Reviews of 29 Soundtrack Albums
Published on February 26, 2012
It’s been some time since we’ve reviewed some of the many soundtrack CDs currently available. Not only are the scores for current and recent films being constantly released, but there have been a number of collections of movie themes as well as scores for classic and even silent films. Let’s begin with some of the present-day film music, including the first two films – which garnered multiple awards at Sunday’s Oscar Ceremonies:
HOWARD SHORE: Hugo – orchestrated and cond. by Howard Shore – Howe Records HWR-1007 [Distr. by Sony Classical]:
This magnificent 3D film walked away with many honors at the Oscar ceremonies: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects. It had a terrific story with young actors, as well as a story-within-the-story about the pioneer early French filmmaker, Georges Melies (played by Ben Kingsley). The 21 cues mix the usual movie music with numbers in the Parisienne musette style, featuring a number of fine soloists on musette, piano, guitar, percussion and even one on Ondes Martenot (a sort of Theremin with a keyboard). There is also a vocal on the song “Coeur Volant.”
LUDOVIC BOURCE: The Artist – Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders/Ernst Van Tiel – Sony Music 88697978952:
This one racked up at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Costume Design and Best Musical Score. The score for this film was extremely important because it was basically a silent film. The music—presented here in 24 cues—carried the emotional progression of the film and brought out what the actors could not say in words. In addition to Bource’s original material, there are tracks of tunes of the 1920s, including one by Ellington, and even Estancia of Ginastera. Five different people participated in the arrangements, including Bource himself. While the music is in modern fidelity, it pays homage to the style often used with so-called “silent” movies.
JOHN WILLIAMS: War Horse – cond. by John Williams – Sony Music 88697975282:
Featuring a large symphony orchestra and good sonics, this latest collaboration of Spielberg and a John Williams score amounts to 16 cues on the disc, covering the original purchase and training of the horse, his adventures in World War I and his finale homecoming—all sort of from the horse’s perspective. The cues are as expected, including “The Auction,” “The Charge and Capture,” and “No Man’s Land,” and musically Williams doesn’t seem to be as derivative of other composers as sometimes Tin the past.
JOHN WILLIAMS: The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn – Sony Music 88697975882:
Again, a traditional orchestral score for this fine 3D photorealistic animated film which was based on the comic books created by Belgian author and writer Hergé in 1929. Williams again conducted the large orchestra, in which I noticed included Guy Klucevsek on accordion. It was the first animated film which Williams had scored. The two lead characters were each given their own themes—one for the young reporter who gets right into the action, and the one for the drunken sea captain sounds most appropriate but sobers up musically when the character does do. There are 18 cues, including excerpts from The Barber of Seville and Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette.
THOMAS NEWMAN: The Iron Lady – Sony Classical 88691914342:
Meryl Streep does her usual amazing bit in this portrait of the UK/s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. There are 22 cues, which include “Shall We Dance” from The King and I, Maria Callas singing “Casta Diva” from Norma, and ends with the short Bach Prelude No. 1 in C on piano. Some of the cues are only a minute or two in length. Interesting, but I can’t imagine even fans of the film wanting to hear the soundtrack separately.
TERENCE BLANCHARD: Red Tails – Soloists/FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Prague/Adam Klemens – Sony Clasical 88691943112:
32 short cues here, with the welcome programming of four 1940s tunes being grouped at the very end, after the end credits of “America the Beautiful” – rather than where they were heard in the actual film. They feature Harry James, The Andrews Sisters, Maxine Sullivan and The Ink Spots. This center film of a series of three concerning the Tuskegee Airmen has a most appropriate score by jazz trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard, who has done other film scores.
HOWARD SHORE: A Dangerous Method – adapted/orchestrated/conducted by Howard Shore – Howe Records/Sony Classical 88697987262:
This film deals with Freud and Jung and one of their subjects. Shore’s score makes some bows to the 1900s-period and Viennese location, but also has much more modern elements. There are 19 tracks, with the last being a complete performance by Lang Lang of the piano version of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. The note booklet has more color stills from the film than ones found in most film score CDs.
