Best Film Classics 50 (CD review)

The Great Blockbusters, Favourite Movies, and Baroque Goes to the Cinema. Various soloists, conductors, and orchestras. EMI 50999 6 31673 2 (3-disc set).

I can see playing this three-disc, fifty-selection set as a sort of parlor game: Name that movie. Of course, it isn't all that easy because the discs don't actually contain most of the great theme music of cinema through the ages. Instead, the discs contain mainly music from films of the past four decades. Still, many listeners may find themselves stumped about what music goes with what film.

Here's the thing: Well over half the selections are standard classical repertoire items--warhorses mostly--that filmmakers have used in their pictures, while the rest of the selections are from composers who wrote them directly for the screen. So you get Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" used in Apocalypse Now next to Howard Shore's main theme from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The producers have divided the fifty selections into three categories: "The Great Blockbusters" on disc one; "Favourite Movies" on disc two; and "Baroque Goes to the Cinema" on disc three.

EMI culled the collection from among their many recordings of the past forty-odd years, the performances dating between 1962 and 2005. Naturally, the recordings derive from a number of different soloists, conductors, and orchestras. Let me just mention some of the famous names involved: Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Andrew Davis, Sir Colin Davis (and that's not all the "Sir's"; be patient), James Galway, Lesley Garrett, Andrei Gavrilov, Nicolai Gedda, Richard Hickox, Mariss Jansons, Herbert von Karajan, the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Sir Neville Marriner, Wayne Marshall, Yehudi Menuhin, Sabine Meyer, Riccardo Muti, Andre Previn, Sir Simon Rattle, Jordi Savall, and Barry Tuckwell, with the orchestras just as numerous.

Naturally, with any collection as large as this one, made up of many bits and pieces, everyone will have favorite tracks. Since I don't want to bore you trying to cover everything, let me just mention a few of my own favorites from the set, either for their musical value or for their sound, sometimes both. The opening track, "Sunrise," from Also Sprach Zarathustra, used famously by Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey, comes off quite effectively under Klaus Tennstedt and the London Philharmonic. Geoff Love and his orchestra do up the main theme from John Williams's Star Wars in exciting fashion. Plucked from the complete opera comes the "Intermezzo" from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, conducted by Riccardo Muti, Francis Coppola having used it in The Godfather III. Then throughout the three discs you'll find Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik, used in Tom Shadyac's Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, of all pictures, as well as in the Farrelly brothers' There's Something about Mary.

From the movie Sideways comes Tarrenga's "Memories of Alhambra," warmly and affectionately played by Christopher Parkening; from Lorenzo's Oil we find Mozart's "Ave verum corpus," again from Riccardo Muti, this time leading the Berlin Philharmonic; from Carrington comes the Adagio from Schubert's String Quartet in C with the Hungarian Quartet; from Elizabeth is "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations, with Sir Adrian Boult and the LSO; from Billy Elliot is Scene II, Act 10 from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, with Andre Previn and the LSO; from Someone to Watch Over Me comes Vivaldi's "Gloria in excelsis Deo," with Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Choir and Players; from Gallipoli we hear Albinoni/Giazotto's Adagio in C minor, with Marriner and the Academy again; from Silence of the Lambs comes the "Aria" from Bach's Goldberg Variations, beautifully played by Maria Tipo; from Barry Lyndon is Handel's "Sarabande" from the Keyboard Suite in D minor, with Andrei Gavrilov at the piano; and then from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider there's the Largo from Bach's Keyboard Concerto No. 5, again with Gavrilov. And so on.

Clearly, the EMI audio engineers had their hands full trying to choose recordings made in different locations with different artists at different times, the recordings themselves spanning over four decades, and have them sound somewhat alike. Although I found some of it a little bright and forward, I'd say the engineers did a pretty good job. There are wide dynamic ranges present in most of the selections and excellent clarity and definition. Orchestral depth suffers on some tracks, though, and deepest bass is occasionally lacking. When they are present, however, as in the Star Wars selection and almost anything by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, they are splendid.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa