Capsule Comments and Controversy
Brief Reviews of Something Old or Something New
By Chris Malone
28.01.07 -- Snow but no Raine in Prague
"Prague is the Paris of the '90s" -- Marion Ross, American actress
"Dobry den!" Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and home to about 1.2 million people. Due to extraordinarily heavy snowfall, all inbound and outbound Prague flights were cancelled on Wednesday 24 January 2007, my intended travel day. Thursday's rescheduled flight arrived some four hours late -- the icy tarmac greeting our airplane was expertly negotiated by our captain in darkness.
I walked to Smecky Studios on Friday morning. Arriving in good time, I was greeted by James Fitzpatrick, CD producer for Tadlow Music. "You finally made it!" he exclaimed. Shortly after relating my travel dilemma, the insignificance of it became patently obvious as the orchestra was without a conductor for the first day. An honourable substitute had been conjured on short-notice however there was still no sign of Nic Raine and that was concerning. Seconds before the 9am kick-off, the maestro entered the control room weary from spending most of the night travelling. After 2 minutes of light chatter with James, Czech engineer Jan Holzman and I, Nic took the podium. Tune up was followed by one rehearsal and then the red "ticho" lamp was illuminated. A near perfect take was captured. After two additional takes and some minor patches, the cue was nailed.
Thankfully, the highlights of the score had been saved for this day. For some cues I would sit on the stage behind Nic however most of my time was spent in the control room. Jan was to be complimented on finding space for the woodwinds as they were somewhat indistinct heard live on the stage. As the last note of the prelude reverberated away I complimented James (and later Nic) for faithfully reproducing the score. The Czech musicians relished this music, playing expressively and with good intonation. In breaks one could overhear humming of themes as they studied the local newspaper and chatted away. In fact, their performance was so good that we concluded some 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
Hearing Miklos Rozsa's 1970 score to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, devoid of dialog and sound effects (and in stereo), offered opportunity to marvel at intricate lines for flute, clarinet and bassoon. This new recording is the world premiere of the score on album and ought to satisfy both Rozsa aficionados and classical fans. Rozsa adapted his violin concerto for this score and the stunning, blonde Czech soloist was certainly at one with her instrument.
As I sat at the Ruzyne airport awaiting a delayed return to Heathrow, I reflected on a whirlwind few days. Prague is a fantastic escape from the bustle of London and the Czech people are lovely. As professional musicians they are exceptional workers who feel privileged to perform film music. Almost all of them have never seen Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Sherlock Holmes but they savoured every note.
James Fitzpatrick's CD is a triumph despite the production being anything but elementary, dear Watson. It rightfully deserves pride of place in any Miklos Rozsa collection.
"And once again Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents" -- Arthur Conan Doyle, Scottish authorTadlow Music 004 - The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
Abbey Road by The Beatles
What a challenge for the producers and mastering team! To create a product that somehow finds a mid-point on the spectrum ranging from audiophiles to the "iPod Generation" that knows nothing other than hiss-free and grotesquely peak-limited audio. Mercifully, and quite miraculously, a mid-point would seem to have been reached.
The audio on the new 2009 disc (and possibly other remasters that I don't have yet) finds a middle-ground through tasteful equalisation decisions, a relatively conservative use of peak-limiting and an undetectable use of noise reduction. That said, there are many dBs of high-frequency gain present above about 15 KHz that rises more steeply as it approaches the Nyquist frequency. Amplifying the 13 or so seconds of "hiss" following "The End" really shows it up. There's also some colour in the upper high end, say above 10 KHz. Frequency response tends to become slightly non-linear, I feel -- almost like there were a few phase issues introduced through use of non-linear EQ.
The much-coveted Toshiba CP35-3016 has a one sample (23 μs) azimuth (group delay) error that can be corrected via a one sample delay applied to the left channel. The absolute polarity also differs between the CP35 and the 2009 remaster. For me, the absence of peak limiting and the greater high frequency phase accuracy (once the aforementioned group delay error has been corrected) makes the CP35 the one to reach for. But it could all be because I have known it for longer as well!Original 1983 issue Toshiba EMI Odeon CP35-3016
2009 remastered issue EMI 0946 3 82468 2 4
Alien by Jerry Goldsmith
Recorded by Eric Tomlinson at Anvil in Denham and conducted by Lionel Newman, the essential Intrada deluxe 2CD set is the definitive presentation of this arresting Jerry Goldsmith score.