Shame – original soundtrack – Sony Classical 88691918762:
Only three of the 15 cues here are from the original score by Harry Escott and played by a 50-piece orchestra. The rest of the tracks were evidently selected by the director of the film: Steve McQueen. He says in the notes the backbone of the film’s music was the several selections played by Glenn Gould, which are very personal to the character of the subject of the film, Brandon. The Gould selections are all Bach, but there are also selections by Blondie, Chic, Howlin’ Wolf, Chet Baker, and John Coltrane plays “My Favorite Things.” A most unusual film and an unusual score to go with it. I didn’t care for the film, but the programming of the selections produces an interesting mood that might appeal to those who have not seen the film.
DAVID ARNOLD: The Chronicles of Narnia – The Voyage of The Dawn Treader – Orch. cond. by Nicholas Dodd – Sony Classical 88697811422:
An appropriately very lush and Romantic orchestral score supports the latest film in the Narnia franchise. (I personally prefer The Golden Compass, but musically this one is interesting.) There are 30 cues on this CD. Nothing like a cue titled “Dragon Attack” – great fun. There’s also a choir, synth stuff, a ram’s horn, penny whistle, duduk, Irish fiddler and even “ethnic percussion.” Wow.
ALEXANDRE DESPLAT: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 – London Symphony Orchestra cond. by Desplat – WaterTower Music WTM 39212:
An even bigger movie franchise here, and an even bigger and more glorious score to go with it. 26 cues support Harry’s latest exploits. An unusual step here is that this is an Enhanced CD, but instead of a short video it supposedly offers “Bonus Content.” Namely a URL to obtain a free 5.1 surround sound download of the complete score. That would presumably be playable if you had a surround sound card in your computer. At least that’s what the jewel box says. Actually, when you click on “Click here to obtain special promotion.” You get another screen saying “Sorry, promotion has expired.” Talk about dishonest advertising…
CONRAD POPE: My Week With Marilyn (Marilyn’s Theme by ALEXANDRE DESPLAT) – Sony Classical 88697983672:
The film is about a week in Monroe’s life during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, when her new husband Arthur Miller was away and a lowly 23-year-old set assistant escorted Marilyn during an idyllic week in which she got away from her Hollywood crowd and pressures. The orchestra is rounded out with a big band, piano soloist Lang Lang on six of the tracks, vocalist Michelle Williams on three of them, two tracks of Nat King Cole hits, and one by Dean Martin. The 26 cues capture the moods of the film, but probably wouldn’t be vital to those who haven’t seen it.
RACHEL PORTMAN: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan – Orch. cond. by David Snell, with Chinese flute, erhu & pipa – Sony Classical 88697904852:
This Wayne Wang film concerns the lifelong relationship of two Chinese women. Wang wanted to fuse traditional Chinese color with more urban musical sensibility to reflect the story, which switches between past and present. In addition to the Chinese folk instruments and some electronic elements there are also solo cello, piano and accordion. There are 18 cues.
HENRY JACKMAN: X-Men First Class – Orch. cond. by Nick Glennie-Smith – Sony Classical 88697924512:
Another comic book-to-movie adaptation, and another successful franchise for Marvel Comics. It may have actors like Michael Fassbender, Oliver Platt, James McAvoy and Kevin Bacon in it, but I can’t get excited about this series. The 20 cues are about what you would expect for a pimping-up of a comics-based movie. Again, I think only for those who have seen the movie.
JAMES NEWTON HOWARD: Water for Elephants – Orch. cond. by Pete Anthony – Sony Classical 88697872662:
A great story and visuals, but a terrible acting job from the leading man in this one. The 20 cues from Howard continue his reputation for excellent film scores. Taking place in the late 1920s, Howard included five tunes of the period, including Ruth Etting and Bessie Smith original 78s from 1929 and 1931. A fun score which might be very enjoyable whether or not you saw the movie.
SHOSTAKOVICH FILM MUSIC Collection – Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/ Jose Serebrier – Warner Classics and Jazz2564 69070-2 (3 CDs):
Suites from the following films =
King Lear (complete film music)
Five Days, Five Nights
The Fall of Berlin
The Golden Mountains
Shostakovich is best known for his many concert works, but earlier in his career he created many dramatic works and scored over three dozen Soviet films between 1929 and 1971. He started out with a score for the 1929 silent film New Babylon, and most of his film music was connected with Soviet political events. It’s a pleasure to have these excellent recordings of music from the eight films for two main reasons: Soviet films had terrible audio quality on their soundtracks, and most of the Soviet-era recordings of film music are not much better, but thees are not only high-quality Belgian recordings from the 80s and 90s, but featuring one of the world’s finest conductors who has previously demonstrated his love of Russian music with an acclaimed series of Glazunov symphony recordings for WCJ.
