Soundtrack CDs - October 2003

SEABISCUIT - Music composed and conducted by Randy Newman - Decca B0000772-12 Enhanced CD:

The film about the famous race horse was a true American epic, and Newman’s latest film score is a major component of its success. He has brought a number of different stories to life with his music, and this one puts him on a par with probably the most important American classical composer of the past who also did some fine film scores - Aaron Copland. Randy Newman approaches it from a more popular, roots music direction rather than concert hall classical, but his ability to achieve a very American sound and mood is the same as was Copland’s. There’s some nice acoustic guitar here, and a rousing mariachi band for one cue when the jockey hero played by Tobey Maguire is riding in Tijuana. The 20 cues alternate gentle melodies with intense scene-setting for the races, fistfights and other action pieces. The arrangements have a warm retro sounding feeling because the story takes place during the Depression, not today. The enhanced portion of the CD provides a photo gallery of stills from the film plus the entire theatrical trailer in clear full-motion images. This is a great idea that I wish were standard with all film soundtracks. Purchase here

THE QUIET AMERICAN - Music composed and orchestrated by Craig Armstrong - Varese Sarabande 302 066 426 2:

In spite of the title, not much American-sounding tone-painting here. The main characters are actually British and Vietnamese. The score abounds in interesting juxtapositions of ethnic music and symphonic sections. There are authentic vocals in Vietnamese plus a full choir, lots of percussion, even cimbalom. The themes are varied, even including a piano solo on the Quiet American theme, and much of the score features a prominent piano part. The dozen tracks allow enough time to develop the different musical moods - no 15-second-long cues here. A most evocative score for a most evocative film, and well recorded. Purchase here

- John Sunier

MUSIC FROM THE THIN BLUE LINE - Composed by Philip Glass; conducted by Michael Riesman - Orange Mountain Music OMM0007:

One of the leaders of the “New” Documentary movement, Errol Morris, was researching another film when he came across Randall Adams, a young man in his 11th year of a life sentence for a murder of a policeman he didn’t commit. Morris’ film The Thin Blue Line has been called the first movie to actually solve a murder. He used staged pieces, interviews, closeups of evidence and other tricks to create a trance-like feeling that Glass’ music perfectly supports. Morris is also a musician so the worked closely with Glass, having in mind specific sounds for each character. The haunting and mysterious feeling is heightened skillfully by the music. Nonesuch released the score in l989 but with much of the dialog and interviews over it and the music in the background. This new release remixed the original materials without the voice-over and with the music in the foreground. There are 19 cues in all. Purchase here

TOGETHER - Original score by Zhao Lin performed by Li Chuonyun, violin/China National Symphony Orchestra/Li Xin Chao - Sel. Include: VIEUXTEMPS: Violin Concerto No. 5 (excerpts); GANG: Sunshine Over Tashkorgan; CONUS: Violin Concerto (excerpts); VERDI: Chorus from Nabucco; PAGANINI: Caprice No. 1; LISZT: Consolation No. 3; TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D, 3rd movt.; BRUCH: Scottish Fantasy (excerpts); SIBELIUS: Violin Concerto, 3rd movt. - Milan Records M2-36016:

The Chinese film is about the conflicts and love between a young boy violinist and his father, his friendship with his music teacher and the choice he has to make between happiness and success in his career. Direct Chen Kaige picked various pieces of great music - mostly for violin and orchestra - to both illustrate performances and rehearsals by the boy and also to underline the often emotional story line. The only original music from composer Zhao Lin is the opening title music and the closing title music. This CD will appeal primarily to those who saw and enjoyed the feature film, but might annoy those who didn’t and are disturbed by hearing only bleeding hunks of famous works rather than at least a complete movement. Purchase here

- John Sunier

NINO ROTA: Suite from the ballet La Strada; Symphony on a love song; Waltzes from “The Leopard” - Sym. Orch. of The Massimo Theater of Palermo/Marzio Conti - Chandos CHAN 10090:

Probably the best-known collaboration of film director and film music composer was that of Federico Fellini and Nino Rota. Rota composed a good deal of non-film music, but he had an ability to grasp exactly what any director he worked with had in mind for his film and therefore was in great demand in the film industry worldwide. Was news to me that he had adapted his familiar score for La Strada to accompany a ballet. The seven movements in the suite taken from the complete ballet score were inspired by particular scenes in the film. Many are dances to begin with, plus circus music and affectingly sad themes. The four-movement Symphony uses themes Rota created for an earlier film which also saw life in Visconti’s film Il Gattopardo before the composer orchestrated them into the nearly half-hour symphonic work. The two closing “encores” are also from Il Gattopardo- an orchestration of an unpublished waltz by Verdi and the famous the Last Waltz, which is heard during an extended ballroom scene in the film. Purchase here