As much as I respect Goldsmith's original intentions, I mostly prefer the rescored alternate cues. Especially "Hyper Sleep" and the 2nd part of "Out the Door." To my mind, the reimagined "Main Title" is more evocative of the film's masterful title sequence and icy tone. And the use of Hanson's Symphony #2 in the end credits provided a much needed release from tensions maintained to the final frame. Although, the cues tracked from Freud were somewhat less effective in supporting the film.
Goldsmith makes some remarkable use of exotic instruments, echo and dynamics with some solid action writing. Some of my favourite moments are the more human ones: where Goldsmith utilises the repeating flute phrase backed by high and low strings in "Hyper Sleep"; the melancholy "Nothing to Say"; and the spartan conclusion to "Out the Door (alternate)". "The Landing" is still a tremendous cue that, in some respects, summarises major ideas of the score with a sense of urgency and foreboding. An essential purchase.Intrada MAF 7102 - Alien
Back to the Future by Alan Silvestri
"Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"
Finally owning a copy of Alan Silvestri's Back to the Future music is somewhat significant for me. In the mid-1990s, two university comrades and I recorded a radio serial tribute titled Bruce to the Future for our show, 3 Out Of 5 Stars. Loosely based on the trilogy, one thing that we found rather difficult was scoring our adventure. Spending our scant loose change on cars and the cinema, we couldn't afford to import the extant soundtrack albums and the radio station library was not suitably stocked. Dubbing cues directly from our own VHS tapes became a way forward.
Over subsequent years we would often talk about how special Alan Silvestri's lively, amiable and rousing score was at shaping our interest in film music generally. We hoped that perhaps, one day, it might see publication on album.
Just prior to the film's 25th anniversary, Intrada delivers a knockout two disc presentation that allows the listener to travel back in time to hitherto unknown earlier recording sessions. We hear how Silvestri reworked cues into the versions dubbed into the film. And what a revelation this is! Some adjustments are subtle, some are overt. For example: the difference between the film and original version of "Tension" highlights the effectiveness of adding orchestration for pounding timpani and low strings. Generally speaking, the cues from the earlier sessions tend to lack the overall coherence of their revised counterparts. Whilst most thematic material is present, the orchestration places greater emphasis on synthesised elements and non-melodic snaps and bursts from within the orchestra. Additionally, the performance is generally less accurate and the recording less specific in its imaging offering more of a row-M sound.
The revised cues comprise the pieces inextricably linked to the fun-filled film and can be found on disc one. I am particularly fond of Silvestri's use of tuba during the second half of the arresting "Clocktower" sequence. Sometimes in unison with the horns, adding weight to the first few notes of the main theme -- possibly a unique flavour for this cue. It's also interesting how he pushed the horns down commencing at 3:56 in "85 Twin Pines Mall" to bring them back at 4:28.
Back to the Future is a testament to Alan Silvestri's competence at achieving greatness so early in his, now distinguished, career scoring major motion pictures. It is clearly evident that Silvestri made significant efforts to deliver a memorable and perfectly fitting score.
Recorded at Warner Bros. in Burbank, the balance, courtesy of scoring mixer Dennis Sands, is enveloping with a pleasant sense of acoustic space courtesy of his Decca Tree miking setup. Sands was presented a 3M Lyra Award in early 1986 -- a recipient during the first year 3M awarded individuals for their contribution a film's soundtrack. The dubbing crew, consisting of Bill Varney, Bob Thirlwell, B. Tennyson Sebastian II and William B Kaplan, were also awarded a Lyra and nominated for an Academy Award.
Perhaps it's the sources appropriated. Or nuances with the recording equipment. Either way, this new edition has a 17.5 KHz tone that is present exclusively in the right channel of about half of the cues on disc one. Whilst certainly not as ear-piercing as "flyback" type tones I have encountered in the past, (The Touch being a particularly vivid example), this is still an annoyance that precise digital EQ with an extremely narrow width would have resolved.
