Star Trek

  • 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.

  • James Horner: In Memoriam

    The news of James Horner’s tragic death in a plane accident yesterday was an unfortunate loss to the film music world.  We offer our condolences to his immediate family and friends.  His music has touched many lives throughout the past 35+ years of his career.

    When I first began reviewing film music in the 1990s though, James Horner was sort of the lightning rod for film music critics, soon supplanted by Hans Zimmer’s Media Ventures crews.  Part of the reason for the invective, and again this was mostly from film music fans, was that quite often he seemed to reuse material.  This is a bit of a problem for someone steeped in the more traditional orchestral style of grand thematic ideas.  Today of course, with many non-theme scores in abundance, one could lay this claim at any number of artists.  But for Horner, this seemed to be a common complaint among fans.

    That said, there is still no denying that he wrote some truly wonderful film music.  For children of the 1980s and early 1990s he was certainly a composer whose work touched their lives through films like An American Tale (1986), Willow (1988), and The Land Before Time (1988).  Most of these young fans would then come to truly appreciate the work he would do with James Cameron, especially that for Titanic (1997)—a film that he could have ended a great career on.  More recently, it was Avatar (2009) that raised his name up again in blockbuster capacity.

    I tend to be one of those reviewers who had their share of frustration with Horner’s music over the past 30 years.  I can recall hearing the score for Willow and admittedly thinking this was just a knock-off of John Williams’ style.  That was a bit too dismissive, and also somewhat uninformed for the time.  That said, this is one of the first really big scores that I noticed—having missed two much grander endeavors.

    The first of these, a score I do thoroughly enjoy, is Aliens (1986).  While this took a lot of the edges of Goldsmith’s score for Ridley Scott’s film, the action sequences here were really pulse-pounding and helped create the sort of perfect match for the screen.  Gaining a better appreciation for Star Trek as an older adult, I also then discovered Horner’s “breakout” score, 1982’s The Wrath of Khan.  This is a sort of touchstone score in a couple of ways.  First it has some fabulous memorable themes.  However, it also incorporates a lot of music that certainly bears resemblance to a score that first got Hollywood’s attention: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980).  Of course, who would ever have thought that earlier score would have seen the light of day on CD anyway?

    What film made me rethink Horner’s work and check out these earlier pieces?  It was his fascinating score for Glory (1989).  There is something about this film with this music that really resonated for me at the time.  The Americana touches, things that would be expanded in Horner’s other Americana styled films (like the superb Field of Dreams), were given further impact by some beautiful choral writing.  This remains one of my favorite scores of the period.  It seems to have incorporated some of Horner’s wonderful text-setting skill, with excellent matching to film with the score.  It was likely a great experience that prepared him for an equally wonderful piece for Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995).  One need listen to the more recent Apocalypto (2006) though to really see how far his art had come.

    The 1990s were fruitful for Horner with interesting scores, many for critically acclaimed Ron Howard films.  This is another of those great matchings of director and composer, one of several Horner had throughout his career.  The early 21st Century found him luxuriating in good projects.  Many of the films he scored tended to do well at the box office with a few noticeable disappointments (The New World and even Apocalypto could fall into that category).  Even then, there was no denying Horner’s ability to find an emotional core for a film.

    Among these later scores, his music for Iris (2001) was striking.  Continuing a thread of minimalist-like writing that appeared also that year in A Beautiful Mind, Horner’s music melded so well with this film and is an equally fascinating listen.  Ironically, these two works have their roots in another less seen film, Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993).  Or, perhaps these three films represent Horner’s particular approach to scoring music dealing with the inner life of our thoughts and brain patterns?  Perhaps here is where we see that all those earlier complaints of self-plagiarism were perhaps simply examples of a composer re-using similar approaches for similar narrative themes.

    As the film music community today mourns the loss of this popular and sometimes controversial composer, perhaps we will now be able to fully reflect on this vast body of work.  It will be time to start seeing how specific themes and musical approaches were common departures for what is still some wonderful music that stands on its own time and again.  For all of the many film music fans who understand this, they can help us see how one man did his job so well again and again.  The music will live on.