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David and Bathsheba
  • Composed by Alfred Newman
  • Kritzerland / 2012 / 78:35

In terms of biblical epics scored by Alfred Newman (a particularly specialised genre of film, I admit, but one that exists!) David and Bathsheba probably ranks somewhere rather a long way behind The Robe and The Greatest Story Ever Told in terms of the public consciousness.  A 1951 Fox production starring the great Gregory Peck, it was actually the biggest box office success of its year and indeed Fox’s highest-grossing film to that point, so its comparatively low profile today is a little surprising.  It tells the story of King David (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Lady Bathsheba) and tried to be more personal and less about miracles and the like, though being a big budget golden age period movie, it’s full of people with gloriously silly beards and absurdly extravagant costumes even so.  It’s fair to say that the score ranks a way behind those two behemoths in terms of recognition as well, and it’s not quite on their level, but it’s vintage Alfred Newman and as such, hugely rewarding.

David and Bathsheba is a vibrant, exciting and very beautiful work.  Surprisingly, Newman tends to steer clear of the sweeping string-dominated majesty one may have expected and instead delivers a score more in keeping with his extraordinary Song of Bernadette (my own personal favourite Newman score, and a film made by the same director, Henry King), with the strings joined by surprisingly low, jagged winds and brass.  Newman manages to create a rich, colourful, emotional work from these basics.  The score actually begins in rather dour mode, with the almost militaristic “Main Title / Night Camp” and then some angular, piercing action music in “The Battle of Rabbah”.  The main love theme is introduced in “Love Scene”, and it’s quite a piece, memorable and moving.

Alfred Newman

Indeed, these two styles tend to intermingle as the score goes on; “The Battle of Gilboa” brings more uncompromising action, and then we come to the restrained – but still somehow stirring – beauty of “On the Terrace”.  The spectacular “Wrath of God” is a real highlight, a piece of enormous proportions simply brimming with emotion, a whole gamut of them in fact, with the music moving from swelling strings through harsh brass and a delicate oboe solo.  Predictably, the score ends with a choral finale (it would be hard to find a biblical epic which didn’t), “The Twenty-Third Psalm”, another highlight – but less predictably, it’s a very introspective piece and not the grand showpiece one may have expected.

The score was released for the first time on CD in 2005, using the finest masters available at the time to give a 55-minute presentation in mono.  I’m regularly critical of double-dipping, but there’s nothing to criticise about this new release from Kritzerland.  After the Intrada release, dual-track elements were discovered which now allows a release of the complete, 79-minute score in stereo for the first time.  Of course, it’s a 1951 recording, and that shows, but Newman was a pioneer in terms of recording film scores and you won’t find much better-sounding orchestral music recorded in that period.  Oddly, Jon Burlingame’s liner notes from the Intrada album are considerably edited down for the Kritzerland release, but the music sounds better than ever and the album’s an essential release for Newman fans, even those who own the previous issue.  **** |

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