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SILCD 1178

Artwork copyright (c) 2005 Silva Screen Records Ltd.; review copyright (c) 2005 James Southall



Wonderful music by one of film music's all time greats


In what was a tragic year for film music fans, 2004 saw the death of several great contributors to the genre, including the legendary Elmer Bernstein.  Part of the triumvirate that completely changed film music during the 1950s by showing that not all films had to be scored with 19th century romantic music for a full symphony orchestra (along with Alex North and Leonard Rosenman), Bernstein went on to remain at the very top of the profession for an incredible fifty years, scoring numerous classics along the way, working in every genre of film, and winning new fans from each new generation who discovered his music.  For me his greatest gift was the timelessness of his composition.  For sure, some of his music for the more melodramatic pictures on which he worked during the early stages of his career were very much of the period, but the bulk of his output had a wonderful quality which would make it just as relevant in a modern film as it was forty years ago.  If only anyone was actually making films as good as To Kill a Mockingbird or The Magnificent Seven, there'd be no reason for the music to be any different.

Indeed, music from those two films opens this double CD overview of the great composer's career, a tribute from Silva Screen Records and producer James Fitzpatrick.  Surely the bulk of the music is familiar to all.  On this set are some of the classics (from The Ten Commandments of 1956 through to Far From Heaven of 2002 - stopping off at The Comancheros, Ghostbusters, Heavy Metal, Johnny Staccato, True Grit, Hollywood and the Stars, The Great Escape, The Man with the Golden Arm, and Hawaii on the way) but also some lesser-known (but by no means lesser!) music by Bernstein, including a few world premiere recordings.

An American Werewolf in London is a score that really deserves a proper release, but for now it's good to have the five-minute track "Metamorphosis" here, showing off a creepy side to Bernstein's writing not often heard.  The Sons of Katie Elder is one of his classic western themes (though it is very similar to The Magnificent Seven!) and a release of the whole score is long overdue.  The composer's "comedy phase" in which he was unfairly pigeonholed for some years ended up seeing him work on some truly risible and desperate films, so it's easy to forget the reason he was there in the first place, which were his wonderful scores for films which were actually very good.  Airplane is this writer's favourite comedy film and Bernstein's absurdly straight-faced music plays a big part in that; and there's a great suite here, beginning with his interpolation of John Williams's Jaws theme and ending with probably the most hilariously over-scored finale music in history.  Wonderful stuff.  The Birdman of Alcatraz is one of the composer's best unreleased scores and it's good to hear a piece here.  Finally (and most intriguingly) comes a piece from the composer's only Oscar-winner, which was inexplicably Thoroughly Modern Millie.  It's a nice waltz, upbeat and cheerful, but not exactly classic Bernstein and it's a great pity he didn't receive more formal recognition from his peers for his other, more deserving works.

The bulk of the music is performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic and, as usual, some of their playing could politely be described as "enthusiastic" rather than technically great, but much here is performed notably better than some of their recordings, particularly the newly-recorded material conducted by James Fitzpatrick (the album also includes some "library" music from Silva, understandably enough); some pieces are somewhat spoiled by poor playing, most notably The Man with the Golden Arm which is taken from the otherwise-excellent "Jazz in Film" album, but by and large things are good.  Liner notes by Fitzpatrick and David Wishart are excellent and rather touching, and include a number of photographs of Bernstein.  Needless to say, the music is wonderful, classic material.  This release is highly recommended to fans of the composer and also serves as a great overview for those yet to discover the joys present in his music.  Bernstein was a remarkable composer and, by all accounts, a wonderful gentleman and I fear his like won't be seen again in the world of film music for a very long time, if ever.  Let's treasure the great legacy he left us.

Disc One

  1. The Magnificent Seven (4:53)
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird (8:22)
  3. The Buccaneer (3:30)
  4. Walk on the Wild Side (4:33)
  5. An American Werewolf in London (5:06)
  6. The Age of Innocence (4:25)
  7. The Comancheros (2:38)
  8. Ghostbusters (3:12)
  9. Heavy Metal (5:36)
  10. Johnny Staccato (3:22)
  11. True Grit (4:39)
  12. Hollywood and the Stars (2:06)
  13. Zulu Dawn (4:28)

Disc Two

  1. The Great Escape (2:18)
  2. The Man with the Golden Arm (5:25)
  3. Far from Heaven (5:56)
  4. The Sons of Katie Elder (2:13)
  5. Airplane (4:28)
  6. The Shootist (3:21)
  7. Hawaii (4:18)
  8. The Birdman of Alcatraz (2:43)
  9. The Hallelujah Trail (6:15)
  10. The Bridge at Remagen (2:30)
  11. Thoroughly Modern Millie (2:44)
  12. The Scalphunters (2:53)
  13. The Ten Commandments (7:54)