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DAVID SHIRE AT THE MOVIES
Stunning collection of specially-arranged themes from Shire
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Kritzerland, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Film music compilations are hardly rare things these days - companies like Silva Screen and Telarc have been releasing them one after the other for many years, sometimes bigger labels have jumped on the bandwagon and put out their own greatest hits compilations - and there are many composer-specific compilations, of hugely varying quality. (Since I began typing this paragraph, about fifteen different John Barry compilations have been released. They all contain the same things.) Most of these compilations, though, are aimed not at the film music purist, but the more casual listener. This is a pity, because there is clearly a place in the market for fresh interpretations of great film music - of course, there will always be that vocal group who greet any new recording of any piece of film music with utter disdain, complaining that the original performance's mistakes and muddy recording have not been replicated in precise detail (I think that's missing the point, lads) - but why should there be countless different interpretations available of all the finest music in so many different musical areas - yet rarely so in film music?
Back in 1991, the enterprising Bay Cities label came up with a novel idea for a release - taking the wonderful David Shire into a studio to record complete reinterpretations of many of his most popular themes with Shire playing the piano himself, joined on a few tracks by other soloists. Remember that in those days, film music releases were few and far between - and virtually none of Shire's music had seen the light of day on CD. The resulting album proved to be a revelation - and, courtesy of Bruce Kimmel's Kritzerland label, has now been reissued so a new audience can appreciate its delights.
So many of Shire's finest melodic pieces are here - the jaunty, implausibly catchy overture from Max Dugan Returns, here stripped down to piano and clarinet - the seminal, extraordinary theme from The Conversation (no need to rearrange that one, of course) - the heartmelting solo viola theme from Old Boyfriends - a lengthy suite from the lighthearted, deft Bed and Breakfast, enhanced splendidly by Stuart Canin's violin - the gorgeous, lilting theme from 'Night Mother, featuring a glorious duet between Shire's piano and Tommy Tedesco's guitar.
Each piece is a luscious feast of delights that rewards - in fact, demands - repeated listening. But some pieces stand out - on this disc is the only chance to sample what the theme from The Hindenburg might have been. What ended up in the movie was glorious enough, but Shire's original vision was for the piece to be dominated by a wordless female soprano, and that's the one heard here, sung beautifully by Carol Neblett, lent fine support by Macolm McNab's typically elegant trumpet solos. Another great marvel is the 13'31" selection from Return to Oz, one of Shire's most lauded scores (and one which was also put out on CD by Bay Cities - sadly going out of print a long time ago, leaving many Shire fans - such as this writer! - with a great big holy grail at the top of their rare CD wishlists).
Along with all this great music is another treat - a selection of four of the composer's film songs, sung here by Maureen McGovern accompanied just by Shire on piano. Of course, the composer is as noted for his Broadway composition as he is for Hollywood (if not moreso), so his songwriting credentials are beyond reproach, and there are some terrific numbers here - not least the Oscar-winning "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae, a sumptuous song given a belting performance by McGovern. But perhaps her finest is reserved for the gorgeous "Halfway Home" from The Earthling, which would surely have become a standard if it had come from a more famous film.
This is a splendid album, clearly a real labour of love for all involved. While of course there is no substitute for the large orchestras that played most of these themes in the first place, hearing them in such pared-down arrangements shows the musical core at the heart of Shire's music in an even better light. It allows breathing room, space for the music to really come alive and capture the imagination. For this composer, for these pieces, I can't imagine anything better. This reissued album features Shire's original notes, and as a special treat also includes the composer's three-movement "Sonata for Cocktail Piano", composed before he became famous, which is a jazzy delight, offering at one time a clear hint of The Conversation. I can't praise this album highly enough - it is simply a magnificent showcase for a wonderful composer. It's limited to just 1,200 copies, so I would suggest moving fast to avoid disappointment.