• 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.


  • 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.