Tonally, I prefer the "Movie Greats" version of the "End Credits" on MCAD-6183 from 1986. Mastered by Greg Fulginiti, this particular disc doesn't have the low and high end gain that is present on the Intrada. The new edition is slightly laid back by comparison and is a little bright. It would seem to have undergone digital noise reduction but not excessively so. There are a few drop-outs that must have escaped scrutiny from the mastering team. These are during the "End Credits" track and in the left channel at 2:20, 2:21 and 2:45. The same dropouts are not on the "Movie Greats" version, for example. A very minor pitch stability issue -- manifesting itself as a slight futter of the type created by a slightly out of round capstan roller, for instance -- affects tracks 9 and 22. This is most discernable during solo brass and horn statements. To a lesser degree, an extremely minor flutter is also present in the "End Credits" track 24.
Intrada's release of the complete score is a limited edition. Whilst the exact run of units is unspecified, you may need to travel back in time to secure a copy if you become a slacker and allow the clock to tick on by!
Thank you, Intrada, for putting this grail within the grasp of all film music fans!
"If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."Intrada Special Collection Volume 116 - Back to the Future
The Boys from Brazil by Jerry Goldsmith
The Boys from Brazil reunited a late 1970s unassailable team: composer Jerry Goldsmith; orchestrator Arthur Morton; The National Philharmonic Orchestra; and engineer Eric Tomlinson.
Intrada submits an outstanding presentation of the full Boys from Brazil score replete with a replica of the original 1978 suite-based album on disc two. Goldsmith's choice of Straussian waltz to depict Ezra Liebermann is inspired and yet not at odds with subject matter concerning Nazis, cloning and assassinations. "The Killers Arrive" is a five and a half minute exhibition of Goldsmith's flair for stop-start rhythm with dark bursts of anger from horns, low brass and strings. It's this music for Dr Josef Mengele that feels like a march gone wrong, plodding away twisted in onto itself.
The "film mix" of "We're Home Again" is somewhat of a curiosity. Album producer Douglass Fake revealed that the source tape was in poor condition. The song is besieged with high-end breakup reminiscent of interpolation errors during digital resampling. Time alignment is also significantly askew with a massive group delay of 21,088 ms necessary to correct it.
It's nigh on a moot point as the song is reprised on disc two in fine quality. It's the single blemish on an otherwise near faultless presentation. Indeed, in 2008 the IFMCA thought it deserving of "Best New Release/Re-release of an Existing Score" from "Record Label of the Year." Bravo Monsieur Fake!Intrada Special Collection Volume 75 - The Boys from Brazil
Bullitt by Lalo Schifrin
The actual original film soundtrack to Bullitt by Lalo Schifrin has finally seen CD publication from Film Score Monthly. This disc, in fact, contains two Bullitts: the actual film recording of the score made at the Warner Bros. scoring stage; and the LP re-recording.
The Lee Herschberg engineered LP content was recreated via remix of the original eight-track tapes by Mike Matessino. It's pleasing to hear that the music is finally freed from the unnatural sound and phase alterations created by the Haeco-CSG processing (also heard on the original German (9362-45008-2) CD issue).
It's the film version that is the jewel of this set, formed via a snug Dan Wallin recording.
A top-drawer disc, from the extensive notes to Joe Sikoryak's funky coloured artwork and dependable mastering by Doug Schwartz. Excellent!
I remember seeing Schifrin perform his Jazz Meets the Symphony concert and he was gracious enough to autograph my Dirty Harry soundtrack CD. Such a tremendous jazz talent.
