Special Features

Soundtrack and Musicals CD Reviews


Published on June 1, 2004

Soundtrack and Musicals CD Reviews


Lots of terrific soundtracks this time around, starting with four current features, moving on to a fine series of film scores by various British composers, and ending with three interesting musicals.

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE – Original Soundtrack, Music by Ben Charest – Higher Octave Sound Tracks 7087 6182280 2 3V:

The music of the quirky French animated feature is one of the several things that makes the unusual film work. There is almost no dialog in the film, so the music takes on a greater importance. It is built around a swinging 30s-style jazz number with a sort of French Andrew Sisters vocal, Belleville Rendez-Vous (Appointment in Belleville). The style is strongly based on the great sound of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, and in fact in the film’s opening we see a jovial Django Reinhardt fingering his guitar with his three remaining fingers on the left hand (and when those aren’t enough, one of his Plastic-man-like feet). There’s also some French folk tunes, chase music, and even some jazzed-up Bach a la Jacques Loussier among the 19 cues. Charest, who is based in French Canada and has scored both features and documentaries, also cites influences ranging from French singers of the 50s and 60s and Neapolitan music to Frank Zappa. The main song is heard in three different versions – the last in English, though it doesn’t make any more clear what it’s all about. Part of the chorus is still “voodoo caca, voodoo caca” – perhaps best not to translate. [This label is also the home of two other great soundtrack albums: Winged Migration and Nowhere in Africa.]

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING – Music composed/orchestrated/conducted by Alexandre Desplat with The Pro Arte Orchestra of London – Lion’s Gate LGR 008:

Ah, nice to hear a soundtrack on a film played by a real orchestra, and without electronic gimmicks to make it sound more spectacular. Desplat’s score has a fine feeling of the period – the early Baroque in Holland – but without imitating the style. There is what sounds like an authentic selection on harpsichord which blends in perfectly. There’s also a piano solo, which of course wouldn’t be appropriate to the period. Sorry I can’t list the cues but they are printed over a still from the film on the jacket and are unreadable. Suffice it to say – a lovely film with a compelling and involving musical score that stands quite well on its own away from the screen.

BT – Music From and Inspired by the Film MONSTER – DTS 1112 (2 discs: 1 DTS 5.1 Audio DVD & 1 stereo CD):

I have no idea who or what BT is, but it/they are credited as writing, producing and arranging the original score. The sound track was conceived of and composed from the very beginning entirely in 5.1 surround sound because the producers wanted the music to involve the viewers of the film very directly. It does. In fact it appears that the creative use of surround sound is the primary attraction of the score, since it falls quite flat in the abbreviated 44.1 CD version included in the package. Most of it is not really music but various ambient sounds and environments with various degrees of heavy emotional disturbance about them. There are 24 separate cues on the DTS disc and 15 on the CD. I believe the score would appeal more to listeners who are already fans of the ambient/electronica genre, though I did find the use of surround in many of the cues very imaginative. I couldn’t help wondering if it would sound even better in 96K 5.1 DVD-A , but I suppose that would limit the audience for this soundtrack album. Since the surround is so vital to the sense of the thing, I would suggest that those who lack surround playback and a DTS decoder just see the film again rather than invest in the standard CD. Listing the cues wouldn’t have much value. i.e.: Turning Tricks, First Kill, Bad Cop, etc… [We have reviewed both the DVD-V of Monster as well as the documentary in our video reviews this issue.]

VAN HELSING – Original Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri – Decca B0002331-12 (Enhanced CD):

The current Dracula-killer meets the whole family of monsters epic has a suitably epic-sounding (and loud!) score which will probably be great fun for those who dug the movie but a complete bore for those who have avoided seeing it. It is an Enhanced CD but lacks the trailer for the film (which logic indicates would almost be a given – as done with the James Bond soundtracks) and substitutes marketing ploys for the comic book, PlayStation game and other sellable items, plus a few stills from the film. Cues are: Transylvania 1887, Burn It Down!, Werewolf Trap, Journey to Transylvania, Attacking Brides, Dracula’s Nursery, Useless Crucifix, Transylvanian Horses, All Hallow’s Eve Ball, Who Are They to Judge?, Final Battle, Reunited

BIG FISH – Music by Danny Elfman plus tracks from Peal Jam, Buddy Holly, Bing Crosby, Elvis, The Vogues, The Allman Bros. Band & Canned Heat – Sony Classical (!)/Epic SK 93094: [See our review of the movie in DVD Reviews this month.]

