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Rousing, magnificent western music from a master
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2004 Turner Entertainment Co; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Much like his contemporary Alex North, Franz Waxman was one of the finest film composers of the Golden Age, but despite the sheer brilliance he frequently displayed on the big epics, he was probably at his finest when working on far more personal, intimate pictures more about humanity than anything else. One of the few genres which frequently allowed composers to explore grander canvases while still retaining deeply personal interest was the western; Alex North scored several, but Waxman comparatively few.
Sadly, Cimarron was not a very good western. Though directed by Anthony Mann, it found itself at the heart of political struggles at MGM, who splashed money on the film in the hope that it would revive their ailing fortunes; unfortunately, it did quite the opposite, becoming a box office disaster and merely reinforcing the decline of the once-great studio, a decline from which it has never recovered.
Waxman's brief was to help make the film as grand and "big" as possible, and to that end he opens it with a rather amusing song, with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, as the Roger Wagner Chorale pelt out "Cimarron" - these big title songs which used to open westerns are the only aspect of film music which I can't really believe anyone actually thought were a good idea. They're so dated today, but surely even at the time people can't have taken them seriously? In any case, nowadays they usually serve to raise a smile, and this is no exception. One thing the song does boast is a strong melody, and Waxman used it to full effect as his main theme in the score.
The first two score tracks present the theme in two very different ways; in "Goodbye Father", it is heard in a wonderful harmonica solo which offers a brief glimpse of the composer at his emotional best. Then, at the end of "Meeting Tom Wyatt", the theme bursts forth from the brass section in rousing style. There's some great action music here; the expansive "Getting Ready" is complex and quite thrilling, showing this wonderful composer off at his most pulsating. The track seques directly into "The Land Rush", making an eleven-minute continuous sequence of ferociously exciting action music. The latter features various semi-chaotic jazzy ideas which fit in very well and only add to the thrills.
There's another twist on the main theme in "Pegler's Death" which sees Waxman scoring it for muted horns and oboe, then developing the cue into a genuinely affecting piece, presumably a little memorial for the unfortunate Pegler. Contrast this with the only aspect of the score which doesn't really work, the comic interludes, such as "A New Town", which just end up sounding a bit silly. There's a piece of truly ferocious action music which follows that, "Hanging Scene" being a brilliantly dark action track.
All sides of Waxman are on offer here: the violin solo of "A Son Is Born" is high enough in the register that Alfred Newman himself would have been proud; and somehow, like the music of Newman, despite being obviously of a different time, the music still doesn't actually sound too melodramatic. It's expanded further in "The Wrong Man", extended to a slightly larger selection of strings, and also featuring a plaintive performance of the main theme by solo trumpet. The end of "A New Territory" sees Waxman in particularly expansive mode, perhaps the closest the score comes to the kind of wide-open-spaces music exhibited so frequently, and so brilliantly, by Elmer Bernstein.
As the score draws to a close, Waxman offers the most overtly romantic cue, the slightly quaint "Washington Hotel", before the lovely "Surprise Visit" and finally "Memories and Finale", concluding (naturellement) with a reprise of the amusing title song. It's a great score, leaving one wishing there were more Franz Waxman westerns to enjoy on album; the sound is good, for a 1960 recording; and Christopher Husted's liner notes, simply outstanding. You can't go far wrong with this one.