It’s been far too long since we profiled some recent soundtrack CDs. Those of you who consider yourselves soundtrack recordings fans probably know about many of these already, but for the rest, here’s a quick rundown of film music that’s come across our desk in the last several months:
BABEL – Original score by Gustavo Santaolalla and existing music from many sources – Concord Records (2 CDs) 30191-2: The actual CD title is “Music From and Inspired By the Motion Picture Babel,” so all of these varied selections weren’t in the actual film. Selections of music from Mexico, Japan (mostly by Ryuichi Sakamoto) and even Earth, Wind and Fire are tied together with the compelling Santaolalla instrumental scoring. The arrangement of the music on the two discs does not follow the chronology of this magnificent film. For example the cue Deportation is the fourth track, whereas that doesn’t occur in the film until near the end. There are a total of 36 track total on the two discs. Details of sources and performers of each of the tracks are given in the note booklet.
THE NAMESAKE – Music by Nitin Sawhney – Rounder 11661-9072-2: The latest film from director Mira Nair is full of emotions, moods and spirit, and offers a fine opportunity for scoring by a UK-based composer known for his film and TV scores. The struggles of a family from Bengal covers the passage of time, generations and travel between India and the U.S. Sawhney has an ability to easily cross the musical divisions between East and West, classical and popular, world music and sophisticated club sounds. Some of his themes are just as haunting as the images on the screen.
APOCALYPTO – Music by James Horner, with vocal solos by Rahat Nusrate Fateh Ali Khan – Hollywood Records D000015802: Rather than try to emulate an imagined Mayan music, Horner has come up with an impressionistic/expressionistic sound world that perfectly fits the heart-stopping images on the screen in this tale of the brutal and chaotic Mayan empire just before the time of the arrival of the Spanish explorers. Although in its lowest registers the mysterious voice of Rahat Nusrate Fateh Ali Klan reminded me of Philip Glass’ score for Koyanasqaatsi, it supports the screen images superbly – conveying mystery, danger, brutality – whatever the mythic story requires. There’s also lots of very dramatic flutes and drums. Excellent fidelity.
NOTES ON A SCANDAL – Music by Philip Glass – Rounder 11661-9074-2: The psychological thriller with Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett is supported seamlessly by the new Glass score, his latest since The Illusionist. It appears to depart further from his basic minimalist approach than most of what he has done recently. Glass reports that he used the constantly changing harmonic structures to communicate the slippery, untrustworthy qualities of the Dench character, Barbara. There is more of a chromatic quality to the music as well. The 20 cues are all quite short but flow into one another, and the music stands well by itself without the movie.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS – Music by Clint Eastwood, orchestrated and conducted by Lennie Niehaus – Milan: Eastwood has long been involved with the scores of his films. For some of them he would write the songs and Niehaus would write the score. This time they collaborated on the stories of the six GIs who raised the victory flag at Iwo Jima in 1945. A couple of classical selections are part of the score: excerpts from Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 and Haydn’s Quartet Op. 6, two Sousa marches, some pop tunes of the day, and my favorite – a tune by Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five. The orchestral material tying it together is not masterpiece level but works well with the screen images and other selections.
THE PAINTED VEIL – Music composed, orchestrated and conducted by Alexandre Desplat with Prague Symphony Orchestra and Lang Lang, piano soloist – DGG 00289 477 6552: This is a lovely Masterpiece Theater-type classical score that often takes on the trappings of a piano concerto. Piano music is central to the score and some elements of what happens on the screen too. Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 is heard more than once in the film. The Somerset Maugham story takes place in the 1920s and concerns a young English couple in China. The husband takes his wife on a journey to a distant province suffering from a cholera epidemic, as punishment for her having been unfaithful to him. The 19 cues range from under a minute to over six, and create an evocative background for the sometimes beautiful and sometimes harrowing images. The Cholera cue sounds very much like Philip Glass.
PERFUME, THE STORY OF A MURDERER – Music by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil – The Berlin Philharmonic/National Choir of Latvia/Sir Simon Rattle – EMI Classics 0946 79233 2 0: After seeing the trailer a few times I had little interest in seeing this film, but the soundtrack is a gem. Rattle and the Berlin Phil! Not the sort of forces one finds involved in most movie soundtracks! The German director – Tom Tykwer – helps compose the scores for his films just as does Clint Eastwood. He began work on the music long before he started shooting the film. He realized that the score would have to carry the theme of scent and odors. He found that the perfumery business uses a whole language of scents taken from music theory – talking about chords and single notes, for example. The choir and often a single female voice convey some of the sacred aspects while the orchestral sounds deal with the senses. This is a very lush and compelling score which stands alone well, separate from the film.
