Many film music fans will recognize John Morgan from his extensive reconstruction work on a variety of classic film scores recorded with William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony. This new collection of music features selections from several of his scores for short films and audioplays. As one might suspect, Morgan’s affinity for classic film music spills over into his own musical language.
The album opens with music from the 2004 critically acclaimed short film, The Visage. This is a little creepy score with gothic romantic music that comes to the forefront in its dark main title. As the score progresses, it is most reminiscent of a classic Herrmann score with its dark orchestral textures that swirl around Morgan’s theme. Anna Bonn Stromberg contributed a brief noir-ish “Saxophone Source Piece” and William Stromberg provided some additional music as well. With the Moscow Symphony at their disposal, the sound of the score is quite marvelous bringing out the rich, dark colors of Morgan’s score. Towards the end of the score a series of linked cues (“Pesky Corpse-Unrest-Harmonic”) give the listener a chance to hear some of the different orchestral techniques that Morgan uses to blend theme with even creepier musical styles to add tension. It makes for a fine introduction to this release.
At the center of the release are selections from an anthology film and a radio play. First is a suite from The Headless Horseman of Halloween (1996) which is sort of variant on the classic Irving story. The music here incorporates the Dies irae chant as well as some additionally Hermann-esque stylings and delicate flute and oboe writing. Here too the orchestral writing is stunning. The Trials of Mrs. Surratt (c. 1982) is from an audio play about the first woman tried through a military tribunal and executed for her part in Lincoln’s assassination. Some fourteen minutes or so of score appear here. Scored for brass and winds, it has a rather wistful Americana feel at times, with a beautiful opening trumpet theme. As it plays out, is feels like a long-lost Twilight Zone episode score. It is framed by a larger suite from the anthology film series for the episode “The Eggs”. The music here has been arranged into a longer concert work for chamber orchestra. It has a rather quirky feel part Herrmann, part Elfman, with nice wit in its orchestral hits and overall thematic development. The wind writing here is really a highlight. It is reminiscent of The Trouble With Harry.
Closing off the album is music from the The Medal (1992). Directed by Andrew DeCristofaro (an Oscar-nominated sound editor), the story follows a man who reflects back on a military medal he received as a youth and it becomes a symbol for him to carry on after his wife’s death. The film has a nostalgic and sentimental quality that comes across in Morgan’s beautiful score using a reduced chamber-size orchestra. “Graveyard” features a heart-melting thematic idea to open this often moving score with a truly inspiring “Finale”.
Morgan’s own style is an extension of the vintage film music he lovingly reconstructs. Gorgeous orchestral writing, a nod to Herrmann here and there, and engaging themes all make this release a delightful discovery. The release is available through the BuySoundtrax.com website.