• Review: RPO Hollywood Film Music Collection



    The Golden Age of Hollywood ****



    RPO 017

    15 tracks – 77:26


    The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra averted disappearing altogether decades ago when Louis Clark and the ensemble released the multi-million selling disco album, Hooked on Classics.  Over the years the orchestra has classed up what used to be referred to as “elevator music” while still maintaining a number of superb classical releases.  It is this versatility which can sometimes be overlooked for “serious” ensembles.  Film music collectors may recall several fine film music compilations with the orchestra under the baton of Elmer Bernstein, Carl Davis, and John Scott.  Over the past decade, the orchestra has released on its own label a variety of contemporary film music, often conducted by the composers, from their concert series.  The discs have been exclusively available from the orchestra’s website.  The Golden Age of Hollywood comes from their Here Come the Classics series of which this 2006 release is volume 17!  One can hope that more film compilations will find their way to the states. 


    The current release will best be enjoyed if one simply forgets its title and just listens to the resulting music since much of the music comes from the late 1950s or 1960s.  The oldest music represented here is Gone With the Wind whose requisite “Tara” theme must appear.  The album is bookended by music from two classic Western scores, Jerome Moross’ The Big Country and Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven (in an arrangement by Paul Bateman).  The former makes for a fine opening, though the Warner Brothers fanfare in the following familiar Casablanca suite might have worked better.  The performance of the suite is filled with sliding strings and a bit too much bass, but manages to work just fine once the suite settles in to its more pop music big tune “As Time Goes By”.  Personally, it always is fascinating that any of Steiner’s music shows up at all as the orchestra could have simply played a banal arrangement.  But it is a reminder at the effectiveness of borrowed tunes and Steiner’s reworking of them that still makes Casablanca a classic score and film. 


    The suite from Korngold’s The Sea Hawk is a welcome departure from more Robin Hood music, though one does wish for a bit more Korngold.  The big romantic cinema concertos from Rozsa’s Spellbound score (which sounds like there is a theremin being used and Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto” from Dangerous Moonlight (Suicide Squadron) are well performed with great rubato by the orchestra and Roderick Elms.  The familiar “Love Theme” and “Parade of the Charioteers” from Ben-Hur also make their requisite appearances here.  The “Love Theme” features a rather gorgeous violin solo and quite moving performance.  Rozsa’s parade work must not be difficult as it seems to receive fine performances on disc a lot and this one is just as good as many others with fine brass playing. 


    The odder choices, though no less well-performed, are the main theme from The Guns of Navarone.  Its appearance after Herrmann’s suite from Psycho allows for an interesting comparison of styles.  While having some Herrmann on the release, neither selection is arguably “Golden Age” material—especially his music for Taxi Driver which appears as a lengthy seven-minute track here.  The work is an intriguing choice and some of the swells are really well done.  Phil Todd’s saxophone solos sometimes feel a bit too harsh at times missing some of the noir-ish flavor of the original.  The selection itself just sort of ends rather oddly as well making the following Korngold selection a bit jarring.  The interpretation and music simply are out of place in the context of the rest of the music on the disc which hurts it more than is perhaps fair.


    The recording features fine performances of all this music in richer acoustics that sometimes make climaxes a bit compressed.  Some purists may also take issue with the flexible tempos but again the intent here is to present these works as concert pieces more than to remain terribly faithful to original film tempi.  The dynamic range is most pronounced in the selections from Psycho.  Serebrier proves to have some feel for these works and shapes the music perhaps more than some might like in the more romantic-tinged selections.  Apart from the quibble with many of the actual selections not being really Golden Age music, one can still enjoy this lengthy concert of great film music played by one of Great Britain’s premiere orchestras.

  • Review: New Rozsa Orchestral Music Release


    Rozsa: Hungarian Sketches/Cello Rhapsody

    Mark Kosower, cello. Budapest Symphony Orchestra MAV/Mariusz Smolj
    Naxos 8.572285
    Total Time:  57:06
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****


    Miklos Rozsa’s place in musical history would be secure if only his music from Ben-Hur was his sole output.  That film score came at the height of the composer’s time with MGM and after he had firmly established himself as the perfect film noir composer.  Historical epics would be important in Rozsa’s career and his attention to meticulous research and musical detail is often what sets these scores as prime achievements of their kind.  Rozsa, like other prominent Hollywood emigrant composers, also left a large body of concert work  which continues to be represented on CD, especially since the centenary of his birth.  Naxos has released one chamber music disc and two orchestral discs of which this latest one is the third.

    Conductor Mariusz Smolj’s earlier release featuring the Viola Concerto is simply one of the best Rozsa releases featuring a quite gorgeous work.  These recordings were made a while ago, but that should not be worth hesitation.  For this release, Smolj balances early and mid-career works. 

    The earliest work represented here is the Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 3 (1929).  This beautiful work, played superbly by Mark Kosower of the Cleveland Orchestra, is filled with lyrical melodies beginning with the opening cello solo.  An arch-form piece, the Rhapsody is a good representative of early Hungarian orchestral music with those ethnic rhythmic ideas alongside a more traditional European orchestral sound.  The work was Rozsa’s first published piece and it receives a dedicated performance here in what is one of the examples of the composer trying to discover his unique voice.

    The disc opens with what is one of Rozsa’s strongest concert works, 1956’s Overture to a Symphony Concert, Op. 26a.  Apart from its poor title, the work is a perfect example of the composer’s strong melodic writing and semi-modal style heard in his biblical epics.  The opening contrapuntal fanfare grabs the attention and the work continues its strong emotional pull throughout.  Pure concert music does not get quite as good as this and its accessibility should help make it a good repertoire piece.  The other later work was composed on through a commission arranged by Eugene Ormandy.  The Notturno ungherese, Op. 28 premiered with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1963 concert season and is a work of quiet beauty (those gorgeous melodies could have come from King of Kings), though with a fabulously eerie climax.  (The piece is actually connected to a project to create new music of a more tranquil variety primarily for Howard Hanson’s students at the Eastman Rochester School and later expanded to encourage contemporary works for other regional orchestras.)

    The last, and most substantial work on the disc, is the three-movement Hungarian Sketches, Op. 14.  The work was intended to pay homage to his homeland and this is accomplished through three distinct miniatures.  The opening “Capriccio” features changing meters and that at times seem a bit influenced by Stravinsky’s Firebird.  The following “Pastorale” is a great example of Rozsa’s orchestration.  It features two themes as well and these move through perfect tone painting of which one highlight is the depiction of birds “singing” in three different keys.  The final “Danza” is a study in rhythm with three primary sections a sort of fast dance, a more stable peasant dance and an exciting fanfare conclusion.

    The performances by the Budapest orchestra are well-captured and there is a real shaping of the music here that shows a dedication from all concerned.  The acoustic is also quite warm and the program helps to create plenty of contrast.  Fans of Rozsa’s music will surely enjoy hearing some of the same musical gestures in these concert works that would become hallmarks of his style in his film music.  It would be quite fascinating to hear the orchestra perform some of Rozsa’s film works as well but these are highly recommendable performances.