THE GOOD GERMAN – Music composed by Thomas Newman, Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Armin Steiner – Varese Sarabande 302 066 781 2: Here’s another recent feature with an old-fashioned symphonic score emulating the work of Hermann and Korngold. The story – which starred George Clooney and Cate Blanchett – takes place in Berlin immediately after the war has ended and has a similar mood and characters to the famous The Third Man. There are 29 cues – many of them only one minute or a minute-and-one-half long. The general feeling is one of sadness and impending disaster. The orchestra sounds rich and full – whether it’s due to more players, overdubbing or synthesizer assistance I don’t know, but scores like this seldom sound underfed as they used to on soundtrack albums of yore.
LADY IN THE WATER – Music by James Newton Howard, plus Bob Dylan tunes performed by A Whisper in the Noise, Amanda Ghost and Silvertide – Decca B0007309-02: James Newton Howard’s job was to compliment M. Night Shyamalan’s latest eerie feature with a lush orchestral soundtrack that supports the story of a modest apartment manager confronting a beautiful nymph who is being stalked by deadly creatures. He also uses the Los Angeles Master Chorale in some of the music cues, as he has on past soundtracks – including Waterworld and Snow Falling on Cedars. Not having seen the movie I don’t know how the Dylan tunes fit in, but I liked that they are included as the last four tracks on the CD rather than sprinkled thru the orchestral score as occurs in the film. Dylan fans should note they are not performed by Dylan. The orchestral writing is typical movie music which seems to require the images to work its wonders.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN – AT WORLD’S END – Music composed by Hans Zimmer – Walt Disney Pictures, 55:48: Hans Zimmer was involved in the scores for the first two films in the Pirate franchise series, so it’s natural he was asked to score this third effort. The director says he thinks of the music as internal to the storytelling rather than just being a score. Zimmer came up with some new pirate song themes for the film, one of them in collaboration with the film’s director, Gore Verbinski. Frankly, the music sounds as manufactured to fit this fantasy/adventure epic as do the special-effect-laden images on the screen. Zimmer won an Academy Award for his score for The Lion King, and he also did Rain Man, Gladiator and As Good As It Gets. I don’t think this pirates palaver is his best work. [Here’s two contrasting views of one of the films in this freaky franchise.]
CHARLOTTE’S WEB – Music by Danny Elfman – Sony Classical 88697-02989-2: Elfman is the Grammy-winning film music composer who has scored such hits as Good Will Hunting, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Men in Black, and all the Tim Burton films. His very distinctive sound mixes pop, rock and classical, and he wrote a touching original song for Charlotte’s Web, sung here by Sarah McLachlan. Another song is voiced by little Dakota Fanning, one of the several cast voices for the animals – including John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Redford, Kathey Bates and Steve Buscemi. I don’t know if the music stands apart very well from the charming film, but it should certainly appeal to those who have seen and enjoyed the motion picture.
SHOSTAKOVICH: THE FALL OF BERLIN; Suite from THE UNFORGETTABLE YEAR 1919 – Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Adriano; Moscow Capella & Youth Chorus/Ellena Alekseyeva, piano – Naxos Film Music Classics 8.570238: These are both recording premieres for the complete versions of both film scores. The first deals with the last days of WWII in Berlin with a bit of a love story of a soldier couple fighting in the war. It also includes the ghastly marriage and suicide of Hitler and a typical Soviet propaganda ending with a speech by Stalin. Shostakovich undoubtedly did these sort of scores out of duty rather than interest, but the musical quality in some sections is quite high regardless. The second shorter score was for a 1951 film which was the last in which Stalin was absurdly glorified. The film is about the civil war days of Petrograd during which Stalin was purging the army of traitor and the Bolshevik movement was being threatened by foreign invaders. Again there is time to slip in some suggested romance, so all the seven cues are not battle music. Swiss conductor Adriano is a specialist at resurrecting this type of film score – he edited The Fall of Berlin. The recordings were made in Moscow in 2000 and are more than welcome since the sound was so horrible on most Soviet films that the quality of the music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and others could not be easily assessed or appreciated.
MAX STEINER: THE SON OF KONG; THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME –
Moscow Symphony orchestra/William Stromberg – Naxos Film Music Classics 8.570183, 77:19: These are part of the continuing series of reconstructions by John Morgan of the scores of various Hollywood films by such great film composers as Korngold, Hermann, Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman. Morgan speaks in the note booklet introduction of how he had wanted for so many years to hear the music from these two particular films played by a full modern symphony orchestra. But what struck me was not any emphasis on the improved stereo fidelity and richness of the sound, but the fact that the music was minus “all the villainous snarling and prehistoric roaring and sundry sound effects” of the original soundtracks! Hadn’t thought of that angle before!The RKO Studios had such a huge hit with 1933’s King Kong that they determined almost immediately to launch a sequel. Typically, they allotted only one-third the budget they had given for King Kong, set a six-month deadline (absurd considering the slow frame-by-frame model animation that had to be done for all the creatures) and gave Steiner only two weeks to write the whole score. While the movie that resulted is generally forgettable, Steiner’s score is quite nice – a veritable panoply of 1930s-style Americana a la the Hollywood touch. He created a blues tune – Runaway Blues – whose theme threads thru the entire atmospheric score. There are 17 cues, with some as short as 46 seconds. The talented Moscow Symphony musicians are now old hands at handling this type of music; along with similar musicians in Prague, they have together been responsible for recreating many of the classic film scores available on CD today – which would never have been economically possible at the union rates demanded by orchestras in North America.
