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SODOM AND GOMORRAH
Classic epic score finally gets 2-CD release
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Digitmovies; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
It is easy today to look back on the biblical epics of the 1950s and 60s with more than a little amusement, but the colourful spectacles were hugely popular in their day. From the more narrow perspective of film music, of course these pictures offered composers wonderful opportunities to flex their muscles and write showy music which dazzled the audience - opportunities which today's most talented composers must wish they had. 1962's Sodom and Gomorrah was the last of the extraordinary string of epics scored by the great Miklós Rózsa, just over a decade after the first (Quo Vadis) - in between were Ben-Hur, King of Kings and numerous other classics. 2007 marks the 100th anniversary of Rózsa's birth, and to celebrate, the Italian label Digitmovies has released the most comprehensive CD yet of this celebrated score.
The movie is not well-remembered - even accounting for changing tastes, it attracts ridicule today - it would seem the genre had pretty much run its course, and audiences were already finding the antics of Stewart Granger and chums just a little silly. Of course, this was of no consequence to the good Dr Rózsa, who approached the project with just as much verve and vigour as always. While not as memorable as its counterparts from the other great epic scores I have already mentioned, the Overture from Sodom and Gomorrah is still a powerful and rich piece, presenting both the barnstorming main theme and beautiful love theme, leaving the listener in no doubt about the scale of the spectacle to follow.
Rózsa's famous dedication to research stemmed mostly to the source music this time around (the Jewish-influenced dance music in particular) - after all, he had already pretty much invented a sound for this period which became fully associated with it, so there was little reason to change. The ingredients are all here - the exceptional action music, like "La Sconfitta di Astaroth", a brilliantly-complex piece of vintage Rózsa - and the romance which the composer did so well, but which always seems to take a backseat to other facets of his work when he is discussed - but just listen to the exquisite "Risposta ad un Sogno" for a demonstration of his exceptional command of romance.
The highlights of Sodom and Gomorrah are probably when Rózsa goes hell-for-leather with the action music. There are some ferociously exciting set-pieces here - "La Battaglia della Diga" is quite phenomenal, the composer at his very best, with enough excitement to set any film music fan's pulse racing; and the climactic "Distuzione di Sodoma" is every bit as good.
For all its wonderful qualities though, there are certain aspects of this release which are slightly disappointing. First, the sound quality - while it is entirely understandable that a 1962 recording might not sound great, sadly the quality fluctuates wildly between different tracks, suggesting that different sources were used for different pieces; there's no low end to the recording at all; and unfortunately the ends of some cues are cut off as they are, oddly, faded out. Liner notes are rather brief for such a landmark release, and also poorly-translated into English. However, this still remains an essential purchase for Rózsa lovers everywhere, and fills a hole in the collection as one of his great scores finally sees the light of day. A wonderful score.