• Cinncinnati Pops Heads into Space


    Kate Mulgrew, narrator.
    Cincinnati Pops/John Morris Russell
    Fanfare Cincinnati 15
    Total Time:  64:26
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: (*)***/****

     Several years have elapsed since the last film music compilation from the Cincinatti Pops.  John Morris Russell, who assumed the music director post after Erich Kunzel’s departure, has continued to incorporate standard pops favorites while also expanding their repertoire with new arrangements and commissioned works.  That is also the case here on Voyage which is the orchestra’s 96th album and is being released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.  For this occasion, Russell has culled together a collection of music reminiscent of the Boston Pops Out of this World album.  Here though composer Michael Giacchino gets to be front and center.

    Giacchino was commissioned to craft an orchestral work that captured the anxiousness and exhilarating thrill of the moon landing.  The resulting work is also assigned as the album’s title, Voyage.  The ten-minute piece features warm thematic writing in the sort of Star Trek-like style.  It is a rather gorgeous work with nice percussion touches and brass writing, but it also feels as if it is providing nice challenges across the orchestra.  After the initial thematic statement, the music shifts into a fascinating blend of repeated motives in a growing dense, somewhat dissonant mass before a glorious unison appears (taking a page from Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra opening as used in 2001: A Space Odyssey).  Giacchino fans will appreciate hearing some of his familiar scoring tropes as they provide transitions into his always engaging, rich thematic writing.  Time will tell if the piece gets more opportunities for performances in the coming years.

    There are some nice surprises along the way.  Russell frames the film music selections with movements from the titular classical science fiction nod, Holst’s The Planets.  He uses “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” as an opener to get things off to a nice start.  Later the other popular, “Mars, the Bringer of War” will serve as a penultimate track.  Of the three, it has the best bite.  The album closes with Holst’s Venus movement which features a reading of John Gillespie McGee’s “High Flight”.  The reading is by none other than Captain Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew.  Though, unfortunately, the album misses out on also including the theme from Star Trek: Voyager.  The tribute though to the moon landing, outlined in this text, does help provide a programmatic shape to the collection.

    Appealing first to a younger generation of music lovers, Russell kicks off the film music section with the title track to 2009’s reboot of Star Trek with Giacchino’s exciting new themes.  No science fiction film music compilation would be complete with at least some Star Wars music.  Here, we are treated to “The Jedi Steps and Finale” from Williams’ score to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Immediate comparisons between Williams’ own style and Giacchino’s can be made here as three selections from the latter’s score for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (“Jyn Erso and Hope Suite”, “The Imperial Suite”, “Guardians of the Whills Suite”) follow with about twelve minutes of music from that score.  It is also wonderful to see David Newman’s delightful parody score for Galaxy Quest being represented with the theme from that film.  On the orchestra’s Superheroes! Russell had included a suite that covered some of the great television themes of old.  Here Rebecca Pellett has created new arrangements of six themes in a new “suite” called Spaced Out! Favorite Sci-Fi TV Themes.  Each theme is assigned its own track which should satisfy fans who want to repeat any of them again.  One of the great surprises is that Williams’ themes from Lost In Space are included and used to bookend the collection.  The theme from the first two seasons kicks things off and the variation used for season three brings it to a close.  In between are brief covers of the themes for Battlestar Gallactica (sic), Dr. Who (the Ron Grainer version), Buck Rogers, and Space:1999.  This is the suite of favorites for Gen X-ers to be sure.  The other interesting selection here, and another nod that Russell keeps an ear open for new film music, is the inclusion of the theme from Justin Hurwitz’s score First Man (2018) which won a Golden Globe for best score this year.  The piece for harp and theremin makes for an interesting contrast to Giacchino’s more traditional commission which precedes it.

    Russell is wise to focus on more unique repertoire here which allows his orchestra room for their own interpretations of this music.  The sound here has a full, rich quality.  It might be just slightly bass heavy in spots (hard to tell on the downloaded version provided here).  The release is certainly filled with engaging music that is superbly played and well-sequenced. It also helps that there is not a lot of duplicated music here from other compilations.

  • 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.