• 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.

  • Five Sax: At the Movies

    Five Sax is a group of international saxophone players who formed back in 2011.  The present disc features their own arrangements of a variety of film music.  Obviously not necessarily for purists, the album does feature some great virtuosic performances covering a blend of familiar and less familiar fare.


    The album opens with an interesting idea: a series of themes from classic pirate films from Korngold to Badelt/Zimmer.  The arrangement itself is overall quite good.  The music from Hook and the Korngold (with beautifully-shaped thematic playing here!) seems to fit best for the sound of the group, the punch of the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean adds some nice contrast rhythmically.  Personally, it might have been better placed at the end of the album to help orient the audience better to the overall sound of this music and with the somewhat exciting finale working well with added percussion.


    That said, the inclusion of music by Leroy Shields (1893-1962) will be the greatest find here.  Shields provided music for the Laurel and Hardy films and the ensemble has put together a little “suite” of sorts featuring five incidental pieces from these films (including the signature “Cuckoo” and delightful “Little Dancing Girl”).  The performances here are simply wonderful capturing the spirit of this music and the period quite wonderfully.  The theme from Rota’s score for 81/2 follows (this would have been a great opening track) and is another great highlight of this carnival like atmosphere.


    Next up are three more lyrical choices.  “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission may seem like a bold choice but demonstrates the expressive qualities of the soprano sax.  “Playing Love” (The Legend of 1900) is perhaps one of Morricone’s most masterful underscoring moments and this is an equally touching arrangement which also features pianist Jacek Obstarczyk.  “Married Life” from Up then seems like a very natural choice to flow out of these two pieces and is simply perfect.


    The CD then takes a bit of a left turn musically with a suite from Psycho!  The opening is less harsh, but the knife sequence is perhaps not quite as successful.  What is interesting is that one can hear some of the jazz-like rhythmic ideas of Herrmann’s score more clearly in this setting.  We get to recover a bit with a cover of “Hedwig’s Theme” (with some added percussion aiding the colors) and then an interesting suite of music from Shore’s The Lord of the Rings scores.  The latter is interesting but percussion ideas, while trying to get at the flavor of the music, do not work always as well.  Jazzier and rock influences provide musical contrast for Bono’s theme from Goldeneye, which works well.  Finally, we are in firm jazz territory with selections from Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther whose original sax solo is among the classic film themes for the instrument.  Here the added percussion and performance is simply spot on!  Three additional musical sequences follow from the 1964 film (“The Village Inn”, “Royal Blue”, and “It Had Better Be Tonight”) and are all excellently chosen for this ensemble.


    Five Sax have put together a really fun album of film music that explores the wide range of their ensemble of saxes.  The choices are performed with a great sense of the music’s original sound often with a real attention to detail and energy that draw you in rather quickly.  Some sequencing aside, the album plays quite well with listeners sure to find something that stands out to them along the way.  At the Movies is thus a fairly successful compilation of film music arrangements with fabulous performances on this wonderful Orlando Records release.