Two interesting scores for animation:

FINDING NEMO - Music composed by Thomas Newman; Orch. cond. by Armin Steiner - Disney Records 60078-7:

The Disney/Pixar feature is supposed to be the best family animation of the season. The director conceived of Newman’s score as an integral part of the film from the very start. He describes it in a nutshell with the word “bittersweet.” A variety of small and large fish are the characters in the story, and they tend to move fast. So does the music, with 40 different cues here, most are extremely brief. Some of the fish have their own little themes Wagnerian leit-motif style. Purchase here

The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites - Vince Guaraldi, solo/trio/with orchestra - Bluebird 82876-53900-2:

These are surprisingly never-before-released recordings by the distinctive jazz pianist who died in 1976 and had composed the whimsical music for all the Peanuts TV specials at a time when a jazz soundtrack for animated films was a great rarity. His son researched the tapes from several sources, included a batch owned by Guaraldi aficionado George Winston. The disc opens with two solo piano outings by Guaraldi alone. Then the seven-movement Charlie Brown Suite, in which the pianist’s trio performs live in San Francisco with the Amici Della Musica led by Richard Williams in 1968. It includes the Linus and Lucy theme, the Charlie Brown theme again, and the theme for The Red Baron. The CD closes out with an extended version of Guaraldi’s hit Cast Your Fate to the Wind in a quartet setting with guitarist Eddie Duran. An unexpected nostalgic delight, and the sonics are excellent. Purchase here

- John Sunier

Music for French and British Films...

NAPOLEON - Music by Richard Gregoire, with Michel Cusson & Marc Ouellette - Bulgarian Sym. Orch. and Prague Choir - Virgin Classics 7243 545548 2 7:

The latest epic on Napoleon was a mini-series on French television which featured Gerard Depardieu, Isabella Rossellini and John Malkovich among others. I don’t know if it has made it to U.S. shores as yet. Composer Gregoire hails from Quebec, so considering the choral and orchestral forces involved, this is a very international production. He employs not only the full symphony orchestra and also synthesizers and sequencers, and his score utilizes both classical and traditional melodies as well as very contemporary sounds. It all seems to fit smoothly together and in fact has a grand sort of sweep as befits its epic subject. There are 28 cues in total. The note booklet is only in French. Purchase here

British Film Composers in Concert = CLIFTON PARKER: Thieves' Carnival Overture; Two Choreographic Studies; LEIGHTON LUCAS: Ballet de la Reine; ANTHONY COLLINS: Eire Suite; BRUCE MONTGOMERY: Scottish Aubade and Lullaby; ERIC ROGERS: Palladium Symphony - Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland - White Line CD WHL 2145:

Associated with the ASV label, While Line had a previous soundtrack collection titled “Robin Hood Country.” This one brings together five British composers who probably will be unfamiliar to most American audiences - although the first film here is regarded as a cult classic. Most of these composers were serious writers for the concert hall who were distracted by the prospects of getting more money for their labors and having their music heard by a wide international audience. It is said most of them regretted this later in life, but anyway we have interesting music here, some of which could stand alongside the best of Korngold or Hermann. Actually, this review may be in the wrong section here because only the opening three-minute track is derived from a soundtrack.

Lucas, while best known for his scores for films - including one for Hitchcock, was a prolific ballet composer, and was arranger for the British heart-throb Ivor Novello. In fact, the ballet recorded here has nothing to do with soundtracks and was not even performed as a ballet. It has a 16th century aspect, reminding one of a French version of the Capriol Suite of Peter Warlock. Collins conducted an early LP set of all the Sibelius Symphonies, and wrote many light music works, of which the brief three-movement Eire Suite is one. Rogers is known in Britain for his involvement in the very popular Carry On films and conducted the score for the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No. He was Music Director of the London Palladium and wrote his four-movement Palladium Symphony which illustrates his view from the orchestra pit of the variety of acts which appeared on its stage. It abounds in more hammy Hollywoodisms than you could shake a cane and top hat at, but it’s also great fun - especially considering its source. Purchase here

- John Sunier

JOHNNY ENGLISH - Original music composed by Edward Shearmur -Decca 80000638-02:

Starring comic Rowan Atkinson, this James Bond satire fell rather flat with the critics but spreads across its 17 tracks some interesting and appropriately Bondish music which might appeal to some listeners who haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan to. Some of the themes sound almost too believable, but then away from the movies the real Bond soundtrack music sounds fairly tongue-in-cheek too. Shearmur peppers his original music with several guest artists: the sexy female string quartet known as Bond (appropriate, No?), the Swedish pop vocal group ABBA, Moloka and Robbie Williams. With titles such as A Man of Sophistication and Pascal’s Evil Plan, I suppose there’s no need to list all the tracks.

- John Sunier

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