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VCL 1103 1025

Artwork copyright (c) 2003 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Magnificent biblical score is one of the all-time-greats


One of the most lavish and expensive films ever made up to its time, The Robe was also the most financially rewarding.  Fox were pulling out all the stops for it, desperate to show off their big new CinemaScope process with a worthy film; and so, The Robe became the first.  For a project of such importance to the studio, it is no surprise to find that Alfred Newman himself - their legendary head of music for so many years - wrote the score.  And what a score - the stuff of legend.  Varese Sarabande's CD Club release towards the end of 2003 marked the third time it had seen CD - originally (again on Varese) was a re-recording conducted by Newman himself at the time of the film; then Nick Redman rescued the original tracks for the first time for the fledgling Fox Music label about a decade ago; then he again returned to the source materials, with the much more difficult job of remixing the original multi-track recordings of the entire score.  That it has now been released is almost as much of a miracle as some of those portrayed during the film!  

This music is, in short, magnificent.  Newman himself was something of a reluctant composer - as producer Redman explains in his notes - preferring his administrative duties at Fox, and conducting the music of others; but he was also a wonderful composer.  The opening track introduces the film and score in majestic fashion with orchestra and choir pelting out one of those moving, enormous themes that could only ever have come from a biblical epic.  It's stirring stuff, comparable with (and clearly an influence on) Miklos Rozsa's later, possibly more celebrated, Ben-Hur.  What follows is perhaps not what the uninitiated may expect; Newman does not provide one sweeping, larger-than-life piece after another; the choir is used quite sparingly.  Sure, there are moments of miracle and majesty, but also there are moments of calm, moments of passion, moments of excitement, moments of reflection.

"The Slave Market (Diana)" introduces a wonderful theme, very moving, which is, mercifully, heard several more times through the score.  "Caligula's Departure" is one of those wonderful processional tracks that the likes of Newman and Rozsa got to write so often, but which rarely have a place in modern film scores.  "Palm Sunday" is enough to make you think you've already arrived in heaven with its beautiful, moving piece for orchestra and choir.  "Searching for Jesus" is a remarkable piece, sadly seriously damaged, which a burst of action music followed by moments of calm beauty with an intriguing mix of very high and very low strings before a terrific duet between a brass choir and a human choir.  As may be expected by those familiar with the bible stories, the sequence of music beginning with "Execution Orders" and ending with "The Resurrection" (the last eight tracks on the first disc) is very moving and quite remarkable.  The solemn "The Carriage of the Cross" is excellent music, but what follows in "The Crucifixion" is truly astonishing, a staggering piece of music, so very moving, beautiful but (of course) tinged with sadness and sorrow.  Newman's writing for choir (with assistance, as always, from Ken Darby) is particularly impressive.  "Capri" is another highlight, a return of the heavenly material from earlier in the score; quite stunning.

Disc Two opens with the lovely "Elegy", which sounds like the track title implies it might.  Opening with a simple flute theme, the strings take over, with that trademark Newman vibrato, though he keeps things generally subtle and quite small and it's a touching piece.  The extremely high-end choir in "Marcellus's Redemption" is used to counter clanging bells and slightly anguished strings before developing into something else, a track of joy and, yes, redemption.  "Justus's Death" is one of the best tracks, a wonderful piece for brass choir.  The moderate action music of "Aftermath" is something different, a dark and emotional march.  The next couple of cues offer more religious-sounding music, with the brief "Hymn for the Dead" followed by the magnificent "In His Service".  "The Catacombs" is a restrained but still moving piece over its six-minute length.  "Demetrius's Rescue" reprises the music just heard in "Aftermath" before loosing its dark edge and going into some of the bright, brassy action music Newman did so well.  "The Chase" is something entirely different, a desperate and very tense piece of action music for low-end piano that somehow seems to be from another score.  Things then begin to wrap up, with reprises of most of the major themes, culminating in the choral "Hallelujah".

This is a magnificent score, given a magnificent release.  Sound quality is as good as you could expect, the liner notes are interesting, the package is great.  Some of the previously-unreleased music - like "The Crucifixion", arguably the best and most important track - is amazing.  Only 1,500 copies were printed so grab one while you can - it seems highly unlikely that this landmark score will receive yet another release in the future!  This is one of the all-time-greats.

Disc one

  1. Prelude / Main Title (1:27)
  2. Rome (3:14)
  3. The Slave Market (Diana) (2:35)
  4. Caligula's Arrival (1:04)
  5. Caligula's Departure (1:07)
  6. The Map of Jerusalem (5:02)
  7. Passover (1:24)
  8. Palm Sunday (2:13)
  9. The Feast (3:15)
  10. Searching for Jesus (3:31)
  11. Execution Orders (1:57)
  12. The Carriage of the Cross (1:55)
  13. The Crucifixion (7:45)
  14. The Nightmare (1:37)
  15. Capri (3:56)
  16. Tiberius's Palace (2:41)
  17. The Market Place (6:13)
  18. The Resurrection (3:01)


Disc two

  1. Elegy (4:32)
  2. Marcellus's Redemption (2:24)
  3. Justus's Death (1:45)
  4. Aftermath (2:00)
  5. Hymn for the Dead (1:09)
  6. In His Service (1:45)
  7. The Catacombs (5:31)
  8. Hope (1:29)
  9. Demetrius's Rescue (3:15)
  10. The Healing of Demetrius (5:17)
  11. Marcellus's Farewell (1:25)
  12. The Chase (2:28)
  13. Interior Dungeon (2:54)
  14. Caligula (1:22)
  15. Finale / Hallelujah (1:58)
  16. Palm Sunday Part One (chorus only) (1:26)
  17. Palm Sunday Part Two (orchestra only) (1:11)
  18. The Crucifixion (orchestra only) (7:33)