The Most Dangerous Game of 1932 makes a good disc mate, not only because it’s another Steiner score, but also because the film also takes place on a remote jungle island. The demented count who owns the island passes his time hunting shipwrecked guests for sport. Sinister sounds and of course chase music abound. The note-writer refers to Steiner’s reputation for “mickey-mousing” – making every note and rhythm follow the screen action. But though he admits this score suffers some from it, so do some parts of the scores of such well-regarded composers as Bernard Hermann and Korngold. The symphonic sections with horn calls could be likened to 19th century orchestral works depicting the hunt – of which there are many.
THE FILM MUSIC OF FRANCIS CHAGRIN – Overture from Helter Skelter, An Inspector Calls, The Colditz Story, Suite from Greyfriars Bobby, The Four Just Men, The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra, Four Orchestral Episodes from The Intruder, Easy Money, Suite from Last Holiday, Yugoslav Sketches from The Bridge – BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – Chandos CHAN 10323, 77:34: Chagrin had been born in Roumania but made Britain his home. During WWII he founded the Society for the Promotion of New Music. His wrote in many different genres, even contributing to the hilarious Gerard Hoffnung parody concerts. He scored 200 films and television shows, including Dr. Who. Unlike most of the other film music composers, Chagrin rearranged much of his film music for playing in the concert hall. Thus the excerpts here are more than just a disjointed series of musical cues. An Inspector Calls, which starred Alastair Sim, is one of the classics. Chagrin created a theme for the main female character which becomes a musical portrait of her various moods in the film. Last Holiday was a classic Alex Guinness film in which a man is wrongly diagnosed as having only weeks to live. Its main theme was published as a work for violin and piano and is played in the movie by Beecham’s first violinist, who happened to be the father of actor David McCallum.
THE FILM MUSIC OF ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD – The Sea Wolf, The Adventures of Robin Hood – BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos CHAN 10336, 76:22: Well, don’t need to introduce Korngold to most readers. He found the task of doing the music for Jack London’s story most inspiring, and even considered later turning it into an opera. The Sea Wolf was one of the most-filmed stories in movie history. This 1941 production starred Edward G. Robinson. Like most of Korngold’s scores, the music evolves as a continuous symphonic poem, with leitmotifs assigned to the various characters and situations. The result is a 55-minute symphony that might well be Korngold’s own all-instrumental Flying Dutchman. The Robin Hood suite of four movements comes from the famous 1936 Technicolor classic that starred Errol Flynn. When Korngold arranged this suite shortly after the film’s release, it was performed at concerts in San Francisco and Oakland and became one of the first pieces of film music to be played in the concert hall. It’s stirring music makes it one of Korngold’s best efforts and one of the most famous scores to any film.
THE FILM MUSIC OF WILLIAM ALWYN, Vol. 3 – Suite from The Magic Box, Waltz from The Million Pound Note, March from The Way Ahead, Suite from Swiss Family Robinson, The Ride from The Rocking Horse Winner, Suite from Geordie, Waltz from The Cure for Love, Suite from Penn of Pennsylvania, March from The True Glory, Suite from The Running Man – BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos CHAN 10349, 77:49: European composers seem to have had a more relaxed attitude than American composers about writing both for films and for the concert hall. Alwyn, who lived until 1985, created five symphonies, four operas and many other concert works, but also wrote nearly 200 scores for the cinema. He was the only composer to have been made a Fellow of the British Film Academy. All the arrangements for this collection were made by Philip Lane. The Magic Box and Geordie are the longest of the suites on the CD. The first was made for the 1951 Festival of Britain as an example of British filmmaking. It has cameo roles from such as Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Richard Attenborough and Peter Ustinov, and was based on the biography of photographic inventor William Friese-Greene. Geordie follows the story of a Scottish boy who takes a physical fitness correspondence course and becomes an Olympic hammer-throwing champion. The atmospheric score naturally includes some Scottish folk references.
