December 18, 2007
The Gift of Music
A Holiday Film-Score Buyers' Guide
by Jon Burlingame
'Tis the season, and 2007 has seen so many releases of interest to collectors of film and TV music that a gift guide for discriminating buyers might be in order.
Here are thirteen items, in no particular order – mostly CDs, but also books and DVDs – that may appeal to the soundtrack fan in your life.
- 1. Alien (Intrada)
- At last, a definitive presentation of Jerry Goldsmith's score for the 1979 horror/sci-fi classic. The 2-CD set contains all of Goldsmith's complex, thrilling original score; adds as a bonus Goldsmith's 36-minute album version; and of equal interest, the full story – told for the first time in producer Mike Matessino's superbly researched essay – of what happened to the composer's work, why it was virtually destroyed during post-production, and exactly what remains in the film, where and why.
- 2. Fahrenheit 451 and Mysterious Island (Tribute Film Classics)
The first releases from a new label formed by former Naxos artists John W. Morgan (score restoration) and William Stromberg (conductor) are two famous 1960s scores by Bernard Herrmann. One for a Francois Truffaut film and the other a Ray Harryhausen fantasy, they are accurately and excitingly performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Both feature lavish booklets with detailed notes by Kevin Scott; the Fahrenheit album also features Herrmann's first score for TV's Twilight Zone, "Walking Distance."
- 3. Le Cinema de Michel Legrand and Le Mans / The Hunter (Universal France)
These two productions by film-music historian/producer Stephane Lerouge are must-haves for fans of the Oscar-winning French composer. The former, a 4-CD box set actually released in 2005, contains many obscure and unreleased gems (especially from his extraordinary '70s output, including The Adventures of Don Quixote, F for Fake and Robin & Marian). The latter, a new CD, features lush and jazzy scores for Steve McQueen films from 1971 and 1980, respectively. As the French say, formidable.
- 4. Lalo Schifrin and Friends and Letters From Argentina (Aleph)
True, neither features movie music, but no fan of the composer of Mission: Impossible and Dirty Harry should miss this duo. The former allows the composer to get back to his small-combo jazz roots, performing with fellow artists Alex Acuna, Brian Bromberg, Dennis Budimir, James Moody and James Morrison; the latter is an evocative musical memoir of the composer's homeland, part chamber music, part jazz, part Latin American folk, all colorful from beginning to end.
- 5. Images (Prometheus)
One of the few remaining films of the John Williams oeuvre that had yet to see a commercial release, this avant-garde masterpiece for Robert Altman's 1972 film features Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamash'ta performing on Baschet sculptures along with Williams on keyboards and the strings of the BBC orchestra. The plot – Susannah York as a schizophrenic who may be a murderess – inspired Williams to write an equally schizophrenic, Oscar-nominated score. (Full disclosure: This writer penned the album notes, drawn on interviews with the composer over the past several years.)
- 6. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Tadlow) and Miklós Rózsa: Violin Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante (Naxos)
The former is a sumptuous new recording of the complete score for Billy Wilder's unjustly maligned 1970 look at Conan Doyle's troubled sleuth, with Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic. Wilder asked Rózsa to base his score on the composer's 1955 violin concerto which, by happy coincidence, has just received a fine new reading by Anastasia Khitruk, with Dmitry Yablonsky conducting the Russian Philharmonic. Both recordings commemorate the centennial of Hungarian composer's birth.
- 7. Ennio Morricone: Arena Concerto (DRG)
In February, to coincide with Morricone's landmark Radio City Music Hall concert and his honorary Academy Award, DRG released a DVD of the maestro's 2002 concert in Verona, along with a 2-CD set that features even more music than the DVD. Both are musts for the inveterate Morricone collector (who already has his or her hands full trying to track down a seemingly endless number of new releases of music by the prolific Italian composer).
- 8. The Lord of the Rings: The Complete Recordings (Reprise)
With the release of The Return of the King (four CDs, a DVD and a 48-page book), Howard Shore's magnum opus – 12 hours of spectacular orchestral and choral music for J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece – is now available for all to hear, sans sound effects and dialogue. Together with the earlier, equally indispensible The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers (each with three discs, a DVD and a 48-page book), this marks an unprecedented release: every note of music Shore composed, orchestrated and conducted for Peter Jackson's film trilogy. Doug Adams' notes alone are worth the price.
- 9. Kings Row / The Sea Wolf (Film Score Monthly)
Two of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's classic 1940s Warner Bros. films receive their first release (85 min. of one, 48 min. of another) in a 2-CD set with notes by Korngold biographer Brendan G. Carroll. The re-recordings of these Korngold scores were fine, but the original recordings as conducted by the composer cannot be surpassed. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the composer's death, and every film music fan should be reminded that Hollywood's symphonic tradition owes much to this Austrian genius.
- 10. Random Harvest / The Yearling (Film Score Monthly)
Pioneer film composer Herbert Stothart finally receives his CD due with the premiere release of these two 1940s MGM classics, restored from surviving production masters – one a romantic, Oscar-nominated original score; and the other based beautifully on themes by Frederick Delius. Writer-historian Marilee Bradford received the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for her liner notes.
- 11. Hitchcock's Music by Jack Sullivan (Yale University Press) and How the West Was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford by Kathryn Kalinak (University of California Press)
These two publications may be of interest to movie-music collectors. Sullivan's book is a thorough examination of the many scores – by Herrmann, Rózsa, Tiomkin, Webb and others, right up through Williams' Family Plot – for the Master of Suspense; while Kalinak's book explores music (both score and source) in such classics as Stagecoach, The Searchers and Cheyenne Autumn.
- 12. Ford at Fox (20th Century-Fox Home Video)
This acclaimed DVD box set of John Ford films includes several titles of interest to film-music aficionados, including great Alfred Newman scores for Young Mr. Lincoln, The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley; plus five of Ford's silent films with fine new scores by Christopher Caliendo (Iron Horse, Four Sons), Dana Kaproff (Three Bad Men), Jon and Al Kaplan (Just Pals), and Tim Curran (Hangman's House). The silents are available as a separate set, but the big box also boasts a new Nick Redman documentary, Becoming John Ford.
- 13. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series (Time-Life)
The classic 1960s spy series finally comes to DVD in a full, four-season, 41-disc box jammed with bonus material including new interviews with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum (who played globetrotting agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin). The series features fabulous spy music courtesy of Jerry Goldsmith, Lalo Schifrin, Morton Stevens, Gerald Fried, Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Nelson Riddle and Walter Scharf. Among the DVD extras is a full half-hour featurette celebrating the U.N.C.L.E. music and composers (which includes commentary by this writer).
©2007 Jon Burlingame