December 30, 2011
Classic Film Scores: The Best of 2011
Herrmann centennial inspires multiple premiere releases by Jon Burlingame
It's been another banner year for classic film music on CD. The surprising number of restorations, re-recordings and improved-sounding reissues has made it a great time to be a film-music fan. Among the best of these from the past year, in alphabetical order:
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Volumes 1 and 2 (Varese Sarabande): Bernard Herrmann composed the scores for 17 episodes of this classic 1960s anthology series, including some of TV's strangest and most unsettling hours: "The Life Work of Juan Diaz," "The Jar" and "An Unlocked Window." All 17 are on these collections – a total of five CDs – which mark the first time that Universal has allowed a record label to plumb its vaults for series-TV music (and hopefully not the last).
Battle of Neretva (Tribute): Bernard Herrmann's powerful score for a 1969 film about the Yugoslav partisans battling the Nazis during World War II gets the usual superb Morgan & Stromberg treatment (John Morgan, restorer; William Stromberg, conductor of the Moscow Symphony). Rounding out the album are 17 minutes of Herrmann's The Naked and the Dead (1958); thorough notes by Jim Doherty and Kevin Scott explain many of Herrmann's choices, including Neretva's extensive reuse of music from the composer's earlier film and concert work.
Bernard Herrmann at 20th Century-Fox (Varese Sarabande): The year's single most ambitious film-music project includes fourteen discs of Herrmann's 18 scores for the studio (more than a third of the composer's entire feature-film output). Producers Nick Redman and Bob Townson offer CD premieres of The Snows of Kilimanjaro, White Witch Doctor, 5 Fingers and Hangover Square; and expanded versions of others including Garden of Evil, King of the Khyber Rifles, Prince of Players, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Tender Is the Night. Insightful notes by Julie Kirgo and Herrmann biographer Steven Smith.
The Black Hole (Disney / Intrada): John Barry's 1979 science-fiction opus (once thought impossible to restore because of the early digital technology he employed) resurfaced in terrific sound. Barry combined traditional orchestra with synthesizers for this alternately fantastic and mystical journey beyond the stars.
Classic Film Scores (RCA Red Seal, through Sony Masterworks) From 1972 to 1977, conductor Charles Gerhardt and producer George Korngold created a landmark film-music series by revisiting the classic works of Korngold, Steiner, Newman, Rozsa, Waxman, Herrmann, Tiomkin and other composers. These albums introduced an entire generation to classic film music of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. The initial CD releases were sonically unsatisfactory, so this remastered series of 13 CDs (also including David Raksin's own album) is welcome and a must-have for any film music fan.
The Counterfeit Traitor (Kritzerland): Producer Bruce Kimmel been releasing a surprising number of worthy scores, not the least of which is this 1962 Alfred Newman score for a World War II spy thriller starring William Holden. Newman's "Marianna" theme for Lilli Palmer remains among his most memorable.
Days of Heaven (Film Score Monthly): The first authorized CD release of Ennio Morricone's 1978 masterpiece, including his entire score (some used, some not, in the final version of Terence Malick's period film about a tragedy-scarred romance on a turn-of-the-century Midwestern farm). One of the most evocative scores of its decade – earning, surprisingly, Morricone's first Oscar nomination.
The Fall of the Roman Empire (Prometheus): Perhaps Dimitri Tiomkin's last great score finally receives its due: A complete reconstruction and re-recording, over two hours of grand, epic music for Samuel Bronston's underrated 1964 epic. Producer James Fitzpatrick (responsible for last year's The Alamo reconstruction) oversaw this 138-minute production in Prague with Nic Raine conducting.
Georges Delerue: Partitions inedites (Universal France): French producer Stephane Lerouge has been tireless in his quest to find, unearth and release important scores by French composers including Maurice Jarre and Michel Legrand. This year, he offered us 65 minutes of unheard Delerue music from Something Wicked This Way Comes (a dark, partially choral work from 1983) and Regarding Henry (an especially gorgeous one, featuring solo violin, from 1991).
The Great Train Robbery (Intrada): Writer-producer-director Michael Crichton inspired some of Jerry Goldsmith's best work, and this 1979 score for his 19th-century heist lark starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland – released in its complete form for the first time – has never sounded better. Tremendous fun, along with notes by Goldsmith expert Jeff Bond.
Gremlins (Retrograde): Until this year, only 16 minutes of Jerry Goldsmith's delightful score for Joe Dante's 1984 fantasy romp had ever been commercially available; with the release of this 2-CD set (co-produced by Goldsmith's engineer Bruce Botnick), a major gap in the maestro's oeuvre has been filled.
Michel Legrand: Suites Cinematographiques (Universal France): The year's most intriguing collection of forgotten, unheard or otherwise obscure film music – Legrand's piano concertino for the Joan Collins miniseries Sins (1985); 11 minutes of his unused score for Robin and Marian (1976); the unused opening of Pret-a-Porter (1995); a 16-minute suite from The Legend of Simon Conjurer (2006); and especially 15 minutes of his TV-movie The Adventures of Don Quixote (1973) featuring the remarkable violinist Ivry Gitlis.
The Moneychangers (Intrada): Henry Mancini was not just a great film composer; he contributed a lot of fine music to TV, too. The Thorn Birds remains the best-known of his miniseries, but he actually wrote more themes, and more music overall, for this 1976 NBC mini based on the Arthur Hailey novel of banking shenanigans (that, annotator John Takis points out, is even more relevant today). A welcome restoration of a lost Mancini masterwork.
1941 (La-La Land): John Williams' 1979 score for Steven Spielberg's much-maligned wartime comedy was restored to full length by producer Mike Matessino in a two-disc set that included the entire score, the original soundtrack album and tons of extra music. It's nice to finally have the original jitterbug highlight, "Swing, Swing, Swing" with the great Louis Bellson on drums.
Satyricon / Roma (Quartet): To celebrate composer Nino Rota's centennial, Quartet issued a double bill of two of his most unusual scores, for Fellini's 1969 and 1972 explorations of ancient and modern Rome. Not for all tastes, but a welcome reminder of Rota's willingness to explore strange musical realms; and the best these scores have sounded since their initial appearance on LP.
Space: Above and Beyond (La-La Land): This 3-CD set showcases some of composer Shirley Walker's finest work, the scores for a 1995–96 Fox sci-fi series about a group of hotshot astronauts battling hostile aliens; Jeff Bond provides the thoughtful notes.
Summer and Smoke (Kritzerland): One of Elmer Bernstein's seminal Southern Americana scores comes to CD complete for the first time. It's a haunting and dramatic piece, based on the Tennessee Williams play and starring Geraldine Page and Laurence Harvey, that would earn the composer a 1961 Oscar nomination.
Taras Bulba (Tadlow): Franz Waxman's last great score, a mammoth orchestral work from 1962 completely restored and newly recorded by Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic. "Composed in the spirit and harmonic structure of Russian folk music," Waxman said, and it shows in this stunning 2-disc set that includes several folk-styled songs written for but not heard in the film. Thorough, explanatory notes by Frank DeWald aid our appreciation of this score.
The X-Files (La-La Land): The long-awaited, five-disc collection of composer Mark Snow's best work for the 1993-2002 sci-fi series starring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. It's called "Volume One," but this five hours of music may be all a fan needs: A musical experience as compelling as the series, all expertly illuminated by writer Randall Larson in his excellent notes; a terrific package.
©2011 Jon Burlingame