December 28, 2015
Classic Film Music on Disc: The Best of 2015
Barry, Schifrin, Goldsmith, Williams scores among top releases by Jon Burlingame
For fans of classic movie and TV music, 2015 was another banner year – re-releases, re-recordings and premier releases of scores by great composers of the past and present. Among our favorites, listed alphabetically:
1.A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (La-La Land) John Williams' music for Steven Spielberg's 2001 realization of a Stanley Kubrick idea was one of the composer's finest in many years. Sometimes minimalist, sometimes symphonically complex, often moving, it fills three discs in this lavish, beautifully assembled package.
2.The Amityville Horror (Quartet) Lalo Schifrin's Oscar-nominated 1979 haunted-house score, with its lullaby-like children's-choir theme and eerie soundscapes, complete for the first time (and mostly in stereo). This masterwork from one of Schifrin's most creative periods expands to two discs with extra material including his fun dance number "Amityville Frenzy."
3.Braveheart (La-La Land) More than two hours of music, the first complete release of what many consider one of James Horner's greatest achievements in film music. The composer approved this 2-CD set before his untimely death in June, and director Mel Gibson thought enough of it to grant a lengthy interview for the notes. If Horner hadn't been nominated for both this and Apollo 13 back in 1995, he probably would have won the Oscar.
4.Dances With Wolves (La-La Land) John Barry's magnum opus, complete for the first time at 110 minutes: his multi-thematic, symphonic score for Kevin Costner's 1990 epic of a 19th-century soldier discovering both the great American frontier and the beauty of Native American culture. Expansive and romantic, with a sense of nobility and grandeur about the people and the land, this Oscar-winning score may be the composer's finest hour.
5.Duel (Intrada) Billy Goldenberg's remarkable, frightening soundscape for the 1971 Steven Spielberg TV-movie that starred Dennis Weaver as a lone driver menaced by an unseen, apparently insane trucker on a desert highway – one of the all-time classic telefilms scored by one of the most talented composers in TV history.
6.Fantasia / Pinocchio / Cinderella / Lady and the Tramp / Disneyland (Walt Disney) Continuing its "Legacy Collection" series of classic score restorations and reissues, Disney Records offered two from the '40s and two from the '50s that rank among the studio's all-time animated classics, plus music from its California theme parks. Nostalgic and, for completists, the best editions of these timeless scores.
7.The Genius of Film Music (LPO) John Mauceri conducts the London Philharmonic in a dynamic new live recording of classic film music, including first recordings of Alex North's 25-minute, two-movement "Cleopatra Symphony" (from the 1963 epic), Nino Rota's "Godfather Symphonic Portrait," a suite from Bronislau Kaper's Mutiny on the Bounty and more.
8.Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Varese Sarabande) A 25th-anniversary edition of this 1990 Jerry Goldsmith score, doubling the music content from the original 38-minute album issued in 1990. An energetic, fun score from one of our greatest composers.
9.Hangover Square / Five Fingers (Kritzerland) A pair of Bernard Herrmann classics, composed for 20th Century-Fox in the mid-'40s and the early '50s. Hangover Square is especially brilliant for its stunning piano concerto, and this pairing not only includes 16 minutes of previously unreleased music, it's an improvement over the sound on the long-out-of-print "Herrmann at Fox" box.
10.In Harm's Way and The Secret of NIMH (Intrada) Two significant re-releases of Jerry Goldsmith scores, both of which have been augmented with newly discovered music. The first, for Otto Preminger's 1965 war film, adds six new minutes and sounds better than ever; the second, for Don Bluth's wonderful 1982 animated film (one of Goldsmith's most lyrical works for orchestra and choir), has nearly 16 minutes of new material.
11.Jaws and Jaws 2 (Intrada) In a year overflowing with important reissues, this pair stands out. First is the (at last) definitive version of John Williams' Oscar-winning music for Spielberg's 1975 shark thriller, including both the complete film score and the soundtrack album. Then, the entire score for the 1978 sequel, adding 20 new minutes of music to the previous release and a terrific score all on its own.
12.Lost in Space: 50th Anniversary Soundtrack Collection (La-La Land) Without question one of the most significant releases of the year, this lavish, 12-disc box set contains all of the music recorded for the Irwin Allen sci-fi series of the '60s. A 104-page booklet written by sci-fi expert Jeff Bond details the entire history of the series and its music – notably two themes and four atmospheric scores penned by one "Johnny" Williams, a decade before he would return to space in a grand way with his music for Star Wars.
13.Man on a Swing / The President's Analyst (Quartet) Two short and very welcome Lalo Schifrin scores on a single disc: Frank Perry's 1974 thriller with Cliff Robertson, then Theodore Flicker's hilarious 1968 satire starring James Coburn. The score for the '74 film is augmented by lots of jazzy source music; Flicker's wild comedy demanded an outrageous and fun musical approach (bringing to mind his famous '60s albums "Marquis de Sade" and "There's a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin' On").
14.1985 at the Movies (Varese Sarabande) A new recording of themes from 1985 movies. It was an amazing year that included classic scores from Silvestri, Grusin, Foster, Goldsmith, Shire, Mancini, Corigliano, Horner, Barry, Jones, Jarre, Delerue, Broughton and Kamen, all lovingly re-created 30 years later by David Newman conducting an L.A. orchestra on the legendary Fox scoring stage.
15.Obsession (Music Box; Tadlow) Bernard Herrmann's penultimate film score, surprisingly in two incarnations: A first-ever release of the original film tracks plus the remastered 1976 album, conducted by Herrmann (a 2-disc set on Music Box); and a new recording by Nic Raine conducting the Prague Philharmonic and Chorus (on Tadlow, also two discs, one of which is a Blu-Ray including video footage). A remarkable score in its original form, worth revisiting using today's technology.
16.Return to Oz (Intrada) David Shire's 1985 film-music masterpiece, presented as never before: the full 84-minute score, plus extras and the original album of highlights in a lavish 2-CD presentation. A magnificent, richly orchestrated and beautifully performed symphonic score – forgotten, perhaps, because it was in the service of a dark, unsuccessful (and maybe ill-advised) sequel to The Wizard of Oz.
17.The Silly Symphony Collection (Walt Disney) Under the heading of "never thought we'd see this" comes this pricey ($400) but, for Disney collectors, invaluable box of 16 vinyl LPs containing the scores for all 75 "Silly Symphony" shorts from 1929 to 1939, including such classics as "Skeleton Dance," "Three Little Pigs," "Flowers and Trees," "Music Land" and "The Old Mill." Extensive notes about the music, and the many previously uncredited composers (ranging from Carl Stalling to Frank Churchill and Leigh Harline), accompany the set.
18.Stormy Weather (Kritzerland) A 2-CD set from the classic 1943 musical (starring Lena Horne, Bojangles Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and others) and the first comprehensive collection of its terrific songs and even the underscore. Perhaps the most historically significant soundtrack release of the year.
19.Toby Dammit (Quartet) Nino Rota's delightful, jazzy score for Federico Fellini's bizarre, short film (one-third of 1968's Histoires Extraordinaires) based on an Edgar Allan Poe story and starring Terence Stamp as an actor slowly going mad. Fun bonus: outtakes from the recording session with the voices of Rota and Fellini.
20.Total Recall / Basic Instinct (Quartet) Two more Jerry Goldsmith classics – both for Paul Verhoeven thrillers – and with the participation of the composer's longtime recording engineer Bruce Botnick, sounding better than ever. Plus, in both, extensive notes that detail Goldsmith's collaboration with the director (in '90 and '92) and discuss why they remain among the composer's greatest late-career scores.
©2015 Jon Burlingame