• Exploring Hollywood Film Music at the End of the 20th Century

    The Genius of Film Music: Hollywood Blockbusters 1980s to 2000s
    London Philharmonic Orchestra/Dirk Brosse
    LPO 0110
    Disc One: Total Time:  54:12
    Disc One: Total Time:  42:30
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    Here is more music from the series of film music concerts held at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London, in November 2013 as part of The Rest Is Noise festival inspired by Alex Ross’s book of the same title.  A previous set featured John Mauceri conducting the orchestra in a program of music from the 1960s and 1970s was released in 2015.  As with that earlier two-disc set, this one two features two less than full discs of music likely parallel to the concert program itself.  Dirk Brosse, who has been a part of the superb Ghent Festival compilations, and more recently subbed for an ailing John Williams, is on the podium here for a program that features some familiar favorites and a few surprising and welcome choices.  The music gives us an overview of composers working in the grand Hollywood style, more Italianate writing, and an eye towards shifting trends exploring post-minimalist and modern shifts.

    The program is framed by classic music by Williams.  First is the Star Wars Symphonic Suite which covers three selections: the “Main Title”, “Princess Leia’s Theme”, and the “Imperial March” (leaving off “Yoda’s Theme” and the “Throne Room and Finale” otherwise included).  The familiar “Raider’s March” will bring disc two to a close.  These are fine performances with just a little added dramatic flair which works fine here.  But really one wants to move on to some of the more interesting program here.

    The Williams’ suite is the opening work on disc one and is balanced by two additional suites.  In between are some familiar themes by Vangelis (Chariots of Fire) and Morricone’s gorgeous “Gabriel’s Oboe” (The Mission).  Love themes are alternated here for contrast with a wonderful choice in Hamlish’s gorgeous theme from Sophie’s Choice (with a moving cello solo) and then later the delightful theme from Bacalov’s beautiful Il Postino.  One of the nice surprises here is “Laura Palmer’s Theme” which appears as part of a Twin Peaks suite by Badalementi which Brosse included in his Ghent program back in 2008.  The music moves us into darker musical territory providing excellent contrast with its noir-ish style coupled with wonderfully romantic themes. A bit of romanticism edges in for the suite from Elmer Bernstein’s The Age of Innocence before we turn to Danny Elfman’s witty music for The Nightmare Before Christmas presented as an 8-minute suite (a rather surprising choice considering the options from the composer’s work in this time).  This serves though as a nice stylistic contrast to the close of disc one.

    Disc two’s program begins with the simple pleasures of Piovani’s score for La Vita e bella.  The four-movements here include his wonderful love theme (“Buongiorno princepessa”), the “Grand Hotel Fox Trot”, a fugue and “Il carrarmato.”  The music here is a striking reminder how this stood apart from other 1998 scores in such a disarming way against the more serious story with its bend of romantic and dramatic scoring.  Jerry Goldsmith is represented with a suite (arranged by Alexander Courage) of his score and Matthew Wilder’s songs for Disney’s Mulan.  This presents part of a shift to adventurous film scoring that continues with Don Davis’ minimalist and post-modern styles that are represented in a fascinating suite of music from The Matrix Reloaded, another interesting choice.  Historical drama and adventure appear in the suite from Zimmer’s Gladiator score, important for essentially cementing the shift to the Remote Control/Media Ventures style of the following decade; though there is as much Wagner and Holst woven into the blend to connect with earlier Hollywood epics.  It brings us then to the aforementioned familiar Williams march.

    All told, like its predecessor, this is a truly excellent survey of film music in equally fine performances.  As with most compilations, it has just enough of some common works to give it broad appeal while also including additional selections that will peak the interest of a larger film music audience.  The pieces chosen also open the listener up to see some of the general trends and shifts that were occurring in this historical period.  That said, one basks in this glorious, and loving music making.  Brosse draws out of the LPO some emotional playing, especially in the love themes on disc one, that feature well-shaped phrasing and attention to detail.  This is another excellent survey worth considering and one only wishes it were longer.  Here’s hoping more of the series appears soon.— Steven A. Kennedy

  • New Film Compilation from RPO

     Hollywood Blockbusters

    Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Nick Ingman, Nic Raine
    RPO SP 034
    Disc One: Total Time:  60:56
    Disc Two: Total Time:  70:51
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    The Royal Philharmonic feature annual concerts celebrating film music and some of their Here Come the Classics series have included some film music along the way.  Many of their concert recordings are available solely through their website which makes them a bit harder to come by outside the UK.  The present release features selections from some of these earlier compilations recorded with Nick Ingman back in 2002, and with Nic Raine in 2009 and 2010.  Many of Raine’s own arrangements are featured here and parallel selections available on the Silva label which has been associated with over the past 20 years.

    The music is not really presented with any sort of program in mind, not even chronology.  One might be hard pressed to think of something like Chocolat as a “blockbuster” and a few other films sort of seem odd in that respect as well, but regardless, there is an interesting collection of film music all the same featuring mostly music from more recent films, though it runs back to some early Mancini (1958’s Peter Gunn theme) to Horner’s Avatar (2009).

    Disc One opens with Schifrin’s Mission Impossible TV theme in a more extended version, which seems a bit odd (disc two also opens with a TV theme).  But then we are off through a host of familiar melodies from Avatar, Gladiator, Forrest Gump, Out of Africa, The Pink Panther, The Thomas Crown Affair, Titanic, and License to Kill.  Some of the nice surprises in the programming are suites from Chocolate and Ratatouille.  Equally interesting is music from Desplat’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Zimmer’s The Da Vinci Code (oddly the least interesting piece here), and Horner’s A Beautiful Mind.

    An interesting mix of popular melodies (like Lai’s Love Story theme, Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”) are dispersed among more serious fare like the beautiful “Elegy for Dunkirk” (Atonement) and the theme from Schindler’s List.  A bit of music from the first Lord of the Ring’s films allows for some fantasy music that returns at the end with two familiar selections from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Interesting items also include a suite from Warbeck’s Shakespeare in Love and interesting music from Zimmer’s King Arthur.  Action music comes from the main theme for Elfman’s Batman and Arnold’s Quantum of Solace (though this is a more lyrical “A Night at the Opera”).  Morricone’s beautiful theme from Cinema Paradiso is also paired here with Leonard Rosenman’s arrangement of a Handel “Sarabande” as used in Barry Lyndon (1975).

    Overall, then this is a rather unusual mix of mostly contemporary film music.  There is plenty of familiar territory here for new or casual listeners, but also some good choices of less familiar composers and films.  They may not quite be “blockbusters” in the way we might think, but the music making is engaging enough to make it a disc that might make a great gift to a new film music enthusiast.  The second disc actually feels like it features the stronger program.  Something also to note is that there seem to be three distinct musical “approaches” here that come across in these studio recordings.  Some of the pop-like themes have a more easy listening feel to them while the jazz selections tend to be a bit hotter in the audio picture.  The more larger-scale orchestral arrangements fall closer to traditional film music recordings.  All of these feel multi-miked which takes away some ambience one might hear in a hall.  However, the performances are excellent throughout.  The booklet itself is pretty barebones with no real information about any of the films or pieces used here.