Coma by Jerry Goldsmith
Recorded by Aaron Rochin at M-G-M in Culver City, the Bay Cities Coma disc is a dynamic and clean representation of the gripping and taut album. Sonically, a minor improvement could be a notch at 60 Hz to remove electrical hum. The Chapter III release is brighter and has been peak limited with a square wave buzz-cut that introduces distortion during loud passages. Some use of digital noise reduction is evident too. The Chapter III appears to be a different transfer from the album tapes as there is a very minor increase in pitch over the Bay Cities. My pick: the Bay Cities.Bay Cities BCD 3027
Chapter III CHA 0136
Cuba by Patrick Williams
What a sensational score! Cuba's exciting percussive rhythms, interspersed with sensual Latin vocal and acoustic guitar work, creates an evocative and persuasive aural landscape. I dig the shifts in tempo and colour, the delicacy of some of the percussion lines, the use of flute and bassoon, the biting vocal percussive effects, the way the colours fill spaces without sounding congested. John Richards' delightful engineering at CTS in Wembley provides stunning clarity, separation and detail.
It's so enjoyable to be a film music fan in this wonderful renaissance period where there are many wonderful scores being constantly unearthed from hitherto sacrosanct studios or materials presumed lost.
Diamonds Are Forever by John Barry
Diamonds Are Forever is brilliant!
Shirley Bassey's sensual and salacious performance of Don Black's innuendo laden lyrics evidently offended OO7 producer Harry Saltzman. Not that it matters, the song seductively reclines alongside Bassey's own brash and villainous Goldfinger as an archetypal James Bond standard.
Diamonds Are Forever is utter rubbish!
At least the early 1990s soundtrack CD offered by Capitol was disastrous. Staging was unsymmetrical, tone pinched, equalisation jagged and hiss excessive in one channel. It is a barefaced demonstration of poor mastering for CD.
Thankfully, then, the 2003 reissue presents the score more favourably and provides more of it. Remixed from the original 1" 8-track scoring tapes, the music was revitalised and refocussed. Consequently, the original mix, prepared by composer John Barry and engineering expert John Richards, has been approximated.
There are now at least three distinct mixes of the title song recorded at CTS in Bayswater during September of 1971.
Maurice Binder's title sequence commences with an attention-grabbing brass stinger followed by hypnotic caresses of strings and harp. After 10 seconds, an abrupt transition, both aurally and visually, brings us to the song proper. Flute is audible during refrains in lyric during the provocative first verse. Violins are in prominence in the film mix and most significantly during the last verse corresponding to the final 25 seconds. Vibraphone is generally a beat early throughout the entire song. This is especially noticeable at the 1:35 mark where a note can be heard over bass guitar.
The 10 second stinger opening was added for the 2003 revision and imperceptibly cross-faded to the song. Both the original 1971 album and 2003 version time the vibraphone correctly however the earlier mix dials out the flute entirely. Bass guitar is somewhat weighty in the remix and lower in tone from the original. The remix also places many percussive rhythm elements left and right versus centrally in the original mix.
Choosing a favourite would, superficially, seem easy. The highest fidelity and most complete version is the 2003 soundtrack reissue. The original has its merits, though. The delayed plate echo on the vocal and brass is certainly an idiosyncratic John Richards engineering technique not replicated for the remix. Those seeking the original 1971 mix will probably get greatest sonic mileage from the Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Collection or John Barry: Best of the EMI Years. Delay the left channel by 23 μs on the latter to correct a time alignment error.
Aside: The Diamonds Are Forever title sequence demonstrates the sonic differences in the film version as detailed above.EMI 0777-7-98560-2 2
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade by John Williams
I will unreservedly state that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a wonderful Dan Wallin recording. It lacks the crispness and bite of Raiders of the Lost Ark and so it should. The score portrays a more intimate and gentle story. It's more about a father and son reconnecting after many years of detachment and divide rather than action and thrills. Excitement is present, to be sure, but the focus here is warmth and Wallin's technique, delivered at M-G-M Culver City (known as Lorimar during scoring), is perfect at conjuring it.
Dan Wallin has proven to be a master at capturing woodwinds. In some respects his tenet of recording an "exact copy of the actual sound of an instrument" is best demonstrated by his adroit knack at revealing inner-orchestral voices for flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon. It's achieved through abhorrence of the Decca Tree in preference to boothing, tight solid-state multi-miking and a stereo pair above the conductor's podium used to establish room tone. The resultant woodwind sound is phase coherent, rich and real.
