The Hollywood Cello: Concert Works from Film Composers of the Golden Era = Music by KORNGOLD, HAGEMAN, SAMINSKY, ACHRON, TOCH, CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, HERBERT, and CHAPLIN – Gregory Hamilton, cello/Kate Hamilton, viola /Robert Hamilton, piano – Soundset SR 1032, 47:52 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The premise of this disc celebrates the various musical expatriates–most European Jews–who gravitated to motion pictures as a medium for their stellar talents, between the eras of silent films and the 1960s. Erich Wolfgang Korngold opens the disc, his sweet Romance Impromptu having been conceived–but eventually deleted–from the Bette Davis/Claude Rains melodrama vehicle Deception (1946), in which Paul Henreid plays a concert cellist. The Tanzlied des Pierrot belongs to the opera Die tote Stadt, and the keyboard part as well as the cello’s cantilena, quite glitters in magical colors.
Richard Hageman (1881-1966) composed several scores for John Ford films, and his Recitative and Romance (1961) casts a plaintive, nostalgic look backward to a more romantic sensibility. Lazare Saminsky (1882-1959) helped compose the score to the silent film version of The Ten Commandments (1923), and his Meditation shares with Bloch’s Nigun a declamatory quality of Hebrew incantation, ardent but subdued. Joseph Achron moved to California in 1934, working mostly in studios as a violinist and composing functional pieces for Jascha Heifetz. His Fragment Mystique derives from a Jewish folk song–likely Hassidic–that intones the natural mystery of the Russian landscape.
Ernest Toch’s lighthearted Variations on Peter’s Song provides a moment of comic relief, having been composed as a tribute to one of the composer’s many canines. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) fled fascist Italy with assistance from Arturo Toscanini. His Sonata in C Minor for Viola and Violoncello served as 70th birthday present for Ildebrando Pizzetti. Kate Hamilton’s warm-toned viola opens the piece, and she and Gregory Hamilton make a strong case for the proliferation of this fine, elegantly harmonized–often in counterpoint–opus in the concert hall or chamber music salon.
Victor Herbert (1859-1924) composed music for the sequel to D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), called Fall of a Nation. His little Romance invokes the lyricism of popular song and “crooners,” so we might imagine Rudy Vallee or Bing Crosby’s singing along with the cello obbligato. The Pensee Amoureuse projects an intimate parlor piece in the manner of Faure or Anton Rubinstein, a simple but impassioned melody we might hear at a Sunday matinee. Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) composed music for all of his films, singing aloud so that an arranger could notate the sounds Chaplin wanted. “Smile” from the classic Modern Times (1936) invokes a simple humanity Charlie found wanting in the industrial cog-wheels that threatened him and Paulette Godard. “Oh That Cello!” and “Peace Patrol” (1916) are products of Charlie’s brief stint with a music publishing company. They alternately swing and dance in a manner reminiscent of the Mack Sennett era of visual entertainment, a bit of Tin Pan Alley-meets-Franz Liszt. The latter has a kind of fox-trot gait that sweetly glides us back to a gentler world.
The label provides neither banding nor timing information for the program, but the cover photo (1915) of Charlie Chaplin at the cello makes the disc aesthetically attractive, besides the fine quality of the ensemble.
— Gary Lemco
An excellent DG debut!