The Gadfly score has Mediterranean warmth for a film about Italy’s late 19th-century political struggles. The “Romance” from the score later became the theme music for the BBC’s series Reilly, Ace of Spies. The two Shakespearian films show how the composer handled music for the Bard. Hamlet is the more orchestral, with the later King Lear having more pared-down scoring and the use of some music from Shostakovich’s abstract compositions. Five Days and Five Nights was about how Soviet soldier’s saved artworks that had been put into storage by the Dresden Museum. The composer quoted from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the score. The highly Soviet-propagandist The Fall of Berlin tries to show how Stalin’s genius saved the world from Nazism. But it’s good to have the war music and contrasting romantic cues now in good sound—I only had a poor-sounding mono LP of the music previously. The final film here, The Golden Mountains, was also very propagandistic, but is a striking score to conclude the series. The second movement of the suite is a huge baroque fugue for organ and orchestra which is most impressive.
EBAN SCHLETTER: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Vocalists/Section String Quartet/ Eban Schletter – percussion, bass clarinet, keyboards, erhu & Theremin – Netherota Records NET 1017:
At first sight this seemed to be one of the several new scores created to go with classic silent films, but instead it is the soundtrack music from a newer film directed by David Lee Fisher, remaking the 1920 German Expressionist silent by Robert Wiene which is regarded as first true horror movie. The chamber-music-style score seems to fit the story either way, with cues among the 19 such as “Carnival of Hidden Terrors,” “Dies Irae,” and “Cemetery.”
GIYA KANCHELI: Themes from the Songbook – Dino Saluzzi, bandoneon/Gidon Kremer, violin/ Andrew Pushkarev, vibes – ECM 2188:
Georgian composer Kancheli published his 33 Miniatures for Music for Stage and Screen in 2009, and the 20 tracks here are taken from this collection, being primarily music for Georgian films. Fellini called Georgian films “philosophically light, sophisticated and at the same time childishly pure and innocent.” Both bandoneon virtuoso Saluzzi and classical violinist Kremer had intended to do albums using some arrangements from the Songbook, so ECM’s Manfred Eicher put them together in the studio with Kremer’s associate in Kremerata Baltica, Andrew Pushkarev. The result of this unusual trio of instruments and music is this most moving CD, which certainly requires no familiarity with the original films and stage productions associated with it. The opening and the final track feature vocalist Jansug Kakhidze singing and conducting the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra in music from Earth, This Is Your Son.
HOWARD SHORE: The Lord of the Rings Symphony – Six Movements for Orchestra and Chorus – 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Ludwig Wicki (soloist: Kaitlyn Lusk) – BR Klassik – Howe Records HWR-1005 (2 CDs) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
There have now been several CDs released of music written for
The Lord of the Rings films. This one was created from the nearly 12 hours total of music that exists, adapting the scores into six movements that reflect the six Tolkien books. The mixed chorus, boys’ chorus and vocal soloists sing in the five various Tolkien languages plus old and modern English. The six movements are grouped into three sections for the Symphony: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. The new recording was made in Lucerne, Switzerland about a year ago. We reviewed a DVD-Audio of Shore’s score for The Two Towers back in 2006.
BERNARD HERRMANN: Jane Eyre – The Classic 1943 Score – Slovak Radio Sym. Orch./ Adriano – Naxos Film Music Classics 8.572718, 68:22:
This is the longest film score by Herrmann, done—as with The Magnificent Ambersons before it—with director Orson Welles. It was his fourth film score and is full of lush, evocative and romantic music using many different sonic effects: winds, celesta, muted brass. Herrmann’s clever orchestrations demonstrate his great skills in this area. As with most of the growing collection of film scores (nearly 30 for Naxos) resuscitated by Swiss conductor and arranger Adriano, this set of 21 cues restores for the first time a number of cuts that were made in the original film release. It was originally recorded in the studios of the Slovak Radio in 1994.
