December 25, 2013
RPO 024 CD
Continuing their Golden Age Series the Royal Philharmonic offers a fourth CD of material not as well known but certainly worthy of being on this or any compilation for that matter. Many of the arrangements are a treat as they were material orchestrated by Christopher Palmer and Charles Gerhardt both top names in the soundtrack field. All three previous titles have been reviewed on my website.
The CD begins with a compilation of themes from “Key Largo,”
including the famous Warner Bros. fanfare from Max Steiner who also did the music for the film starring Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson being directed by another regular of Warner Bros. John Huston. This version was orchestrated and arranged by Charles Gerhardt who set a standard that will never be surpassed and captures the mood of this score seldom played. Did Jarre ever write a lovelier theme than the one to the David Lean film “Ryan’s Daughter.” Some will argue that “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Dr. Zhivago” surpassed it but not in this reviewers mind. The flute perfectly captures the character with wonderful upbeat backing from the symphony. “Walk on the Wild Side” composed by Elmer Bernstein came at a time when the cool west coast jazz was an in thing with Hollywood. This version won’t disappoint with some improvisational solos from the Tenor Saxophone and Guitar. You might notice a bit of similarity in jazz style to the tracks from “Rear Window” written by Franz Waxman five years earlier. That “West Side Story” style written by the other Bernstein was quite prevalent in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller. It is melodic and harmonic but still giving the feeling of being improvisational. “Fistful of Dollars” is given a bland performance that gives us the two main themes that Morricone wrote but little else. I never get tired of listening to the Call of the Faraway Hills from “Shane” and this arrangement features a trombone solo that added to the intense feeling of the material. Somewhat of a surprise to me was the 12+ minutes of material from “Lost Weekend” some of the best noir material that Miklos Rozsa ever wrote. While he won the Oscar that year for “Spellbound” he was quoted as saying he thought “Lost Weekend” was a better score and I agree with him. The gritty material blended with the romantic material make for a nice listen. The same can be said of the six tracks chosen from another John Huston film “Chinatown,” which featured material other than the haunting trumpet solo which sounds very similar to the main theme from “On the Waterfront,” written by Leonard Bernstein. Listen to both of them sometime and you’ll agree with me. “Captains Courageous” is my first real experience with the early Franz Waxman score based on the Rudyard Kipling story and starring Spencer Tracey. It is typical Waxman filled with romance, action, and rhythm. “Gunfight at O.K. Corral,” an instrumental version is just as effective as a chorus or Frankie Laine singing the lyrics. The theme is counterbalanced with some unusual harmony and rhythms, a trademark of Tiomkin. Few know that Tiomkin studied in the Soviet Union from Alexander Glazunov a composer rich in the Russian tradition. Rounding out the selections is “Cathy’s Theme “ from Wuthering Heights composed by Alfred Newman, another little gem from Jarre in “Passage to India” and the always popular “Never on Sunday.”
This is a well recorded and performed compilation by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Firman. The selections are unique enough to capture the ear of even the avid listener.
1… Key Largo (5:55)
2… Ryan’s Daughter (2:18)
3… Walk on the Wild Side (3:53)
4… A Fistful of Dollars (3:50)
5… Rear Window Prelude (2:13)
6… Rear Window Rhumba (2:03)
7… Rear Window Lisa-Intermezzo (3:01)
8… Rear Window Ballet (1:44)
9… Rear Window Lisa-Finale (2:16)
10.Never on Sunday (2:55)
12.Lost Weekend (6:36)
13.Lost Weekend (6:16)
14… Wuthering Heights (3:29)
15… Captains Courageous (7:05)
16… A Passage to India (2:18)
17… Chinatown Main Title (2:27)
18… Chinatown The Last of Ida (0:51)
19… Chinatown The Wrong Clue (1:29)
20… Chinatown Last of Ida 2 (0:54)
21… Chinatown Noah Cross (0:54)
22… Chinatown End Titles (2:29)
23… The Gunfight at O.K. Corral (3:01)
Total Running Time is 71:18
December 23, 2013
Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956), son of a maker of wind instruments, was of Belgian descent born in Kiev. He entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1894 where he studied from Arensky, Taneyev, and Ippolitov-Ivanov graduating in 1900. He spent two years teaching Prokofiev and when he returned to the Conservatory there paths crossed again this time with Gliere conducting Prokofiev in a performance of his first piano concerto. It was Gliere who was heir to the romantic Russian tradition which pleased Stalin, being recognized with various state awards. Prokofiev on the other hand was condemned along with Shostakovich and Miaskovsky.
His third symphony “Ilya Mourometz” was completed in 1911 and is based on the ancient Russian epic of the warrior Ilya Mourometz. It is a massive work of nearly 80 minutes that was orchestrated for large symphony orchestra and has been subjected to major cuts, revisions, tempo changes and re-orchestrations. As a result of this there have been some pretty poor performances of this work. However, one who understood the work Scherchen, is now available through the rediscovery label (RD 025) and his version is uncut. It was remastered from the original Westminster recording which had all sorts of problem but David Gideon seems to have corrected them and offers a superior mono archive recording. This was one of the single mike recordings that were popular in the 50’s, something that Mercury was well known for. I’m providing the link so you can listen to it for free. You can also download basic artwork. You’ll need to scroll down the page until you find it. http://rediscovery.us/conductors2.html
1… Wandering Pilgrims; Ilya Mourometz (23:18) begins with rumblings from the bowels of the orchestra primarily the basses and cellos. It offers a theme which will be developed and repeated in the work very slowly. After several minutes it slowly comes out of the darkness and the brass motif signals a rise to power of Ilya. Remember he lay dormant for many years.
2… Ilya and Solovei the Brigand (22:00); Shimmering strings along with a contrabassoon are featured as this movement also begins in the lower section of the orchestra. The glissando of the harp and flutes fluttering slowly build as a new melody is introduced one of heroic and beauty as something is overcome. The flutes indicate that beauty is all around and waiting to emerge.
3… At the Court of Vladimir the Mighty Sun (7:03); By far the shortest movement as well as upbeat the scherzo remains for most of the movement before a crescendo builds and crashes down giving rise to the scherzo again.
4… The Heroic Deeds and Petrification of Ilya Mourometz (27:25); The struggle continues with the rumbling of the percussion, a heroic call from the brass a brief return to the theme from the first movement. The conclusion is slow in developing but steady an overall complaint of the work by some who feel the ideas developed by Gliere could have been accomplished in far less time. Perhaps this was the reason for the cuts it was given by Stokowski as an example over the years.
There are many available recordings of this work but as far as performance and completeness are concerned there are none finer. While the single mike technique won’t give you close to digital quality it will give you a distinct sound of the solo instruments that sometimes gets lost in trying to capture the fullness of the orchestra.
December 19, 2013
Born in the Ukraine Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953) was tutored in composition by Gliere at the age of five, entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 14 being influenced by Myaskovsky instead of Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. At one point in his career Glazunov walked out of a performance of his “Scythian Suite” as he was concerned about his sense of hearing. Prokofiev spent several years in America and Paris before he returned to Moscow just in time for condemnation of his work along with Shostakovich and Myaskovsky as not according to the party lines. He died the same day as Stalin so his work was never given the high praise it deserved as Shostakovich had the benefit of seeing in his lifetime.
The original roots of the fourth symphony come from thematic material from “The Prodigal Son.” It was commissioned as a 50th anniversary piece for the Boston Symphony. This revised version written almost 20 years later when Prokofiev had returned to Moscow has the benefit of a complete revision being nearly 20 minutes longer in length with added instruments (piano, harp, piccolo clarinet) and an overhaul of the orchestration. The revised version has timings of approximately 13, 10, 7, and 10. The original version is 6, 6, 4, and 6.
