• 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

  • Genius of Film Music--LPO Concert Release

    Last year, we saw a release of film music for Hitchcock films conducted by John Mauceri.  That Toccata Classics release was a welcome return to Hollywood music for the conductor.  Mauceri returns, this time on the London Philharmonic’s own label for a two disc set of great film music.  The previous release was recorded with the Danish National Orchestra in November of 2013.  This is from a concert held that same month at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, London.  It was part of The Rest is Noise festival inspired by Alex Ross’ book of the same title.  For the most part, the release features a host of new symphonic arrangements, most by Mauceri, that received their world premieres at this concert.  He had the opportunity to access original score material to help prepare the works heard here.  The program is split perhaps by the concert program itself.


    Disc one launches with Alfred Newman’s 20th Century Fox Fanfare.  It makes for a great sonic explosion into the program.  Mauceri then proceeds with a couple of these new adaptations.  The first is a 25-minute work culled from Alex North’s monumental score for Cleopatra (1963).  Commissioned by Anna North and given the title Cleopatra Symphony, the piece is really two significant symphonic poems.  The first movement focuses on the music between “Caesar and Cleopatra”.  It is some of North’s most modern writing with excellent modal writing and quartal melodic writing.  The great love theme helps hold together the more lyrical “Antony and Cleopatra”.  In essence it is a great way to explore this monumental work, one of North’s finest.  Then it is off to a collection of themes and materials from Nino Rota’s classic Godfather scores in an extended symphonic portrait.  This too provides a wonderful synopsis pulling together significant music from the trilogy into a coherent musical suite.  If there was only one reason to purchase this set, and there are certainly plenty (!), it would be for the performance of “The Ride of the Cossack’s from Waxman’s Taras Bulba.  The performance here is stellar and points to the sort of attention to detail and excitement Mauceri brings out from the LPO.  It makes for a fantastic conclusion to the first part of the disc.


    There is one work that appears on both of these releases, Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra.  While Toccata beat the actual premiere to disc by a few months, it is still great to have this fascinating collection of sequences together in this amazing Herrmann work.  The LPO does an equally fine job exploring this interesting exploration of serial technique that is an intricate part of the score.  The piece was created at the request of Norma Herrmann who provided Mauceri with manuscripts in 1999 to help create this new concert work.  Next up is an amazing suite of music from Kaper’s fabulous score for Mutiny on the Bounty (1962).  A sense of the composer’s ability to mix ethnic musical ideas with unique instrumentation comes to the forefront.  The beautiful South Seas melody is given a choral setting in what is another stellar highlight of the concert.  Carol Goldsmith commissioned the next work, “The New Enterprise” taken from her husband’s classic Star Trek-The Motion Picture (1979).  Using the original orchestrations in the score, Mauceri has constructed this 8-minute set of variations on the classic theme for Kirk’s refitting of the new starship.  It is very nice to hear some of those high string ideas in perfect tune!  Henry Mancini’s arrangement of “Deborah’s Theme” from Once Upon a Time in America essentially rounds off the program.  However, there is a brief “encore” from Lawrence of Arabia: “Lawrence and the Desert”.  The piece was a request by the orchestra, who performed the original soundtrack back in 1962.  It too uses the original orchestrations as the basis for the concert work.


    The London Philharmonic Orchestra has put together one of the finest film music compilations of the year.  Beyond being a souvenir of what must have been a fantastic live concert, they have managed to capture this music in glorious sound.  Attention to accents and rhythmic clarity are essential in the North and Waxman works particularly and it is handled very well.  Then there are the many beautiful lyrical thematic ideas that are included here and these each receive fine performances.  Though the arrangements are all by Mauceri, the essence and personal styles of each composer are well respected.  These selections become windows into some of the finest film music of the last century.  We can only hope that Mauceri continues to be captured on disc surveying more great film music.  It just does not get more glorious than this!  Though these are live concerts, audience noise is nonexistent and the audio is superb.