It’s been a while since we have seen a compilation release of music from the movies, in the good old days the compilation was the staple of many film music collectors, with the United Artists records Great Western and Great War film themes taking pride of place in many collections alongside The Best of Bond, The Best of Francis Lai and The Best of Ennio Morricone. Then we were treated to the RCA series of the Classic film music of collection which featured some of the most inspiring and iconic film scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood with composers such as Steiner, Waxman, Herrmann, Rozsa, Korngold, Newman, Tiomkin etc all having albums dedicated to them and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Charles Gerhardt. This was a series that to be honest became an essential to any self-respecting film music fan. And it is a series that I still today turn to re-kindle those days when it was difficult to find soundtracks as the film companies and some recording labels just did not seem interested in film music. Well, at last there is a new collection released for your entertainment, it is on Chandos records and performed by Sinfonia of London under the Baton of Mr. John Wilson.
Born in Gateshead, Wilson studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music, where in 2011 he was made a Fellow. In March 2019, John Wilson was awarded the prestigious ISM Distinguished Musician Award for his services to music and in 2021 was appointed Henry Wood Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. This latest release from Chandos is not only the labels recording of the month but is also a little different from those RCA re-recordings as it does not just focus on music from the older Golden Age classics but also includes music from films that border between the Golden and Silver ages of movie music..
Although saying this the album does begin with a near eight-minute suite from Erich Korngold’s score for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. With most of the other music that is presented hailing from those heady days in tinsel town. I for one never tire of hearing the music from this era with Korngold being particularly attractive and affecting, the composers lilting and affecting melodies infiltrate one’s heart, and soul and linger long in the sub conscious once the music has ceased to play. Elizabeth and Essex overflows with pomp, romance, surging emotions and driving themes, and stands as one of the great film scores of all time by one of if not the greatest film music composer ever. I know I should probably not compare this performance with that of the Gerhardt version, but I suppose this will be inevitable as those RCA recordings are etched into our brains. I would say that this performance by the Sinfonia of London as conducted by John Wilson is as good if not slightly brighter, but this is Korngold and a score that most collectors have loved for an age.
The collection also includes wonderful interpretations of other movie themes, The Sandpiper from 1965, for example by Johnny Mandel with its laid-back performance of The Shadow of your Smile, an evergreen melody that worked so well in the Burton and Taylor movie and has I am glad to say endured over the years, being as fresh and meaningful today as it was back in the day, in this performance the solo trumpet is played by Michael Lovatt.
The compilation also boasts a fantastic orchestral suite from The Wizard of Oz, in which we hear many of the now familiar songs from the movie in their instrumental form by composers Howard Arlen who wrote the songs and Herbert Stohart who provided the actual score for the film which garnered him an Oscar.
This is a suite that is regularly performed in concert by the likes of the Boston Pops, who have also included it on a handful of recordings, but the Sinfonia put their own indelible mark upon it here. The music somehow becoming more emotive, relentless, and dramatic in the hands of this revered orchestra.
Sinfonia of London rose to fame back in the 1950s and soon became the leading recording orchestra of the day, appearing in the musical credits of more than 300 films, including the 1958 soundtrack for Hitchcock’s Vertigo by Bernard Herrmann. The orchestra was reformed by conductor John Wilson in 2018, initially as a recording orchestra, and comprises some of Europe’s finest orchestral musicians. Their recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Symphony in F sharp won the orchestral award of the magazine BBC Music and drew critical acclaim worldwide, the orchestra are accomplished and flawless in their performances and this latest recording is no exception to that rule.
This glittering collection includes the beguiling theme from Laura penned by David Raksin. Laura was a much listened to song in 1945 which Raksin wrote for the 1944 movie Laura, the film starred Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews. The smoldering and haunting theme can be heard drifting in and out of the proceedings on many occasions throughout the movie and was a crossover hit attaining a popular status away from the movie. But it nearly never made into in the production because the film’s director, Otto Preminger, had originally wanted to use Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Lady as the central theme, but composer Raksin was not convinced that it was suitable or created the right mood. Angered by the composer’s reluctance to use what he had selected Preminger gave Raksin one weekend to compose an alternative melody, the rest as they say is history or to be more correct Film Music History. This rendition of the sultry sounding theme is mesmerizing and affecting with a stunning trombone performance by Andy Wood.
Other selections included on the compilation are a Suite from Now Voyager, by the father of film music Max Steiner, which opens with that familiar Warner Brothers fanfare and segues seamlessly into Steiner’s luxurious and romantic themes as orchestrated by the often-overlooked Hugo Friedhofer who also worked as an orchestrator for Korngold.
A suite from Rebecca (1940) by Franz Waxman which gets its premier here and includes music from seven sections of the score. How to Marry a Millionaire (Street Scene) from 1953 by Alfred Newman, and the Transylvania Marchand Embassy Waltz from My Fair Lady (1956) composed by Frederick Loewe.
Hollywood Soundstage is a mixed bag of lush and vibrant themes and affecting melodies, which I am certain we all know and adore, it is an excellent release. Why not sit back and be transported to those bygone days when movies were entertaining, and film music was a joy to hear because it contained melodic compositions. The recording is available now on digital platforms and on compact disc.