The freshly mastered edition on Concord Records, derived from original three-channel mixes, presents the score favourably. Frequency response is phase coherent, tone a little bright yet appealing, and dynamics processing tolerable. Highlights of the hitherto unreleased cues include "Alarm" and "Father's Study." Both aptly accentuate the woodwinds.Concord Records CRE-31000 - Indiana Jones: The Soundtracks Collection
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom by John Williams
Whilst unreleased music from The Temple of Doom was something that I was certainly looking forward to, the Concord reissue presents a busy and highly action-orientated ride. It made me realise that, in chronological order, it can all be a bit too much. It's a very kinetic score with most of the set pieces concisely excised and sequenced by Williams for his original album. In addition to the full finale, the only other music that I really desired was the expansive horn-led trek music from "The Scroll" and the deliciously dark and wondrous "To Pankot Palace".
Produced by Laurent Bouzereau and mastered by Patricia Sullivan Fourstar, this new expanded edition does come with liabilities. Regrettably, "Return to the Village" doesn't link with the full end credits. Missing is the segue to the "Raiders March" that plays at counterpoint to Short Round's theme. Unique in orchestration, the missing 26 seconds cannot be located within the "End Credits" track either having been trimmed for the original album.
Pitch problems are rife. The aforementioned "Return to the Village" is substantially down in pitch whereas the "End Credits" are up in pitch. Sound quality varies with the "British Relief" fanfare quite muffled and reverberant compared with music immediately preceding it. It was stated that the score was mastered from digital tapes however I am confused how a digital recording can have print through and be off pitch.
The Japanese Polydor POCP-2014 issue from 1991 would seem to be a true digital-only representation of the score. A port of the 1984 album prepared by Bruce Botnick and mastered by Bernie Grundman, the sound is more dynamic and clear, perhaps a little sterile, but in perfect pitch. The Concord is a missed opportunity to serve up something better.Concord Records CRE-31000 - Indiana Jones: The Soundtracks Collection
Jaws by John Williams
The original MCA Jaws album, recorded by John Neal, will remain an excellent distillation of the score. The original tracks on Decca shed a different light -- a more fragmentary and raw experience without the scale that the album has. Both releases are important but I find myself coming back to the somewhat lean sounding 1992 MCA CD more often. I wonder whether the success of the score outside of the film would have been as great had the original tracks been issued at the time. For some reason, during the fold to two-channel stereo, the percussion (including timpani) was placed out-of-phase. It's a curious effect but not desirable as a sum to mono will remove much of the percussion and timpani.MCA Records MCAD 1660
Moonraker by John Barry
To my ears Moonraker has always had some issues with its sonics. The score was recorded by Dan Wallin at Studios Davout in Paris. The main studio was housed within a converted cinema and first opened in 1966. With a floor area of approximately 32,000 square feet, Studios Davout could comfortably contain 80 musicians. At the time Moonraker was scored, the studio was likely to be operating its 30 channel console, installed in the early 1970s, and recording to 24-track analog tape.
In many ways the recording is almost a mono mix buried within a wall of artificial reverb although stereo spread is more significant within the film itself. Certain orchestra sections, such as the horns and brass, appear very closely miked but the reverb pushes it all back. The result is a coagulated and cloudy sound. "Bond Arrives in Rio" is the sole piece with any real stereo spread, coming from cowbell and guiro.
It is evident that dynamic range was heavily restricted in the analog domain during preparation of the original 1979 album. The compressor/limiter audibly attacks and releases on the horns and lower strings. Thankfully, the 2003 CD reissue prepared by Bob Fisher -- even though a direct port of the original album -- does not make this worse by adding further dynamics processing. Time alignment is fine and the tone of the CD is quite satisfactory however I find my old LP to be more engaging.
