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LAURETTE and PRINCE JACK
Two obscure Bernstein gems make for a delightful CD
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Prince Jack orchestration
Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2008 Kritzerland; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall.
I should no longer be surprised by these things, but I guess I'm just easily surprised. What we have here is the incidental music from a play - which played in 1960 - which barely anyone saw - which even fewer people remember. Why would anyone release such music? The answer is, of course, that its composer was the great Elmer Bernstein. It's not really clear how Bernstein became involved with the production (though the producer was Alan Pakula) - he was already a well-known film composer by then, so he certainly didn't "need" to take on smaller jobs like this - but in any case, 48 years later, 1,000 people are able to enjoy the music again, thanks to this album from Kritzerland (which also includes the short score from the film Prince Jack).
The music is terrific - full of energy and colour, making the most of the small ensemble as only Bernstein could (I don't know how many times I've commented on his ability to make a small group of players sound much larger - or contrasted that with today's composers' uncanny ability to make large orchestras sound much smaller - but it's always worth saying). There are a couple of gorgeous themes, some bouncy rhythms, all the things that so many people enjoy from Bernstein's drama scores.
There are only two cues of any great length - "Waltz" is a stirring tango. Actually, it isn't, it's a waltz, and a beautiful one too. But the objet d'art is "Hartley's Death", a stunning piece so full of emotion. I doubt that many people could listen to it and fail to think of To Kill a Mockingbird, Bernstein's greatest score, which was still a couple of years away at that time. The piano melody is surely enough to melt the hardest of hearts; with the deftest of touches, Bernstein shows why he was such a master.
Prince Jack is very different. It was a low-budget film adapted from a play about JFK, and again there's a very small ensemble, but this one's brassier and Bernstein writes bolder, more stirring music. The first cue presents the fine main theme - again it's piano, but there's a touch more Hollywood about it this time - and even in a twelve-minute score for a low-budget film, this is Elmer Bernstein in the 1980s so you can be sure the ondes martenot will make an appearance. It's a good, solid score, very much in Bernstein's 1980s style, and while it may not pull up any trees (so to speak), it's entertaining and nice to have on CD. It's a shame that this CD sold out so quickly because there's some excellent music here, two long-forgotten (frankly, barely-known to begin with) works by one of the greatest film composers. The liner notes include details about both projects and a personal remembrance of the composer from the album's producer Bruce Kimmel; if you can find a copy, snap it up.