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Many of you know Mark Snow only for his work on X-Files and little else. Did you know that he has 237 credits to his list of television and movie credits and is still going strong with 3 series and no indications of slowing down! He is likely the most prolific composer of the last 3 decades. When Mark Banning and Ford Thaxton get done recording his orchestral material who knows how many volumes will evolve. He started in 1975-76 with a television show The Rookies doing 5 episodes and hasn’t stopped. Take away the baseball cap and the glasses and you have someone who resembles a young John Williams. What a talent he is! Having said that he has been nominated 15 times for an Emmy without winning, a crying shame.

One of 11 films he did in 1990 The Little Kidnappers is a feel good film starring Charlton Heston as a bitter Scotsman who hasn’t been able to forgive the Dutch in the Boer War. He is sent his two grandchildren to raise in Novia Scotia, something he does with an iron fist. When  the two boys find a baby they decide to raise it on their own. The story begins and as it progresses grandpa softens making it a fun movie to watch with your kids. The music matches the small screen with no hint of supernatural writing. “Prologue and Main Title” offer a sweeping main theme provided by strings, piano, flute and harp.

The score doesn’t offer only this theme but it is used throughout the the score in recognizable variations with a Scottish flavor to the music which the flute plays a prominent role. “Falling Down the Cliff/Trouble on the Hill” offers a bit of tnsion with the introduction of the brass in a brief motif. “The Kiss” begins with a piano solo and followed by romantic strings and a wonderful soft melody again, perfect for a kiss. Tremolo strings and piano. And as it should “Happy Ending” will bring a tear to your eye. This is a marvelous feel good movie. The solo flute and then the strings play the main title melody again.

Smoke Jumpers was a 1996 television film that dealt with the story of the 1994  Colorado mountain fire. It starred Adam Baldwin and Lindsay Frost. In real life Mrs. Mackey participated in the production of the film as an adviser. The film has a strong bold main theme with brass and snare drum accenting the theme performed by an orchestra of 60 players, large for  television film. It was a real hero theme and is used throughout the score to depict the firefighters male and female.

While I prefer The Little Kidnappers to the Smokejumpers both provide an interesting listen and contrast to each other. And both are on a very limited CD of 500 which will sell quickly given the popularity of Mark Snow. Act quickly or you’ll miss out. Recommended.

 

 

 

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Schmitt Orchestral Works

March 23, 2018

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Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) is best known for his suites to the ballet Antoine et Cleopatre and Chandos doesn’t disappoint with a SACD (sounds great on dolby surround) 24 bit/ 96Khz lively recording replacing in my mind the Leif Segerstam recording. Applause also must go to Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Written under one opus #69 the work is divided into six parts and is very much a program work filled with the sounds of Egypt as well as sweeping melodic lines that capture your attention. In fact the whole work does and the 50 minutes fly by rather quickly with only one or two spots where the eyelids close. One is reminded of something that Rimsky-Korsakov might do with similar flare, brashness, and mystery. Track no. 5 will remind you of Debussy more than anyone. My description contains compoers to gie you an idea of the sound, not copying.

His second symphony is an example of an atonal piece that occasionally becomes melodic. Written in three movements the first movement is birght and upbeat, the second dark and tranquil again with no melodic line. The last movement is dissonant and scattered. I listened to it three times and didn’t like it but maybe you will.

Written nearly 40 years apart you get two sides of the prolific composer.

 

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Christian Lindberg and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have come up with a fine recording of the Bernstein film/Broadway works of Bernstein. They’ve made in my opinion a jazz sound from a symphony orchestra, something I’ve not heard before. The percussion section must be given thumbs up for a special performance. I knew this would be a good one when I heard the opening strains of Candide.

The five works that makeup this recording were were all done in the 40’s and 50’s. He turned his works to the classical side and spent his time teaching, conducting, and writing religious classical music during the last thirty years of his life. For all of those reasons he is a true icon in the classical world.

Candide (1956) is likely Bernstein’s most popular piece. The short four minute piece consists of three different themes nicely blended together in a wonderful overture. The tune you’ll remember most is the middle tune “The Best of All Possible Worlds” but listen carefully for the other two.

