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Film Music: The Neglected Art, October 2009

The (9) selections on this Naxos release are without a doubt far more popular than any of the movies that they appeared in. I’ll grant you the Hitchcock/Selznick Spellbound still has a following and Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express was popular winning several awards but there are few if any reading this review that are familiar with Love Story (1945), Dangerous Moonlight, The Case of the Frightened Lady, The Glass Mountain, Hangover Square, While I Live, or Midnight on the Cliffs. Yet all of the films feature a piano concerto as an important part of the film except for Spellbound, which had the Oscar winning theme, but the piano concerto version came later. Does over 100 recordings and 3 million in sales for “The Warsaw Concerto” impress you just a little? These melodies appear in many “Beloved Melody” compilation albums from nameless orchestras, to the 101 Strings, to the Boston Pops. Many a summer evening I’m sure you’ve heard your pop’s orchestra perform some of these standard themes, ones that Max Steiner could easily have written the melody for except for the work from Herrmann. The style was like something that Rachmaninoff could have composed with a big bold sound, oozing with love chords from the grand piano.

While schmaltz is the word to describe many of the selections it can’t be used for the fascinating piano concerto Herrmann wrote for Hangover Square. The staccato like beginning on the piano sets the dark mood and it quickly segues into familiar dark Herrmann minor brass chords any listener of Bernard will quickly recognize. After a brief respite, where there is a short passage of soothing material, the music reverts to the staccato dissonant piano passages again. When the main character George Bone, played by Laird Cregar, sets fire to his place knowing the end has come, the final coda is played only by the piano. The music had a huge influence on Steven Sondheim as a 15 year old and one can hear the Herrmann influence in Sondheim’s musical thriller Sweeney Todd.

Richard Rodney Bennett hit the bull’s-eye dead center with his Oscar nominated Murder On The Orient Express. Beginning with a definite 30’s style sound it segues into a wonderful waltz tempo in an all too short suite. If this happens to be your introduction to Bennett enjoy, as you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.

While the preferred recording of the “Spellbound Concerto” is a 22-minute version with two pianos (Varese Sarabande #3020668102) this one does highlight the major themes of the Oscar winning score from Rozsa and is quite a pleasant listen. While it never appeared in the film as a piano concerto, a year after the film was released Miklos arranged this 12 minute work and it has been performed by many orchestras and pianists over the years.

“Midnight On The Cliffs,” performed and written by Leonard Pennario for the film Julie is his one and only attempt at the silver screen and is a typical showpiece romantic work. “Portrait of Isla,” from The Case of the Frightened Lady 1940, was the first official piano concerto written for a film and is somewhat melodramatic depicting the overall mood of the film.

This is a CD that affords you the opportunity to get snippets from films that are only available on this compilation. The Naxos value is just an additional bonus.


"Philip Fowke plays all the pieces with affection and panache"

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