WILLIAM PERRY: Music for Great Films of the Silent Era = Gemini Concerto; The Silent Years: 3 Rhapsodies for Piano and Orchestra; Six Title Themes in Search of a Movie – Albek Duo/Michael Chertock, p./ Helen Kearns, sop./ RTE Nat. Sym. Orch., Ireland/ Paul Phillips – Naxos Film Music Classics 8.572567, 78:41:
Perry is an American composer and pianist, who like a number of others, has played a musical role in the revival of the interest in silent films. He is Music Director of the Film Department of the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and has composed over 100 original film scores. His music was heard on the Emmy Award-winning TV series The Silent Years and on this CD some of his music is given the full symphonic treatment—recorded in 2010 in Ireland. The Gemini Concerto makes use of themes from seven of his silent film scores, including for The Last Laugh and The Crowd. The Silent Years honors in each of its three movements a different colorful Hollywood actor of the 1920s: John Barrymore, Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin. For Six Title Themes Perry invented six whimsical film titles and plots and then created music for them. One, for example, is The Bridge on the River Platte.
FRANCIS LAI: The Essential Film Music Collection – Orch. cond. by Francis Lai – King Records/Silver Screen Music SILCD 1338:
Themes from 20 of his film scores are in this collection, including his very first in 1966: A Man and a Woman. Together with director Claude Lelouch, they created some of the gems of cinema in France with a series of misty romantic dramas. He worked with Edith Piaf at the height of her fame, and wrote some 600 original songs for French performers. His music is always lyric, melodic, with light touches of strings and cascading piano figurations. He also scored the erotic films Bilitis and Emmanuelle II, whose themes are included here. He even did the score for the Hollywood film with Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal: Love Story. This CD was recorded in Paris in 2009.
BEAR MCCREARY: The Music of Battlestar Galactica for solo piano – Joohyun Park – BSX Records BSXCD 8893, (2 CDs) 53:05, 44:03:
The resurrected new version of Battlestar Galactica, which ran for six years during the preceeding decade, took a different turn in the story line and production, and the music for it also was different from the big symphonic orchestrations of its progenitor in 1978. It was more percussive and world music flavored. Bear McCreary – the sole composer for four seasons of the series – created a huge amount of music of a non-orchestral nature, using taiko and other drums, ethnic flutes, exotic percussion, and even sung and spoken texts in multiple languages. McCreary began performing some of the piano-based music from his scores in concert, and soon realized that other portions of the score could be transcribed for solo piano. His original plan was to performa and record all the pieces himself, but he felt South Korean pianist Park breathed new life into the compositions. So here are 21 cues on two discs, with one of them featuring a vocal soloist and another being a piano duet of McCreary and Park.
MURRAY GOLD: Doctor Who, Series 6 – BBC Nat. Orch. of Wales/ Ben Foster – BBC/Silva Screen SILCD 1375 (2 CDs):
Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi TV show in the world and in terms of broadcast ratings the most successful sci-fi series of all time. It has had 11 different actors playing the Time Lord Doctor Who – a time-traveling humanoid alien who explores the whole universe in his sentient time machine the Tardis, whose exterior looks like a 1963 London blue police box. With a succession of younger earthly companions he deals with a variety of villains while saving civilisations and helping folks.
The days of quickly-thrown-together synthesized scores for Doctor Who are gone, as are the often hilariously inept aliens and special effects of the early series. These are mostly big orchestral scores played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Ben Foster and The London Session Orchestra, though there is some guitars and synth material too. Murray Gold has done previous scores for TV and films, including Queer As Folk, Casanova, and Torchwood. 66 tracks here on the two discs. There are anywhere from four to ten cues from each of about a dozen episodes or pairs of episodes: The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Curse of the Black Spot, The Doctor’s Wife, The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, A Good Man Goes to War, Let’s Kill Hitler, Night Terrors, The Girl Who Waited, The God Complex, Closing Time, The Wedding of River Song.
