REVIEW – LSO Tiomkin CD

08.03.12
Richard Kaufman
AmericanMusicPreservation.com

By Steven A. Kennedy

There may not be a more powerful combination for a film music compilation recording than the pairing of Richard Kaufman and the London Symphony Orchestra.  Both conductor and ensemble have a long respected history both in the studio and in concert with film music.  The LSO’s last great film music compilation found John Williams on the podium for a variety of classic music.  Kaufman also recorded a themed film music disc, The High and the Mighty with the orchestra for Varese several years ago.  This time, the program focuses entirely on Dimitri Tiomkin’s work.  Some of the composer’s most important work is represented here in a recording that encompasses music from 16 scores.  The multi-channel recording was recorded live last October at the Barbican. Kaufman’s arrangements are a mix of those by Patrick Russ and Christopher Palmer (revisiting several works recorded by Charles Gerhardt for his classic RCA series and some from Tadlow’s recent Tiomkin compilation with the City of Prague Orchestra).  An arrangement of “Thee I Love” by Lee Holdridge and “Wild is the Wind” by Nan Schwartz round off this pops-like program.

Perhaps one of the attractive features of this compilation is its mix of familiar thematic material with some that is a bit more peripheral.  That is to say, that for the average audience approaching this disc there will be plenty of familiar music to hopefully encourage them to pick the release up.  For film music fans, there is an opportunity to have a new companion to the larger Silva collection, and a simply fabulous update in spots to the classic Gerhardt recording.  This disc will not replace the latter since there is no music from Lost Horizon here.  Kaufman’s program is well chosen and sequenced here with a mix of overtures, suites, and shorter thematic music.

What does strike the listener is how clear Tiomkin’s textures are in these pieces.  The opening “Overture” to Cyrano de Bergerac is a great period selection with a hint of swashbuckling music.  It is unlike the other Hollywood music of its time for this reason with Tiomkin’s idea of “lush” being quite unique from others writing at this time.  Even in the suite for The Alamo one hears this openness of sound that manages to create a sense of the Old West without simply mimicking Coplandesque writing.  Notable in this particular release is the way the LSO performs this music.  It is great to hear some of those romantic string slides to pitches, often looked down on as sloppy playing, but definitely here an important instrumental effect.  Kaufman’s leadership lets this music sparkle.  The recessed entry of the chorus (singing briefly “The Green Leaves of Summer”) is really quite moving in this performance which alone is worth the cost of the disc.

Having set the stage with this more expansive Western suite which musically offers much more than that, we move into music from The Old Man and the Sea.  The “Theme, Cubana and Finale” finds Tiomkin more in traditional Hollywood mode, but the listener can be struck by a distinctly different more modern harmonic movement in the midst of gorgeous Romantic writing and a the central section feels very well suited to pops concerts.  The period style of The Four Poster “Overture” recalls the opening Cyrano music with Spanish inflections.  It precedes another longer suite, this time exploring music from the James Dean film Giant.  It is interesting to hear how the different Western music Tiomkin wrote seems to introduce new ideas, some might call them clichés, and makes them uniquely his own.

Music from The High and the Mighty provides a respite from some of the Western musical selections.  The version differs from Kaufman’s earlier recording with choir added this time out.  This is followed by a Hitchcock Suite that allows for a taste of Tiomkin’s film noir-like style in music from the films Dial ‘M’ for Murder and Strangers on a Train.  Two rather pops like selections recall the lighter Western style used in The Sundowners, and then there is “The John ‘Duke’ Wayne March” from Circus World Tiomkin composed to honor one of his frequent collaborators.  There are a couple of historical epic scores represented here.  The first is from The Fall of the Roman Empire (“The Fall of Love”) that seems a bit forgettable, or at least less descriptive of the period.  The other comes from Land of the Pharaohs and is a suite consisting of the “Theme and Pharaoh’s Procession.”  The music is lodges between music from Circus World and Friendly Persuasion.  Whitney Claire Kaufman’s vocal here is gorgeous but sounds more like something from The Prince of Egypt than in this earlier film music.  It seems like it might have been better to have just the processional music.

In addition to orchestral selections, there are several vocal performances of classic Tiomkin songs.  For purists these will likely not match their memories of the first.  The soloists do a fine job not trying to be too operatic which means that the performance might strike some more like classic Broadway singing (not the sort that we tend to hear these days).  Andrew Playfoot provides covers of “Do Not Forsake Me” (High Noon), and the “Theme” from Rawhide (and this particular selection is quite good).  Whitney Claire Kaufman performs the theme from Wild is the Wind in a more pops-like style.  This works well in the smooth jazzy backdrop of Lee Holdridge’s lush arrangement.  It is a rather unusually designed song that is almost stream of conscious.  Her performance is still stunning.  The final tracks focus on two selections from Friendly Persuasion.  “The Fair” is a brief upbeat piece and the song “Thee I Love” feels like a bit of an “encore” here making for a fitting conclusion with one of Tiomkin’s most famous songs.      

For some reason, Tiomkin’s music appears less frequently.  Reissues of classic scores seem to get less attention than they deserve.  At least with this new release from LSO LIVE, Tiomkin’s music may be introduced to a whole new legion of film music fans.  One of the best film music re-recordings we are likely to see this year.