The slow prelude in typical Prokofiev style leads to a melody taken from “Prodigal Son” that is quite unforgettable with the usual harmonic phrases I’ve grown to love. The second section is a lively upbeat melody that reminds one of a train with the clickety-clack. The brass trumpet and trombone play a key role in the harmony along with the tuba. In this section one can hear the added piano that wasn’t in the original version. The Andante tranquillo is a thing of beauty with a peaceful serene melody being offered by the reed section (flute). It is a departure from the urgency of the first movement and I love the work from the lower register of the orchestra. The third movement begins with a mocking oboe and harmony from the lower string register makes a pleasant on the ears melody. It is allowed to develop with the strings taking over the lead before the clarinet and oboe are allowed to flourish. The final movement begins with a distorted staccato like beginning before we hear a return to the main melody from the first movement. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it as we hear sounds coming from all over the place including tuba. It has what I like to call the mocking sound of Prokofiev. The coda has a sense of returning to the original sounds of the first movement as it concludes.
An ideal choice of a second selection on the CD is where some of the material was originally written for the 4th symphony and that was a ballet that Prokofiev wrote for Dyagilev, his fourth and last. It is a nice way to revisit some of the themes. Other highlights include a nice trombone motif that introduces the dancers in “Les danseurs.” Included in the track is a return to the motor rhythm with staccato notes from the brass. There is a clever melody in “Pillage” which features the bass clarinet surrounded by other reeds while the orchestra is creating sounds from all directions.
This is the second recording that Alsop has made with the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra and this reviewer is already looking for more. The recording itself is quite neutral so it allows the true color of the instruments to come through; I’ve never heard a finer wind section. There is no shrilly sound or over volume brass. Each note can be heard in crystal clarity. Prokofiev isn’t the easiest composer to play but you certainly won’t get that impression from this symphony. Alsop certainly knows this material and I look forward to more. Recommended.
Track Listing: Symphony No. 4 (revised edition)
1… Andante-Allegro eroico-Allegretto (13:13)
2… Andante tranquillo (10:05)
3… Moderato, quasi Allegretto (6:41)
4… Allegro risoluto (10:19)
The Prodigal Son
5… Departure (5:07)
6… Meeting Friends (4:14)
7… The seductress (5:01)
8… The dancers (2:48)
9… The prodigal son and the seductress (3:30)
10… Drunkenness (2:21)
11… The despoiling (2:36)
12… Awakening and remorse (3:05)
13… Sharing the spoils (2:51)
14… The return (6:21)
December 14, 2013
Do you remember being told growing up to never judge a book by its cover? I sure was on many occasions and it turned out to be very sound advice. I’m also going on record right now that you should never judge a CD by its cover which is exactly what I did when Mark Banning of BSX records sent me a review copy of “Frankenstein Unbound.” When I saw that it was a Roger Corman film with a creepy looking stitched eye I immediately pronounced judgment and came to the conclusion that this would be what I categorized as a one and done CD.When my eye picked up on Davis I thought it was Don not Carl and judged that this would be a synthesized droning horror score. Not only was I wrong but I really like it and will be one that I’ll revisit on a regular basis. The composer is Carl Davis and he has written a fabulous gothic film score performed by the Munich Symphony Orchestra. Carl has been a positive force in soundtrack material as well as writing for silent films which was something I encountered early in my listening.
The film wasn’t a low budget affair that Corman was use to (perhaps the problem?) and it failed at the box office miserably. It had a cast of Raul Julia, John Hurt, and Bridget Fonda, filmed in Italy in a one month period of time. The basic plot is summed up by a quote from Dr. Buchanan in the film: “When we implode an object it simply goes out of time. And right now when it goes, it sort of leaves a door open.” It shifts in time between 1816 and 2031 which is an important point when we talk about the music.