The Bassey title song sounds more airy, wider and dynamic on the Best of James Bond: 30th Anniversary Collection set. This version was probably taken from the 45 RPM single tape rather than the album tapes.Capitol Records 724354142529
Music from the Golden Age by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
A buffet of Korngold morsels from: Kings Row; Anthony Adverse; The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex; The Sea Hawk; The Prince and the Pauper; The Constant Nymph; and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Wonderful music, enthusiastic performances and invigorating sound. The DCC disc is rich, warm and engaging. Recorded in Germany in 1961 under the baton of Lionel Newman, the credits list Dolph Thomas as the engineer. I understand that Thomas engineered many of the Warner Bros recordings in the 1940s and 50s and probably did the originals. The swashbuckling sound of Star Wars owes its inspiration to many of the Korngold compositions found here. Heartily recommended to fans of film music.DCC Compact Classics GZS-1094
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan by James Horner
Star Trek II is an exuberant and thrilling score composed during James Horner's most fertile and prolific period. Horner invested the second Trek film with a life and emotive power that was somewhat absent from the starship Enterprise's staid previous mission. A different type of adventure to be sure.
Film Score Monthly's Retrograde sublabel has released a stunning expanded presentation that further attracts via richly coloured artwork. Now, with all the atonal and connecting pieces, the score is even more compelling. It was always an exceptionally well-realised LP programme but this new version brings the whole into sharper focus.
Of the previously unreleased selections, "Kirk in Space Shuttle" impresses where the trumpet-led Courage fanfare subsides to lower strings and oscillating violins. The fluttering horns and trumpets together with the tumultuous strings of "Captain Terrell's Death" are reminiscent of something Bernard Herrmann may have conjured. And when it all subsides, the throbbing double-bass heart-beat of Khan is ever present. Conveying less sinister moods, the "Genesis Cave" music is rather beautiful and craftily integrates sprinkles of synthesiser glitter supported by sustained notes from the strings.
Freed from the shackles of B.A.S.E. processing, and all the errant phase shifts associated with it, the subtle minutiae in Horner's work can now be properly enjoyed. Emphasis in the lower frequency range also supplies much needed power over the old GNP CD. It's a relief to hear that peak limiting was ostensibly eschewed, and only used minimally, for this reissue thereby enabling the wide dynamics of Dan Wallin's original recordings to be retained. Actually, this is a superbly mastered disc by Doug Schwartz. The tone and dynamics are stellar. Bravo Doug!
This disc is a demonstration of everything that I could possibly hope for in a CD release: excellent music; enthusiastic performances; an engaging recording; lovingly assembled; beautifully mastered; informatively chronicled; and strikingly packaged. Get it now.Retrograde FSM-80128-2 - Star Trek II
WarGames by Arthur B. Rubinstein
Arthur B. Rubinstein's WarGames score really does offer something for everyone: from large-scale action writing; to brooding orchestral undercurrents; to the poetic intimacy of the "Edge of the World"; to surreptitious passages for woodwinds; to period synth-pop beats. Whilst it may seem inconsistent and contradictory, Rubinstein collates his thematic material succinctly and excels at creating moods in his clever score. Amongst the highlights are: the poignant "I Can't Swim," urgent "Closing the Mountain" and frenetic finale "Winner None."
1983 was a terrific year for film music and WarGames is amongst the finest. Intrada's definitive edition boasts a tight and focussed presentation of Aaron Rochin's dynamic M-G-M recording enabling delicate moments and bombast to be equally readily perceived. Highly recommended.Intrada Special Collection Volume 65 - WarGames
You Only Live Twice by John Barry
The opening gun barrel sequence makes its debut on the 2003 Capitol CD. Barry's orchestration adopts a low tonality. The main guitar riff is performed in a lower octave with a trace of "fuzz" distortion. There are no high strings -- only cellos and basses performing the vamp. Tuba would seem to be present during the "bee-bop" under the trumpets and subtlety blended horns. Piccolo provides a sense of urgency here and would be used elsewhere in the score. Brushed snare and hi-hat provide tempo during the body.
There is an open hi-hat or ride cymbal hit at the 13 second mark that is detectable in the film (at least the original mix) but not on CD. The DVD and CD become unsynchronised subsequent to the gunshot and, by conclusion of the cue, the final brass note on the DVD is noticeably early. It is possible that edits were made at 12 and 14 seconds for the CD. The brass certainly seems to lurch at the 14 second mark. In addition, the guitar seems to have less fuzz in the film version but this could be a result of reduction to monaural.Capitol Records 724354141829