Another quirky soundtrack to a quirky film – about to be expected from director Tim Burton. The wild stories from his youth told by a father to his son are given musical settings with the seven tracks by various pop artists. Elfman has grown into an excellent composer for the films with 15 cues here covering a wide variety of moods and situations with symphonic underpinnings. The closing number is a duet sung by a pair of Siamese twins involved in one of the father’s tall tales. Lyrics are only provided for the opening Pearl Jam track.

THE CHASE – Music composed and conducted by John Barry – Columbia/Legacy CK 89265:

This 1966 film starred Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. In spite of these and other stars being involved, the film wasn’t well received. It followed the escape of a man from a Texas prison and the ensuing chase as he attempts to get home to see his wife. Barry’s score is a great listen, capturing an ominous Southern environment in sound – never mind that the composer is a Brit. Cues: Main title, The Chase is On, Saturday Night Philosopher, What Did I do Wrong?, Stop Talking Foolish, Look Around, The Beating, And You’ve Got One!, I Came to the End of Me!, Blues for Bubber, The Junkyard, I’ll Drink to That, The Killing – Next Morning, 2 bonus tracks

A most worthwhile series of film scores from Chandos…

The Film Music of RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, Vol. 1 – Scott of the Antarctic; Coastal Command Suite; The People’s Land – Merryn Gamba, sop./Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus/BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – Chandos Movies CHAN 10007:

More top British classical composers have contributed to scores for the screen than occurred in the U.S. Vaughan Williams is one of the towering presences in this area, but he didn’t get into it until he was 68 years old. A mention to fellow composer Arthur Benjamin resulted in his first score, for 49th Parallel. His biggest filmic achievement was undoubtedly the 1947 film Scott of the Antarctic. As is often the case, major portions of the score VW had penned were not used in the final cut of the film, and this is the premiere recording of the entire 41-minute score. Later the composer used some of the themes in his Sinfonia Antarctica. The marvelous impressionistic tone-painting of the sea which VW had done in his Sea Symphony was here transformed into a strong aural feeling of the coldness, howling winds and hardships of the exploration. The wordless vocalise of the soloist and a women’s choir added to the sense of isolation and loneliness. Coastal Command was a wartime documentary on the British flying boats which patrolled the North Sea for Germain raider vessels. The stirring score has considerable depth that one would not expect to find in such functional soundtrack work. The People’s Land is also a premiere recording of music written for a documentary, but doesn’t hold must interest musically.

The Film Music of DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, Vol. 2 – Suite from The Golden Mountains; Suite from The Gadfly; Volochayev Days – BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky – Chandos Movies CHAN 10183:

The Soviet regime recognized the persuasive power of film from the beginnings of the revolution, and many of the leading Russian composers have been involved in composing for films as a result. Shostakovich is probably the biggest name of all in this regard. Vol. 1 in this series included King Lear, The Man with a Gun, A Girl Alone and The Maxim Trilogy. Many of his scores were for films concerned with the revolution or revolutionary activity. For example, The Gadfly was about the illegitimate son of a Catholic cardinal fighting to unify Italy and The Golden Mountains was about a workers’ strike in the St. Petersburg ironworks in l905. The first brings in some Italian folk themes for color and some of its tunes have been excerpted in collections of lighter Shostakovich works. The Romance theme from this film was much later used in the score to the popular BBC TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies. Volochayev Days concerns a Japanese attack on Vladivostok in l918 during a time of strained Russo-Japanese relations. Being the work of Shostakovich, the scores are worthwhile listening on their own; as a matter of fact most would probably be bored by the films themselves at this point.

The Film Music of SIR ARTHUR BAX – Oliver Twist; Malta GC – BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba – Chandos Movies CHAN 10126:

The classic 1948 David Lean film of Oliver Twist starred Alec Guinness as Fagin. A suite of music from the film with the original conductor, Muir Mathieson, has been the main source for the music over the years. Due to recent discoveries, this 60-minute much more complete version of the score is presented here in its premiere recording. The prominent piano part is played by Paul Janes. The music is heard in the order in which it appeared in the film or at least was intended to appear before it was cut. Some of the cues had to be re-created from the original soundtrack. There are 30 separate cues, each of which are described in detail in the note booklet. Without the dialog or film images, following it while listening is rather like following the detailed scenario of a full-length ballet.

Bax also came to writing for films late in life, namely in l942 for the British documentary on the island of Malta during and after air attacks from both Italy and Sardinia in WW II. GC stands for George Cross, awarded to the island for its heroic resistance. There are four cues from the second reel of the film: Gay March, Quiet Interlude, Work and Play, March.

