• 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

  • Nice RPO Compilation of Modern Film Music



    Hollywood Blockbusters 2, the latest compilation of film music from the Royal Philharmonic, explores scores from the last five years.  The recordings here were captured in two studio sessions; one in December of 2012 and one in January of 2015.  Nic Raine returns to the podium for this interesting collection of arrangements, some his own, some by Paul Bateman, and a host of others.

    Most of the tracks come from more serious dramatic films, but a few unique animation scores show up as well.  The disc opens with “Dragon Racing” from John Powell’s equally delightful sequel score How to Train Your Dragon 2.  Later an interesting little suite from Nick Urata’s Paddington score provides a bit of unusual syncopation and comedy scoring that the orchestra seems to take to quite well, and there is an instrumental of “Let it Go” from Frozen as a penultimate track lending a more pop feel.  That precedes the title Skyfall Bond song from Adele as a fitting close.

    John Williams is featured in three selections from his dramatic scores for Lincoln, The Book Thief—with a beautiful piano opening by Andy Vinter, and War Horse.  These are actually well done with their sweeping themes providing a nice contrast to the tracks they are lodged between.  Johannsson’s beautiful score from The Theory of Everything is represented by the touching “Domestic Pressures” which is contrasted by “Time” from Zimmer’s Inception score.  A brief flirtation with Broadway then occurs from selections to Into the Woods providing a lighter musical diversion.  Music from The King’s Speech offers a glimpse at Desplat’s light and restrained style for a track which takes its name from the film’s title.  Marianelli’s beautiful score for Anna Karenina is represented with the Russian-tinged waltz “Dance With Me.”  Fantasy fans get a brief nod as well with the inclusion of Shore’s moving “Ironfoot” from The Battle for Five Armies which adds chorus.

    What makes this release work is its well-conceived sequencing of musical styles from these contemporary films.  A good sense of individual composer voices is quite discernible throughout.  The choices are engaging and of course excellently performed with gorgeous sound and vibrant interpretations.  It really is yet another of many highlights from the RPO one that will make you want to go back and listen to many of the scores represented here.