Titanic: Anniversary Edition (CD review)

Music composed and conducted by James Horner. Also, Gentlemen, It Has Been A Privilege Playing with You Tonight. Original motion picture soundtrack and I Salonisti. Sony 8869191475 2 (2-disc set).

I don't usually listen to or review movie soundtrack recordings because I generally find them dull and repetitive. Motion picture music is fine in a motion picture, where it belongs, but it doesn't often work in isolated bits and pieces. However, I did enjoy this two-disc, 2012 "Anniversary Edition" of music from James Cameron's 1997 Titanic. The first disc contains music composed by James Horner for the film, and a second disc contains salon music of the era from the ensemble I Salonisti. For anyone touched by the film, and that would be millions of people, this new set commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the ship's sinking (and the fifteenth anniversary of the movie) should move them even further. And it doesn't hurt that at about this time Cameron re-released the movie in 3-D.

The first disc sets the mood from the beginning with some of the movie's most-familiar music. There follows a series of diverse offerings--vocal, orchestral, and instrumental--that pretty much encapsulate the plot of the story. A few of the highlights include "Leaving the Port," "Unable to Stay, Unwilling to Leave," "A Life So Changed," the Celine Dion best-seller "My Heart Will Go On," and the concluding number, "Hymn to the Sea." There are fifteen tracks in all, and fans of the film will no doubt find them gratifying, if only for nostalgic reasons because they remind them of the movie.

It's the second disc that appealed to me more, titled "Gentlemen, It Has Been a Privilege Playing with You Tonight." It includes songs that the Titanic's salon orchestra might have played on that fateful night, a collection of pop and classical tunes popular at the time. Survivors of the disaster differ on what song the ship's band played as she went down; tradition has settled on a sentimental favorite, "Nearer My God To Thee," but it was more likely "Alexander's Ragtime Band," a number-one hit of the year before the sinking, or possibly "Song of Autumn." The album gives us all three songs, played by the salon orchestra I Salonisti, which consists of five players: two violins, a cello, a double bass, and a piano.  I Salonisti not only play the music for the film, they play the players themselves. They are an elegant and refined group, and their renditions of well-known classics like Strauss's Blue Danube, Suppe's Peasant and Poet, and Offenbach's Barcarole are especially welcome.

Lest the audiophile be worried about the sound, let me assure you that these discs are a cut above most soundtrack recordings. The London Symphony carries out the orchestral chores on disc one, the music recorded at Air Studios Lyndhurst Hall, London, in 1997, and originally mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Moreover, for this 2012 special edition, Sony remastered the sound of the first disc, so the sonics no longer seem so recessed but come out sounding vivid and smooth. The disc uses its deep bass sparingly to good effect.  Still, like most such pop and soundtrack albums, the perspective is fairly flat, with little sense of dimensionality or being at a live event. Of course, we're not at a live event; we're listening to a movie soundtrack.

The second disc of salon music, though, sounds even better than the first disc, more natural and more realistic. I suppose we should expect more transparency from so much smaller an ensemble. Nevertheless, there still isn't a lot of air around the instruments, so, yes, while it sounds more lifelike than the first disc, it also sounds rather one dimensional. It's just that with only five players, it doesn't make much difference.

It's hard keeping a dry eye listening to this stuff, particularly by the last number, so it's no wonder the film made as much money as almost anything Hollywood has ever produced. It probably works best if you've seen the film, but even if you haven't, this partially remastered set is a poignant experience.

The folks at Sony do a good job packaging the discs, too, using a double jewel case and a handsome, stiff-cardboard slipcover. Within the case, you'll find not only an informative booklet but a set of paper drink coasters and luggage tags with various "Titanic" emblems on them. Nicely done.


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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.

Contact Information

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