Score Season #10
Below are more soundtrack reviews of recent and archival releases.
Barabbas (Mario Nascimbene, 1961) *
Challenging scores can be fun, a case in point being the 1961 drama Barabbas, composed by Mario Nascimbene. Those familiar with the latter’s music for The Vikings might expect a similar stirring arrangement. However, such expectations might end up shaken. In terms of tone, Barabbas represents a muddy backdrop. It’s a deeply contemplative, even spiritual undertaking that carries the composer’s feelings at every measure. Although a difficult effort to quantify, I’d guess that replays are mandatory, even inevitable. By the end, it felt hard to recommend Barabbas. A highly melodramatic tone certainly detracts. Elsewhere, sound effects such as bizarre crowd noises and thunderclaps seem like last ditch attempts to be profound. Not for me thanks.
Battle of Britain (William Walton, 1969) ***
Apart from “Battle in the Air,” William Walton’s score for Battle of Britain went unused. Notably, the jagged edges signal danger more pointedly than the rousing Ron Goodwin replacement score. By contrast, “The Young Siegfrieds” abounds in joyous movement. It’s everything I love about orchestral music. Pacing establishes an early groove, remains consistent throughout while leaving a firm impression. Similar praise falls upon “Luftwaffe Victory.” Essentially, these marches don’t feel entirely removed from Goodwin’s approach. Although the latter’s main title and theme for German pride (“Work and Play”) offers strong appeal, Walton deserves some kudos. Overall, I thank Varese Sarabande for sharing both scores on a single CD. Sometimes it can take years if not decades for soundtrack collectors to hear an alternate version.
Capricorn One (Jerry Goldsmith, 1978) ***
Admittedly, I was hard on composer Jerry Goldsmith during previous Score Seasons. However, on Capricorn One, it’s possible to forgive him even though he got away with murder. A large percentage of his underscore rolls by unnoticed. Having said that, he composed a conspiracy theme for the American government and it’s a corker. While he rarely offers much variation on this brief idea, it still earns Capricorn One a passable grade.
Cars 3 (Randy Newman, 2017)
Soft Americana pads out Cars 3. We have heard this sound many times from Randy Newman because nostalgia played a part in The Natural, Maverick and Seabiscuit. Regarding Cars 3, I’d like something closer to the warmth and excitement behind Mark Mancina’s Planes. Oh well!
Les Miserables (Arthur Honegger, 1934) *
Initial impressions of Les Miserables by Arthur Honegger ran thus:
Sparing gestures, feeling not quite defined. Noble and tragic, perhaps? Somewhat apathetic -- reaching for an outcome without putting the miles in first.
It’s a very sombre undertaking which qualities of sadness and negative abandon struggle to gain expression. Crucially, “Jean Valjean sur la route” lifts the malaise briefly. Also, there are some nice woodwinds. To be fair, “Mort d’Eponine” comes across rather well, although I won’t be tap dancing any time soon. Actually, I kept the volume quite high, and there were several times where detail was lost. For a modern recording, this is unacceptable. In short, it’s hard to detect much emotion from Honegger on this occasion.
The Monkey King (Christopher Young, 2014) ****
Firstly, there’s a correction to be made. In a review or two, Niu Mo Wang (Aaron Kwok) has been described as the “Buffalo Demon King.” Yet a quick scan of the Intrada release shows him to be the “Bull Demon King.” Actually, composer Christopher Young saves the lengthiest treatment for this character. Not having seen the film I can only imagine him to be a person of great importance. As such, Young leaves no creative stone unturned. Although a large proportion of Young’s soundtracks warrant only casual interest, the same fate does not befall The Monkey King. Meanwhile, this sprawling basin overflows with the promise of great things to come. Actually, The Monkey King represents multiple characters and moods. For example, we have “The Three Eyed Warrior” (ethnic bounce), “The Jade Emperor” (apocalyptic, warlike), and “The Dragon King of the East Sea” (pensive). Great themes all.
Scrooge (Richard Addinsell, 1951) ****
My favourite Ebenezer Scrooge might always be Alastair Sim. He was terrific in the 1951 movie, adapted from Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol. Although Richard Addinsell’s score for Scrooge has yet to be fully released, a remarkable suite encompassing many key themes can be found. Where? The Chandos label and conductor Rumon Gamba leads the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. This taster makes you wonder what a re-recoding on a larger scale might yield. For now, I salute Gamba and the fine people at Chandos for their diligence.
Seraphim Falls (Harry Gregson-Williams, 2006) ***
A Western that pretty much flew under the radar, Seraphim Falls first came to my attention on DVD. The film features Liam Neeson on the hunt for Pierce Brosnan. Providing a fine underscore, Harry Gregson-Williams doesn’t approach Seraphim Falls traditionally. As such, the atmosphere tends to envelope you as a mist constantly changing shape. In other words, he avoids a grand theme like Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven or Jerome Moross’ The Big Country. Overall, there’s heart in Seraphim Falls dictated by purpose and tragedy.
Sphere (Elliot Goldenthal, 1998) ****
Evidently, some critics ignore composer Elliot Goldenthal’s sensitivity. When he’s not torturing the brass section, he regulates content, applying emphasis as a painter lightly manipulates the canvas. A score that’s divisive among fans and haters alike, Sphere requires close attention. Frankly, it’s one of Goldenthal’s assets – a slumbering dragon whose mythos cannot be told in literature, only through the language of music. Where the film underachieved -- what happened to the squid? -- Goldenthal unleashes horror wrapped in coils of suspense. Thematic material comes across with plasticity, while low registers merely preamble the heavy hits that follow. Thus, Sphere makes for an easy score recommendation though I’d caution listeners to keep the lights on.
SCORE OF THE MOMENT
Silverado (Bruce Broughton, 1985) *****
By the mid-1980s, the Western was floundering. Producers had lost faith because viewers had turned away from this once lucrative genre. While Silverado barely broke even, there was good direction by Lawrence Kasdan. Consider this for a moment: Emmett (Scott Glenn) tries to regain his strength following a nasty head wound. Inside his friend’s hideout, he waits. Then Mal (Danny Glover) shows up with the news that a relative has been kidnapped. How does a composer musically follow what happens next? With a sense of weight and tragedy? No because when Emmett rips the bandage from his head, composer Bruce Broughton offers a bold arrangement. It’s explosive stuff, paying off an orchestral build-up and delivering quite a rush. Quite simply, the music in Silverado stands above the competition. Near the climax, Broughton treats us to a couple of gold star cues: “McKendrick Waits/The Stampede/Finishing at McKendrick’s” and “Hide and Watch/Jake Gets Tyree/Then Slick, Then McKendrick.” Both compositions share Broughton’s passion for large scale emotion and personal expression.