SCIENCE FICTION’S FINEST, Vol. One – 36 short themes from Avatar, Battle Los Angeles, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Caprica, Dune, Eureka, Star Trek, Stargate, Doctor Who, The Terminator, Tron, Torchwood, The Thing, Futurama, and more – various performers incl. Victoria DeMare and Katie Campbell – BSX Records BSXCD 8891:
Plenty of synths involved here, and some of the themes are only 30 seconds long, but it’s a fascinating survey of sci-fi themes, including some really obscure ones. There also an interesting note booklet with a paragraph about each theme and movie or TV series, plus some photos of three models in brief sci-fi attire who have absolutely nothing to do with any of the films.
The Golden Age of Hollywood, Vol. 1 & 2 – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Jose Serebrier/ Roderick Elms, piano (Here Come the Classics RPO Series) Vol. 1: RPO 017 CD, 77:26; Vol. 2: RPO 022 CD, 73:38:
These are lovely full orchestra performances of familiar music from classic Hollywood films, again with film music specialist Jose Serebrier conducting. Tony Faulkner was the recording engineer and the sonics are the best you can get on standard CD. Vol. 1 features music from The Big Country, Casablanca, Spellbound (the complete concerto), Psycho, The Gun of Navarone, Ben-Hur, Taxi Driver, The Sea Hawk, Dangerous Moonlight (The Warsaw Concerto), Gone with the Wind & The Magnificent Seven.
Vol. 2 has: Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Caine Mutiny, The Adventures of Robin Hood, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (2nd mov’t of Violin Concerto), Sunset Boulevard, A Place in the Sun, Dial M for Murder & The Godfather. There is nearly a page of notes on each of the films and their music in the booklets.
WENDY CARLOS Film Music – “Rediscovering Lost Scores” Quintessential Archeomusicology – Volumes One & Two – East Side Digital ESD811752 & ESD81762 [www.e-s-d.com]:
Wendy Carlos (originally Walter Carlos) was really the synthesizer pioneer, having made some of the first recordings on the new Moog and on many electronic instruments since then. Her big hit was the Switched-On Bach series for Columbia. In 2005 she was cleaning out her archives and compiled some of her back catalog on these two CDs. The first one is mostly her previously-unreleased electronic score for Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining. She worked on it for several years, but, somewhat as what occurred with 2001, Kubrick got so attached to his original temporary score that he ended up using that and abandoned Carlo’s music. The cues involve booming percussion, synthesized symphonic accompaniments and some ghostly voices here and there. The CD is filled out with three cues from Carlos’ music for A Clockwork Orange; variations on the music of Purcell. Plus seven short themes from various UNICEF films which Carlos had scored.
Volume Two opens with eight more cues from Carlos’ music for The Shining, featuring an orchestra and various studio musicians. Then there are six cues that were not used in the original soundtrack album of her music for the pioneering Disney computer animation feature Tron. In 1998 she did a score for a British anti-war sci-fi movie titled Woundings. There are ten tracks from this score. Finally, the CD ends with two odd little bits Carlos did for Dolby Labs in San Francisco. The first is a short snappy little Bachian bit built on a two-note theme – the D and B of the Dolby logo – for a Dolby test film for theaters. The second is a “grand switched-on treatment” requested by Dolby for a 1982 demo film, using music from Wagner’s Tannhauser.
CLAUDE BOLLING: American Movies – Reds, Catch Me a Spy, Silver Bears, California Hotel, The Bay Boy, The Awakening – Claude Bolling Ensemble, Big Band, Orchestra – Fremeaux & Associates (2 CDs) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Bolling is perhaps best known in the U.S. for his series of swinging chamber jazz/classical suites for Columbia/Sony Music. But he has created many film scores, has a big band, and has provided music for many French and American musical productions. His first famous film score was for the Belmondo movie Borsalino, and this one puts five of his films scores on the first of two CDs, with the second one devoted entirely to 18 cues from the 1980 film about mysterious Egyptian mummies and so forth, The Awakening. Actually, they aren’t all American movies: The Bay Boy was actually a Canadian production, starring the young Keifer Sutherland. Herbert Ross’ California Hotel used a swinging ensemble including Bolling on piano, Hubert Laws and Jean-Pierre Rampal on flutes, Alexandre Lagoya on guitar and Shelly Manne the drummer. There is only one cue from Warren Beatty’s 1981 film Reds, Bolling’s arrangement of a Sondheim tune, and accompaying Rampal on flute.
– All above reviews, John Sunier