January 3, 2014
Classic Film Scores: The Best of 2013
Releases include Mancini, Grusin, Legrand, Goldsmith, Fielding by Jon Burlingame
The past year saw another bounty of classic music from films and television, lovingly restored and made available to fans, in many cases for the first time. Some of our favorites:
Breakfast at Tiffany's and Days of Wine and Roses (Intrada)
Two of Henry Mancini's most indelible scores for Blake Edwards' 1961 and 1962 dramas – both of them Oscar winners – can now be heard in their entirety at last (Mancini's original LP and single were easy-listening versions). Audrey Hepburn's own iconic vocal of "Moon River" sounds better than ever.
Fire and Ice (BSX)
Premiere release of the music from animator Ralph Bakshi and fantasy painter Frank Frazetta's 1983 sword-and-sorcery film. The symphonic music, one of only a handful of film scores by Los Angeles classical composer William Kraft, is variously complex, moody and heroic.
Heaven Can Wait / Racing With the Moon (Kritzerland)
Two previously unreleased Dave Grusin scores (Warren Beatty's 1978 film about a football player in the afterlife, and Richard Benjamin's 1984 wartime romantic drama with Sean Penn), the first of which was Grusin's first Oscar nominee for Best Original Score. Both are warm and touching and they complement each other nicely.
John Williams' first Emmy was for his rich melodic accompaniment for the 1968 TV-movie based on the children's novel (a movie that achieved infamy for interrupting a much-watched football game on NBC). Augmenting the Hamburg-recorded music tracks is the original 1968 album with dialogue by Michael Redgrave and Jennifer Edwards, the film's stars.
Hellgate / Lost Continent (MMM)
Shockingly, this album of music from a 1952 Western with Sterling Hayden and a 1951 cult sci-fi/dinosaur movie with Cesar Romero marked the first time that any score by veteran B-movie composer Paul Dunlap (The Angry Red Planet, Shock Corridor) had ever received a commercial release.
How Green Was My Valley and Laura (Kritzerland)
Two classic Fox scores from the 1940s: Alfred Newman's music for John Ford's 1941 masterpiece about life in a Welsh mining town, and David Raksin's timeless music for the 1944 Otto Preminger mystery starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. Both were originally released in 1993, but these new CDs boast improved sound and, in the case of Laura, an extra 10 minutes of music.
Joe Kidd (Intrada)
Lalo Schifrin's colorful, almost forgotten score from Clint Eastwood's 1972 Western directed by John Sturges is a welcome, 40-years-late release. About a third of the score was dropped when the film was re-edited, so the entire score is both a revelation and a delight.
Lethal Weapon (La-La Land)
Who could have imagined that we would one day have an 8-CD box set of all four of those wild Michael Kamen scores (featuring Eric Clapton on guitar and David Sanborn on sax) for the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover buddy-cop action movie series? Again, a lot of music here that's never been heard before (and Sting's memorable song "It's Probably Me" from Lethal Weapon 3).
Michel Legrand Anthology (Universal Music France)
This extraordinary 15-disc box set is a must for all Legrand fans. A grand overview of the composer's career, it contains rarities like his musical Monte Cristo (1975), scores from Castle Keep (1969) and Portnoy's Complaint (1972), the symphonic poem Pastorales de Noel, jazz albums with Stan Getz and Bud Shank, and many more musical treasures from over half a century of music-making.
The Missouri Breaks (Kritzerland)
Many of us had forgotten that the 1976 soundtrack album of John Williams' small-combo score for Arthur Penn's strange Jack Nicholson-Marlon Brando Western was a re-recording. Kritzerland unearthed the original film tracks and presented them along with the original soundtrack album: guitars, harmonica, tack piano, banjo, fiddle, an unusual combination for the composer.
QB VII (Prometheus / Tadlow)
Perhaps the most ambitious re-recording of a classic score to date, all 95 minutes of Jerry Goldsmith's Emmy-winning 1974 masterpiece required reconstruction (by Aaron Purvis) and re-recording (Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic). Goldsmith's original album contained just 35 minutes; now we can appreciate the other hour of music he wrote for the landmark, Holocaust-themed ABC miniseries.
A Passage to India (Quartet)
Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning score for David Lean's final film gets the deluxe treatment, including (for the first time) the complete score and numerous extra tracks composed for but not used in the 1984 film. The behind-the-scenes story of Lean's dislike of Indian music (for a movie set in India) and the original London recording sessions, told in the extensive liner notes, is as interesting as the music itself.
One of Miklos Rozsa's last great masterworks, for Alain Resnais' 1977 film with John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde and Ellyn Burstyn, this remastered album (with 17 minutes of new material) is a welcome reminder of the Hungarian composer's undimmed abilities in his later years; "Valse Crepusculaire" is among the most haunting of all Rozsa themes.
Rising Sun (Kritzerland)
Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu scored only one American film: this 1993 Michael Crichton thriller with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. Unfortunately, director Philip Kaufman tinkered with the score, dropping a number of cues, and the soundtrack album of the time was severely truncated. This restoration showcases the complete score, and the result is a sonically fascinating musical experience.
Salem's Lot (Intrada)
Harry Sukman's Emmy-nominated score from the 1979 miniseries based on Stephen King's horror novel of vampires in Maine gets a lavish and long-awaited treatment. Sukman, an underrated composer, rose to the challenge in the grand tradition of gothic, "Dies Irae"-inspired music.
Seven Days in May / The Mackintosh Man (Intrada)
A surprising double bill of Jerry Goldsmith's 17-minute score for the 1964 suspense classic about an attempted military coup of the U.S. (with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster), and Maurice Jarre's cimbalbum-spiced score for the 1973 John Huston film with Paul Newman. Goldsmith's score, written for two pianos and 10 percussionists, is a minimalist classic.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (La-La Land)
More than five hours of music from the 1993-99 series, mostly by Dennis McCarthy, Jay Chattaway and David Bell, in a beautifully packaged 4-CD box. It was a fabulous reminder of the fine orchestral scores that accompanied the most complex, dark and elaborately plotted Trek series of all.
Too Late Blues (Kritzerland)
The long-overdue release of legendary composer David Raksin's jazz score for John Cassavetes' 1962 movie (about jazz musicians and artistic compromise) starring Bobby Darin and Stella Stevens. Some of L.A.'s top players are featured, including Benny Carter, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Rowles, Red Mitchell and others.
The Wild Bunch (Film Score Monthly)
For its swansong as a soundtrack label, FSM went out on a high note, with Jerry Fielding's Oscar-nominated score for Sam Peckinpah's bloody, controversial 1969 Western starring William Holden and Robert Ryan. This marked the first time the complete score has been commercially available; the soundtrack album and considerable extra material round out the three CDs.
Wyatt Earp (La-La Land)
A superb 3-disc set devoted to one of the great Americana scores of the past 20 years: James Newton Howard's spectacular, should-have-been-Oscar-nominated tone poem for Lawrence Kasdan's grand-scale Western, with Kevin Costner as the legendary lawman. More than two hours of score, another half-hour of extras and demos, are included.
©2014 Jon Burlingame