Beginning with constant pounding of the timpani, like Brahms’s 1st our main melody is introduced with a prelude from the horns. It is a gothic one, heavy, foretelling what we’re in store for.”Demonstration of Power” begins quietly with a soft version of the victim melody before it segues into ominous chords. This intermingling of themes is important as it ties together the 200+ years.
“Buchanan’s Regret” is another example of themes being blended together with the victim theme.”Man About Town” is a complete departure from what we’ve heard. It is a sprightly theme reminding one of something Mozart could have written. A minuet of sorts that segues itself into the main melody before the cue concludes. Look for some very well done reed work that is delicate in nature. “Joe and Mary” is another quiet softer passage that introduces a new motif which builds to a passage filled with romance and happiness. A favorite cue of mine on this release is “I Am Frankenstein, I Am Unbound” a track that in my opinion best portrays the Frankenstein Monster. The theme is allowed to fully develop without getting too loud and toward the end we hear a brief reference to the victim theme. The “End Credits” which I’m including as a quietly begin with the victim theme, an angelic motif, and a return to the pounding percussion followed by the main theme. The brass is given an opportunity to carry theme in a majestic fashion.
This is one that you should give serious thought to owning. It is limited editions of only 1200 units so don’t delay too long. Like Benjamin Frankel Carl Davis seems to be right at home in many types of genres.
Total Duration: 00:52:11
December 11, 2013
A historical film starring Burt Lancaster, Peter O’Toole, John Mills, and Simon Ward told the story of the massacre of 1800 British soldiers along with civilians by a Zulu force of 20,000 warriors. It was directed by Douglas Hickox.
The scoring assignment was given to Elmer Bernstein with the arranging by Christopher Palmer and performed by the Royal Philharmonic with the composer conducting. It has been previously released on Cerberus CD0201 and La-La Land LLLCD 1001.5. There are no differences between the three recordings. It is a small pressing of 1000 units limited to this amount.
“Morning” is a prelude that doesn’t sound like an African of war film at all but exactly what you’d expect a title such as morning to sound like. The percussion gives a subtle hint of what is to come but one still pictures a sunrise and tranquility to begin the day. Not true of track two. The pounding percussion, a variety of different drums, with chanting makes it quite clear in “The Chase” what the subject matter of this film is all about. There is a frantic feeling to it. “Regimental March” makes me recall my band days with trumpets leading the way with the melody followed by a few bars from the tuba section. “River Crossing” begins with a Bernstein opening that is familiar to fans, in other words his mark is on it recalling several films that he has done before it settles into a theme that will be repeated in several tracks and styles such as military like in “Scouting” and “The Hunt.” “More Zulus” begins with material that could easily have appeared in a western before we hear the main theme dissonant with a background of warrior drums. “Glory” is a faithful march style of the main theme using the entire Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. If I were choosing one track for a compilation this would be the track that I would choose to represent the film. If there is a romantic moment in the score “Durnford” would be the choice. The end of the cue shows the romantic feeling that Bernstein is capable of showing.
If you’re a fan of Elmer Bernstein and have managed to miss this release then this is your opportunity to take advantage of having this in your collection. BSX is having good promotions at this time of the year and the $15.95 price can be reduced by another 10 to 15 percent. I believe you’d also be interested in this soundtrack if you like military style scores. It is good solid material that you’ve come to expect from Elmer Bernstein.
Total Duration: 00:46:36
December 7, 2013
A very pleasant surprise was in store for me when I heard the new MSM/Kronos release of “The Little Wizard” composed by Marc Timon Barcello and Miguel Cordeiro for the Spanish animated film. Barcello and Cordeiro are new to this reviewer, offering a throwback score that is worthy of comparison to Horner, Silvestri, and Williams. This material is not the landscape music we’ve grown to accept lately.