THE FILM MUSIC OF SHOSTAKOVICH, Vol. 3 – Suite from Hamlet, From The Unforgettable Year 1919, Suite from Five Days and Five Nights, Suite from The Young Guard – Martin Roscoe, piano/BBC Philharmonic/ Vassily Sinaisky – Chandos CHAN 10361, 79:47: Aside from Hamlet, we have here more Soviet films about the Second World War, which the nation was understandably obsessed with. The excerpt from the already-covered-above Unforgettable Year 1919 is only seven minutes and the most minor item in this disc. Five Days and Five Nights is about the rediscovery by Soviet troops of the contents of the Dresden Art Gallery which had been hidden underground by the Nazis. The score quotes both the Die irae theme and part of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Hamlet of 1964 was the next-to-last film score Shostakovich wrote, and it is considered one of his greatest film scores. An interesting departure is his use of the harpsichord to identify Ophelia.
THE FILM MUSIC OF RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, Vol. 3 – The Story of a Flemish Farm, The Loves of Joanna Godden, Bitter Springs – Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir/BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos CHAN 10368, 66:37: All three British films date from the 1940s. The first was a propaganda film about the last fighters of the Belgian Air Force before the Nazi takeover. Joanna Godden is a woman farmer in the 19th century with three suitors. VW wrote the score for the Earling film at about the same time he was working on his Sixth Symphony. Bitter Springs concerns a trek in the Outback of Australia. The music was arranged and orchestrated by Ernest Irving from materials supplied by Vaughan Williams. One of its most delightful cues is titled “Kangaroos.”
ENNIO MORRICONE – Crime and Dissonance – Mostly Orchestra & Chorus conducted by Morricone – 30-track 2-CD collection of his most extreme and spooky scores from rare soundtracks, mixed by Alan Bishop with liner notes by John Zorn – Ipecac Recordings: This one is like no other soundtrack compilation you may ever have heard. Mr. Ipecac himself has selected from the over 500 film scores by Morricone, concentrating on the period 1969 thru 1974 and on the DJ’s taste for the bizarre. Be prepared for snippets of psychedelia, jazz, musique concrete, rock, electronic, bachelor pad music, avantgarde, heavy metal and heavy breathing – no wonder John Zorn digs this the most! No Spaghetti Western themes here! Disturbing, disgusting, or delightful? You decide. The note booklet with color stills from some of the films is pretty trippy too.
ENNIO MORRICONE – ARENA CONCERTO – His film music in concert; composed, orchestrate and conducted by Morricone & recorded live in Verona, Naples and Rome. (2 CDs) DRG CD-32970: This is the first live album by Morricone, with 20 of his compositions for films performed with a 150-piece symphony orchestra and 100-member chorus. It is basically the same concert selections as in the DVD we reviewed in March, with the addition of about five more selections. HERE’s the Spaghetti Western themes! And here’s the TrackList: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; One Upon a Time in the West, A Fistful of Dynamite; The Working Class Goes to Heaven; Casualties of War; The Desert of the Tartars; Richard III, The Mission; Once Upon a Time in America; Cinema Paradiso; The Master and Margaret; Canone Inverso (Making Love); Rampage; Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion; Battle of Algiers; Love Theme from 1900.
GOOD MOVIE MUSIC – Philharmonia Virtuosi/Richard Kapp – Essay CD1089: A very straightforward title for a fine collection of film music by some of its greatest composers – including Morricone once again. The late Richard Kapp put together some excellent CDs which didn’t get their due of attention, and this was one of them. Here’s the program: WALTON: Death of Falstaff & Touch Her Soft Lips, from Henry V; MORRICONE: Main theme and Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission; BERNARD HERMANN: Psycho Suite; ELMER BERNSTEIN: To Kill a Mockingbird; VIRGIL THOMSON: Louisiana Story: Acadian Songs & Dances & Suite from the film.
THE ULTIMATE BEST OF FEDERICO FELLINI & NINO ROTA – CAM Original Soundtracks CAM 5502, 69:48: The title says it all; all Rota’s unforgettable music, taken directly from the original Fellini soundtracks. TrackList: The White Sheik, I Vitelloni, La Strada, Il Bidone, Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, Boccaccio ’70, 8 1/2, Julietta of the Spirits, Tre Passi nel Delirio (Toby Dammit episode), Fellini’s Satyricon, The Clowns, Roma, Amaracord, Fellini’s Casanova, Orchestra Rehearsal, Fellini’s Waltz (by Pieranunzi)
A TIME FOR US – A collection of movie themes including standard classical works adapted for films – Alexander Warenberg, his piano and Orchestra/llja Warenberg, violin – F.I.M. HDCD Black Vinyl CD FIM051VD: A fine program of familiar movie music from a Russian musician based in the Netherlands. TrackList: A Time for Us (West Side Story), Old Melody (The Deerhunter), O mio Babbino Caro (Room With a View), Mozart Clarinet Concerto theme (Out of Africa), Maria, Angelique (Angelique), Once Upon a Time in America, Smile (Modern Times), Spartacus theme (The Onedin Line), Schindler’s List theme, Barber Adagio (Platoon)