West Side Story (1957) began on the Broadway stage and went on to become a movie in 1961 winning 10 Oscars. The nine dances encompass nearly 22 minutes of different styles including ballet, mambo, jazz, cha-cha, and a fugue. This is the place where “Maria,” “To and “Somewhere” came from. This is one of the more popular Broadway plays as well as the movie.

Fancy Free” (1944) was Bernstein’s first major work which served as the inspiration for the popular film/broadway  On the Town. It didn’t share the music, however. It consists of three dances Galop, Waltz, and Danzon, he shared with Aaron Copland who used it as “Danzon Cubano.”

On the Waterfront (1954) was the only film that Bernstein did for Hollywood and his friend Elia Kazan. It  is a gritty somewhat dissonant score except for the main theme which was also used in Chinatown. We can say that the style was something like Alex North and the two films he did for Kazan Streetcar Named Desire and Viva Zapapta.

On the Town (1946) also became a movie with Sinatra and Kelly with different music of course. We hear three dances from the play. The first two are ballet and the last a showy Gershwin type music.

While not classical it certainly deserves a place in your Bernstein section of your CD’s. It shows the versatility of this very talented man.

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A newly discovered composer I quickly found that Cowen was a bright spot in my day with his light and tonal material. He was born in Jamaica in 1852 and he proved very early on that he was a child prodigy having done an operetta at the age of 8. At 14 he wrote an Overture in D Minor performed by the Alfred Mellon Promenade Orchestra. It was the 3rd Symphony ‘Scandinavian’ premiered in 1880, performed on this CD that vaulted him into prominence for well over a decade. He married in 1905 to a woman 30 years younger than he but it proved to be no problem although she outlived him by 36 years. During the next 25 years is when he did the majority of his works including the other two works on this CD The Butterfly’s Ball and  Indian Rhapsody. 

The Butterfly’s Ball (1901), a concert overture, tells a lovely little story about butterflies and there flitting and waltzing to the music. This a bright cheery overture for the first part , switching to some sort of danger music until it segues back to a passage of urgency. This continues until the romantic strings call for no danger of predators and a calming of the wind only a fast allegro leading to a rousing conclusion. A well done piece as is the second overture Indian Rhapsody (1903). The flavor of India is apparent early in the score with fast urgent passages until a solo andante violin emerges followed by a continuing of the non Indian melody. It is quiet and romantic. A very quiet melody emerges from the bassoon followed by reeds with soft harp in the background for harmony. The strings emerge quietly and then become more forceful until they become tranquil. A pause and then the strings are off again on another staccato type melody. It is first exchanged by the woodwinds until the strings become front and center singing brightly. If one listens carefully one can hear a similarity to some passages in the The Butterfly’s Ball. The work ends on a sense of driving playing from the strings and the rest of the orchestra. A well played piece that was somewhat difficult from the Czechoslovak Orchestra conducted by Adrian Leaper.

Symphony No. 3 in C Minor ‘Scandinavian’ (1880) begins with a powerful melody that dominates the first movement and it is shared by all sections of the orchestra, the prevailing section being the strings followed by the woodwinds. The timpani signals the end of the movement and the mood of the second movement completely changes. It is the only movement with a title ” A Summer Evening on the Fjord.” As the title indicates this is a quiet and tranquil movement with no dominate melody. This is  followed by a Scherzo with the primary work being done by the strings.  There is a melody but nothing like the tune in the first movement. The fourth movement returns to the first movement with it’s infectious melody, passed around from section to section until it  settles with the strings.

As I previously mentioned the CD case was broken (crushed), no liner notes, and poor copying of the artwork. However, the sound of the CD, the conducting of Adrian Leaper, the playing of the Czech Orchestra, and the selection of the works for the CD were all outstanding. I was introduced to Cowen and am looking forward to hearing more, although this recording is pretty much it. While he was extremely popular during his lifetime he is pretty obscure. Let Naxos that you want more. He has written other symphonies and many concert overture pieces.