The main theme immediately sets the mood as it begins with a fantasy statement from the orchestra which gives way to first the oboe and then the strings as the main melody unfolds being supported nicely by a wordless choir. This theme is the main focus of this soundtrack and you’ll hear it on several tracks sometimes prominent and sometimes hidden in the harmony or slightly changed as a variation. This wonderful theme was what attracted me to this score and I’m sure you’ll feel the same way. Barcello and Cordeiro are highly qualified in the art of orchestration and the feelings they create are strongly felt as you listen to this. Rimsky-Korsakov would be proud at the way this was orchestrated.
“The Wickedness of Bishop Juan” begins with a statement that sounds like Horner’s The Rocketeer but quickly returns to the main melody and begins a series of variations. Trumpets calling lead to a bassoon motif which segues into an oriental sounding passage. Still not done with the main theme it reappears in “Destreza: The Northern Girl” melody starting with a nice soft prelude before the oboe takes the main title melody. Sounding like a Rozsa epic such as Ben Hur “Auto-da-fe” offers a Latin chant blended with dramatic war like chords creating a powerful cue. The final track “The Little Wizard” is a return to the main theme featuring a solo violin playing the melody instead of the oboe. One could picture the slapstick comedy in “The Escape,” a humorous interlude. In “The Best Kept Secret” there is a new melody that begins with a wonderful exchange between the oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Let’s say that the score is angelic, dynamic, witty, romantic, and dramatic.
Nicely recorded this is a score that I need to consider when the voting in the IFMCA begins. It is that good.
December 1, 2013
ONDINE ODE 1197-2
George Enescu (1881-1955) was born in Romania and like other composers was a child prodigy composing his first work at the age of five. He was enrolled in the Vienna Conservatory at the age of seven, graduating with honors at thirteen. He led a full life as a composer, conductor, violinist, and teacher. At one time in his life he was considered as a replacement for Arturo Toscanini.
The third symphony in C major, op.21 was written in the period of 1916-18 and the work was based on WWI, something which deeply affected him and you’ll certainly hear it in this work, which runs the gamut of emotions.
The ominous sound of the timpani which is the background for the introduction of the main theme is a melody you won’t soon forget. The lower register of the orchestra is allowed to develop it before the strings make their appearance along with dissonant sounding chords based on the melody with the brass entering the orchestration. The mood changes to an uplifting one with majestic horns and Debussy sounding chords. Enescu makes strong use of what Romanian musicologists call it heterophony instead of polyphony.
The second movement is of fantasy and could very well be heard as a background to a Hollywood film. Using the main theme from the first movement it builds to a rousing conclusion before it fades to fragments to your ears.
The third movement which is the same length as the first movement is one of mystery as the wordless choir and the organ makes this an angelic feeling ending. There is a return to the main theme, a brief crescendo, church bells and the ending has some sense of closure.
This is a recording not to be missed on all aspects of evaluation. Lintu and the Tampere Philharmonic are in top form playing like they know the material well. The Ondine recording team has captured the delicacy and nuances of the recording making this an easy on the ears listening experience.
“Ouverture de concert” was composed in 1948 toward Enescu’s later years in his life and instantly the sound of some of his earlier works such as the Romanian Rhapsodies come to mind. However, on further examination this piece is far more complex. The brisk opening theme with lively violins quickly turn into a slower pace with the melody being provided by the reed section. It has that somewhat dreamy sound like we’ve heard in the third symphony. I’m somewhat reminded of Prokofiev as far as the orchestration is concerned with selectively placed percussion. One could look at this piece as a folk song with the violins imitating fiddling but it is so much deeper than that.
This is a CD or digital file that is a worthy addition to your collection and is the second in a series of Enescu recordings by Ondine. The first recording (Ondine 1396) of the second symphony and chamber symphony was nominated for a Grammy and complements this one.
1… Ouverture de concert sur des themes dans le caractere (9:12)
Symphony No. 3, Op. 21 (46:11)
2… Moderato, un poco maestoso (16:17)
3… Vivace, ma non troppo (13:35)
4… Lento, ma non troppo (16:17)