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VCL 0403 1017

Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Delightful, charming epic is vintage Bernstein


Despite the fact that his big break came with the epic-of-all-epics The Ten Commandments, for much of his career the finest music written by Elmer Bernstein was not of that epic nature at all, but intimate, frequently for chamber orchestra.  So much rewarding music came in that style through the composer's entire long, glorious career but dotted here and there are equally important, but much "bigger", scores.  One of them is Hawaii.  Sadly, the movie was pretty much laughed off the screen, despite being based on an acclaimed novel and featuring an accomplished cast including Richard Harris, Julie Andrews and Max von Sydow.  It tells the tale of a Yale graduate who decides to save the souls of Hawaiians by establishing Christian missions on the islands.

It's a bright and breezy affair and so is the music.  The main theme is one of Bernstein's finest and most memorable, a stirring piece in his grandest style, managing to be as playful and cheery as it is imposing and epic.  The same can really be said of the score as a whole.  The main theme does feature a lot, in countless guises, but there is far more to the music than just that.  Bernstein revels in the sprawling story, weaving in countless different elements.  There are occasional passages for solo percussion which are driving and thunderous, a few pieces of exciting action music ("Same Old Girls" is a wonderful variant of the main theme; "Battle" is something altogether darker, a wonderfully imposing piece) and some much more melancholic, sad music ("Chance Meeting", for instance, or the tragic "Abner's Fever", featuring a wonderful solo violin passage)) but for a fair chunk of the score Bernstein opts for a slightly more laid-back approach, emphasising various beautiful melodies.

Some of these are simply lovely, some truly lilting, some almost achingly beautiful.  In general the tracks on the album are short but run into one another to form longer continuous pieces so it's difficult to pick out highlights by name, but trust me there are plenty.  Speaking of the album, this is a double CD release from the Varese Sarabande CD Club.  The liner notes include an interesting story about how the album came about.  Back in the 60s, when the film was released, Bernstein re-recorded sections of the score with a considerably smaller orchestra for an album release.  For a long time, the actual film tracks for Hawaii were presumed lost until one day someone came across some boxes labelled as having the Hawaii score, in stereo, inside.  Producer Robert Townson was naturally pleased but when the engineer came to play back the tapes, two things were discovered - one, that they were damaged far too much to ever be in a fit state to release on album; and two, that they weren't actually from Hawaii at all, but were Bernstein's score for The Hallelujah Trail.  Thinking that he would have to resign himself to just releasing the album recording of the score on CD, out of the blue a mono mix of the recording sessions, intended for Bernstein's private collection but for some reason never passed onto him, were discovered - and that's what we have today.  

Despite being mono, the sound quality is just fine, and the album includes virtually the full score for the film, along with the orchestral Overture, Entr'acte (a joyful, celebratory piece) and Exit Music, things I wish were still being produced today!  As a bonus, the second CD features the 35 minutes or so album re-recording, though it has more nostalgia value than anything else because of the smaller orchestra (and amusing narration over the Prologue), aside of course from the benefit that those pieces are in stereo.  There are truly extensive liner notes from producer Townson and this is simply a wonderful album.  It was released by Varese's CD Club in April 2003 and at the time of writing, copies are still available from their website.  It's one of Bernstein's most delightful and impressive scores and none of his fans should go without - regardless of whether they have the original album, since the film tracks seem almost like a whole new score.  Wonderful stuff.

Disc One: Film Tracks

  1. Overture (4:12)
  2. Prologue (2:14)
  3. Main Title (2:04)
  4. Pastoral Letter (1:04)
  5. Grace (:33)
  6. Parting (:57)
  7. Proposal (2:20)
  8. Departure (:20)
  9. Quiet Harbour (2:03)
  10. Drunken Sailor (1:44)
  11. Storm (1:17)
  12. Hawaiian Welcome (2:10)
  13. Alii Nui (3:39)
  14. Procession (1:01)
  15. Noelani (1:57)
  16. Farewell (1:57)
  17. Surveyor (:42)
  18. Same Old Girls (1:43)
  19. Baby Coming (:49)
  20. Battle (1:10)
  21. Chance Meeting (2:17)
  22. Civilising the Natives (2:20)
  23. Sailors and Women (2:45)
  24. Mano (1:59)
  25. Abner's Fever (2:20)
  26. Entr'acte (3:35)
  27. Malama's Death (4:14)
  28. Whistling Wind (1:40)
  29. The Old Gods and the New (1:57)
  30. Prayer for Vengeance (2:32)
  31. Natives Lose (3:18)
  32. Hoxworth's House (1:33)
  33. The Old Man (1:22)
  34. Abner Alone (3:38)
  35. Abner's Reward (:35)
  36. End Credits (:40)
  37. Exit Music (2:54)


Disc Two: Album Tracks

  1. Main Title (4:12)
  2. Prologue (2:30)
  3. Hawaii (2:13)
  4. Pastoral Letter (2:32)
  5. Abner and Jerusha (2:16)
  6. Malama's Death (4:13)
  7. Hawaiian Welcome (4:21)
  8. Quiet Harbour (2:18)
  9. Sailors and Women (2:47)
  10. Keoki's Tragedy (2:25)
  11. Abner (3:22)
  12. Promise Kept (1:54)