• 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

  • Music For Strings by Italian Film Masters

    Cinema for Strings
    Santa Cecilia Strings/Luigi Piovano
    Outhere Music 440
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    Italian film is indelibly linked to two masters of film music Nino Rota (1911-1979) and Ennio Morricone (1928-) whose music accompanied some of the first internationally-recognized Italian films of the 1950s and 1960s.  Nicola Piovani (1946-) would be part of an almost second resurgence of interest in Italian film in the 1990s when his beautiful score for La Vita Bella (1997) won an Oscar.  All three composers also have written a variety of concert music and this balance between film and the concert world is on display in this new release featuring the Santa Cecilia Strings.  Each composer is represented by a major concert work and then selections from their film scores making for a fascinating concert of music.

    Rota’s Concerto for Strings (1964-65) seems to have worked its way into the repertoire of many chamber ensembles.  The four-movement work is a mix of Prokofiev (especially in its final movement) and decidedly heart-breaking turns of tonality in a mostly Neo-Classical style.  There have been a number of recordings of this over the years but Piovano manages to make this work an intense and engaging experience with fantastic attention to dynamic swells and decrescendos throughout the performance.  It makes perhaps the best case for this work yet and that final movement breezes along.  Next up is a brief suite of two themes from La Strada (1954) leading with the delightful gallop and then followed with an exquisite violin introduction to Gelsomina’s theme.  The gorgeous love theme from Romeo and Juliet (1968) follows and this portion of the program concludes with the delightful music from Amarcord (1973).  These new arrangements by Guido Ricci are well shaped and feel very faithful to the original expressions.  In one sense, these different selections provide a cross-section of Rota’s lyrical writing, romantic themes, and even experimental flirtations.

    The Morriconne section is bookended by the familiar “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission (1986) and  new version of the theme “Mose” from Gianfranco De Bosio’s 1974 TV miniseries.  Paolo Pollastri is the featured soloist in the former.  This is a more intimate version from the glossier romantic ones that have tended to be recorded over the years.  Part of this is due to a little drier acoustic that creates a crisp sound here.  The other work was first written for Morriconne’s collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma.  He revisited this for Piovano who performs it here in a stunningly heartbreaking interpretation.  But first one must prepare themselves for one of the composer’s more intense modern concert pieces, the Music for 11 violins.  Written around 1958, the piece is one of the first works of free serialism in Italian music.  It makes for a rather intense work.  What one misses in an audio-only performance is that the work incorporates a “12th” violinist who is absent.  This component is one of the serial integrations of silence in the work.  Should one hear how this music parallels the composer’s many experimental horror genre scores of the 1960s and 1970s, he would incorporate it later into his score for A Quiet Place in the Country (1968).  The other intense concert work here is Arcate di archi (Meditation in D).  The piece is a rethought work for strings from the composer’s 2014 Arcati di archi e bambino.  A solo cello section was specifically composed for Piovano and this recording.  The music feels like a blend of the experimental and lyrical sides of Morricone.  There is almost a sense that he is deconstructing longer thematic material into its smallest components with moments where longer lines appear like memories that flit across one’s mind.  The result is perhaps one of the composer’s most deeply personal and moving works that catches one off guard when these beautiful threads appear almost randomly in the texture.

    Finally, we turn to music of Piovani to round off the program beginning with a significant concert work Il canto dei neutrino.  Written in 2012 for the performers on this release, the work is cast as a rhapsody with three sections played without pause.  As the title suggests, Piovani is exploring music at its basic smallest level.  The opening incorporates a four-note motif from Shostakovich’s first cello concerto.  This little motif then begins its journey surrounded by a magical combination of strings, harp, celesta, and percussion sometimes creating an almost Desplat-like quality.  The music here is quite accessible as it moves forward with the motivic development being one of the structurally-unifying factors.  Across this span is an engaging solo cello line that explores Piovano’s own virtuosic skill in both rapid passage work and longer lyrical stretches.  A magical quality seems to cast itself across the music, one of the stylistic aspects that places this firmly within Piovani’s more familiar film work.  The central section is a gorgeous romantic moment.  The result is an engaging and often fascinating work that has a great dramatic flow that feels slightly thin orchestrally, but this also can be part of the clear compositional writing of Piovani.  As a sort of encore, the album ends with two of the composer’s most famous themes, perhaps, from La Vita Bella.  “Buongiorno Principessa” is featured in a 1999 arrangement that highlights Piovano’s solo artistry.

    Cinema per Archi is an excellent collection of concert music and representative film music from three of Italy’s finest composers of the latter.  It is a very intelligently thought out program.  The performances are all excellent here with musical nuances being caught perfectly.  The attention to detail lends another level of shape to this music that is often forgotten when just focusing on another read-through of a familiar theme.  Each of the concert pieces equally creates a space for listeners to hear how these composers approach the interworkings of their musical materials in unique ways.  There individual styles and musical languages also tend to shine through as well.  This is a release that lovers of Italian film music, or fans of these composers will likely return to again and again for the musical challenges that appear as well as for the often gorgeous lyrical themes that appear throughout this fine album.