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Latest reviews of new albums:
The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin
  • Composed by Dimitri Tiomkin
  • LSO Live / 2012 / 76:59

Launched in 2000, LSO Live was a new label from the London Symphony Orchestra owned by its players and conductors.  The idea was that it would allow them to release titles they wanted, and also to own the recordings (previously every album featuring the orchestra had been owned by another label).  Each CD is a hybrid SACD, so those with the technology can listen in high definition sound, and there have been almost a hundred releases so far.  The first album to focus on film music is The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin, a recording of a concert in London in October 2011, with the orchestra conducted by Richard Kaufman.

The elegant overture to Cyrano de Bergerac opens the programme before one of the disc’s real highlights, a dynamic 13-minute suite from The Alamo.  Tiomkin’s famous, rousing music with its wonderful main theme, exciting action and epic drama is probably his greatest score and it functions wonderfully in this shorter format.  The world class performance sees the orchestra joined by the London Voices for the larger-than-life finale, one of the most memorable such sequences from film music’s golden age.  The composer won his fourth and final Oscar for 1959’s The Old Man and the Sea, whose theme is unabashedly romantic, “Cubana” is flavourful and exotic, “Finale” is pleasantly light and airy.

Dimitri Tiomkin

One of the least well-known films and scores represented on the album, The Four Poster‘s overture is a jolly affair, energetic and fast-paced.  More substantial is the suite from another of the album’s most famous selections, Giant, featuring the rousing main title song written with Paul Francis Webster (Tiomkin did love a song).  The exquisite “Fall of Rome” theme from The Fall of the Roman Empire follows.  It’s a gorgeous melody, heard initially on solo violin before being taken up by the full orchestra, and I think one of the greatest pieces of the composer’s career, suggesting a dogged heroism and displaying a gift for subtlety that is perhaps not often associated with Tiomkin.

With High Noon, Tiomkin won Oscars for both song and score.  It is the former that appears here, a great performance of “Do Not Forsake Me” by Andrew Playfoot.  It’s ironic that some of the most all-American music in the most all-American of film genres was written by a Russian, but it was his music for westerns that really won Tiomkin his massive fan base (he was the John Williams of his day, the most famous film composer in the eyes of the public) and “Do Not Forsake Me” is one of his best.  Perhaps the only more famous song in his western repertoire follows, Playfoot again lending his vocals to the theme from Rawhide, which is simply fantastic.

The composer’s other Oscar came for his soaring score for The High and the Mighty, a suite from which is given an appropriately stirring performance here.  It’s my own favourite score by this composer, and the seven-minute selection is my favourite piece on this album.  Two of Tiomkin’s four scores for Alfred Hitchcock are heard in a “Hitchcock Suite”, the sprawling Dial ‘M’ For Murder (complete with ringing telephone sound effect) and the urgent dramatic force of Strangers on a Train.  The brilliant title song from Wild is the Wind, given a sultry performance by Whitney Claire Kaufman (daughter of the conductor) is a real Tiomkin/Washington gem, sizzling with romance, and seeing the LSO joined by a rhythm section.

The perky theme from The Sundowners is a lovely little folksy ditty; the film is about Irish people in Australia but the music sounds like it’s from the American west.  Even more stridently American is “The John Duke Wayne March” from Circus World, a colourful march inspired by the shenanigans in a big top.  A suite from Land of the Pharaohs begins with its lush, exotic title song, before the stunning “Pharaoh’s Procession”, a magnificent piece of orchestral and choral might.  The album concludes with the wonderful Friendly Persuasion, including an irresistible duet between the album’s two vocalists in “Thee I Love”, bringing things to a sumptuously romantic conclusion.

At the risk of making myself appear to be an even more ignorant philistine than usual, I have to say that – much though I enjoy Tiomkin’s music – I frequently find it hard to sit through his full scores, particularly those presented on double CDs.  His music can become so overbearing, being so constantly busy and always with that great showmanship (I know there are those who would be horrified at this suggestion).  However, it works very well in this suite-and-theme form, and this is a great compilation album.  It was recorded live but you’d never know it (there is no audience noise), and the recording is dynamic even on regular equipment so must sound great in its SACD form.  I hope there are more film music entries in this series from the LSO because this one’s a terrific album.  ****

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  1. Tim Burden (Reply) on Friday 3 August, 2012 at 16:27

    You had me at…..

    “The composer’s other Oscar came for his soaring score for The High and the Mighty, a suite from which is given an appropriately stirring performance here. It’s my own favourite score by this composer, and the seven-minute selection is my favourite piece on this album.”

    It’s my favourite also, and so wonderful to have it with choir in such glorious sound. Great review!

  2. Mastadge (Reply) on Monday 6 August, 2012 at 23:17

    I feel much the same way about Tiomkin, but I really love Kaufman’s The High and the Mighty with the LSO, so I’ve really been looking forward to this recording. Thanks for the review!