This is the second release by the London Philharmonic playing soundtrack music from Hollywood films. The first, Blockbusters from 1960s to 1980s (review-link below), harked back further than the 1960s as most of the composers made their names in Hollywood from the 1930s onwards, such as Alfred Newman, Bronislaw Kaper, Franz Waxman, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann.
This second volume, covering the 1980s to the 2000s presents a new generation of film composers. Apart from John Williams, those represented here are more modern in their approach and do not recall the heyday of the Hollywood score, but are every bit as good as their predecessors. In a way their music is perhaps not as memorable as, say, the scores of Steiner, Korngold and Waxman who made their music as unforgettable as Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. The exception is John Williams who continues to write in the style of old Hollywood from the 1930s and 1940s. Just think of his scores for The Towering Inferno, Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, E.T., Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter, and you will understand what I mean. Williams creates epic themes for big action films.
Williams can, however, be subtle and very moving, witness his main theme for Schindler’s List. Here he is represented by his Star Wars Symphonic Suite, including the ‘Imperial March’ (or Darth Vader’s Theme) which reminds some listeners of Holst’s Planets Suite. To my ears it recalls Arthur Bliss’s music for Things to Come. Also included is Williams’s ‘Raiders March’ from Raiders of the Lost Ark, a rousing theme that makes a most fitting finale.
The LPO members play Williams’s music as if their lives depended upon it but then it’s that sort of music where you can let yourself go and get caught up in its majestic quality. Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator Suite is another score that reaches similar heights of excitement, owing to the film’s subject matter. The ‘Main Theme’ by Vangelis for Chariots of Fire has become an iconic piece perhaps because it is quite different to most other film music. It tells the story of the British athletes in the 1924 Olympics, and in fact it sounds as if the runners are slowing down to fit in with the music which is a simple theme with jazz influences. It seems perfect and it’s impossible to think of any other musical accompaniment that would better get across the struggle of the competitors’ bid to win at any price.
Don Davis wrote the scores for The Matrix trilogy for which he used electronic sounds alongside his orchestral writing to create a futuristic atmosphere incorporating repetition and static harmony combined with heavy brass and warlike percussion. No doubt these epic-style scores would have been labelled anti-sentimental by Marvin Hamlisch whose score for Sophie’s Choice reflects the tragic nature of the film’s theme about a Polish woman losing a daughter to the Nazi gas chambers.
Having written those great outdoors scores for Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, Ennio Morricone, for his work on The Mission, uses a combination of ethnic instrumentation and liturgical music. Here we are treated to the ethereal ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’. Let’s not forget also that Morricone wrote one of the most moving film themes for Cinema Paradiso, the plangent music that accompanied the funeral cortege. Luis Enriquez Bacalov’s score for Il Postino is on the same level as Morricone in Cinema Paradiso and you cannot help but be moved by this gently evocative theme for a delightful film about a rural postman. Another Italian (American) composer is Angelo Badalamenti who has written music for the films of David Lynch. ‘Laura Palmer’s Theme’ from the Twin Peaks television series is probably his most well-known work; here in a full orchestration it sounds even more powerful. It’s a theme that works its way into your brain and lodges itself, just as some of Lynch’s weird imagery does too.
Staying again with the Italian personnel, Nicola Piovani is the composer of nearly 200 film and TV scores, most of which have never been screened in the UK, apart from his work with Fellini, He came to global prominence in 1997 with his Oscar-winning score for La Vita è bella, a charming piece with a Suite made up of a mixture of bubbles and sentiment.
Elmer Bernstein was famous for his work on The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Ghostbusters, and numerous others. Here he is in contemplative mood for Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, based on the Edith Wharton novel about polite society in New York at the turn of the twentieth-century. Danny Elfman couldn’t be more different, working as he does much of the time with Gothick-meister Tim Burton. Elfman’s music for The Nightmare Before Christmas puts me in mind of Bernard Herrmann in Hitchcock mode.
Jerry Goldsmith is noted for his music for Planet of the Apes, The Omen, Star Trek, Poltergeist, Gremlins, and Rambo, among others. For Mulan, the Disney film about a Chinese girl turned warrior, he used ethnic instruments and the pentatonic five-note scale of traditional Chinese music. Incidentally, Goldsmith and Morricone are the only composers represented on both of these LPO film-music albums.
Here we have a cross-section of music styles that should appeal to most moviegoers. Dirk Brossé is himself a composer of nearly thirty scores for films and television, as well as concert works. He knows his way around film music and elicits the best from the London Philharmonic.