Quiet on the Set – James Galway At The Movies – Themes from The Horse Whisperer, Il Postino, Forrest Gump, Emma, Far and Away, Moulin Rouge, Tarzan, Cinema Paradiso, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Braveheart, A Room with a View, Notting Hill, O Brother Where Art Thou? – Galway, flute/London Mozart Players/Thomas Kochan – RCA Red Seal 50932-2:

In his second collection of film theme arrangements for flute and orchestra, James Galway draws mostly from films of the last couple decades. He has chosen themes a bit off the beaten tracks and stresses their lovely melodic content rather than trying to emulate dramatic moments straight off the soundtracks. Nature Boy is actually the selection from Moulin Rouge and the Room With a View track is Puccini’s area O mio babbino caro. The skillful and touching arrangements are by conductor Thomas Kochan. A most enjoyable program of varied film music for either background or foreground listening.

Three musicals – one new and two classics….

THE THING ABOUT MEN – Music by Jimmy Roberts, Book/Lyrics by Joe Dipietro – Original Cast Recording – DRG Theater 94772:

This is the new musical comedy from the creators of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. That one was more of a musical pastiche, but the new effort has a more unified theme – that of the changing and ambivalent emotions of the three main players in the story. The lyrics and dialog are as up to date and believable as were those of the first musical, and they continue the concerns with love and relationships in today’s difficult world. The story idea is based on the German film “Men” by Doris Dorrie. Tom (who has not been faithful) discovers his wife Lucy is having an affair. He moves out and somehow ends up answering an ad (under an assumed name) for a roommate put up by Sebastian, Lucy’s lover. The two men find they have much in common although Tom is a top ad executive and Sebastian is a destitute artist. The rest revolves around Tom’s scatterbrained efforts to get Lucy back, which he eventually does. The 20 tracks are all hip and many hilarious. The humorous hit would be the song sung by the maitre’d of an exclusive Manhattan dining spot, You Will Never Get Into This Restaurant. I highly recommend this disc if you dig contemporary musicals.

WONDERFUL TOWN (Leonard Bernstein/Comden & Green) – Starring Donna Murphy – New Broadway Cast Recording – DRG Theater 12999:

The original 1952 Bernstein musical was no West Side Story or Candide but was still one of the brightest, wittiest and most fun musicals from the pen of the versatile composer-conductor. Part of the fun was his collaboration with the irrepressible duo of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, whose lyrics haven’t been surpassed by anyone since in my estimation. A terrific bonus on this CD is two tracks recorded by the amazing pair themselves in l953, in which they do four different songs from the show. The musical evokes a mythologized New York that really is (was) a wonderful town to live in; it’s full of affection and good feelings as well as laughs. The arrangements and presentation have been updated a bit, but not to the point of losing the sense of the 50s original. Sonics are also first-rate. Tracks: Overture, Christopher Street, Ohio, Conquering New York, One Hundred Easy Ways, What a Waste, A Little Bit in Love, Pass the Football, Conversation Piece, A Quiet Girl, Conga!, My Darlin’ Eileen, Swing, Ohio (reprise), It’s Love, Ballet at the Village Vortex, Wrong Note Rag, Finale, Bonus tracks performed by Comden & Green

FLAHOOLEY – Music by Sammy Fain, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg – Orig. Broadway Cast (1951) – Ernest Truex, Barbara Cook, Yma Sumac, Irwin Corey – Capitol/DRG Theater 19059 mono:

This was the start of Barbara Cook’s long career in musicals; Yma Sumac was a last-minute insertion when Fain heard her sing and was captivated by her wide-range vocal talents. The musical fantasy did well in tryouts but got unfortunate reviews in New York. The story centers around a young couple who work in a giant toy factory; Flahooley is a new laughing doll invented by the young man for Christmas sales. An absent-minded and claustrophobic genie in an Aladdin’s lamp is also part of the convoluted plot; he’s sought by a a delegation from Arabia (led by the Yma Sumac character of course). Puppets from the Bil & Cora Baird Marionettes company are also a major part of the festivities – heard in a couple numbers as the rather annoying Puppet Singers. The music is OK but there doesn’t seem to be a single tune that stands out separately from the show. And Harburg’s lyrics are not exactly Ira Gershwin or Sondheim level either. The sonics don’t sound very dated in spite of being mono.

– Reviews by John Sunier




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