lair (02:43) 12. The Plague (05:55) 13. The Pursuit of Knock (02:47) 14. The Power of Orlok/The Death of Ellen (07:34) Total Duration: 01:03:04