The movies have forever used classical music as themes and background, from the earliest silent films and their piano and organ accompaniment to today's big-screen, multichannel blockbusters. Stanley Kubrick practically revived the entire classical-music scene with his groundbreaking films. But of the five items on the Decca disc under review, only the ersatz Warsaw Concerto was written directly for a film, Dangerous Moonlight, in 1941. All the other pieces derive from existing classical material.
The other works included are parts of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto. These selections featured in the films Brief Encounter, The Seven Year Itch, The Story of Three Loves, Groundhog Day, Rhapsody in Blue, and Manhattan.
In the early days of digital recording, critics complained of too much brightness, hardness, and edginess in the sound. By the Nineties or so, however, record companies had gone out of their way to produce just the opposite, often erring in the direction of too soft a focus. I suppose the works on this disc, recorded between 1994-98, benefit psychologically from the big, warm sound Decca provides them, but the sonics aren't always as clear as an audiophile might like.
The Warsaw Concerto, as an example, receives a far more incisive and transparent rendering from Daniel Adni on EMI's "Classics for Pleasure" label, and Ashkenazy's own, earlier analogue discs with Andre Previn are more lucid (and more heartfelt) than these. Still, if one's audio system tends toward the upper frequencies, as many of today's movie-oriented speakers do, these performances might just compensate. Otherwise, this remains a good collection of mood music, better played and certainly better written than most of what passes for theme music in a lot of today's movies.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: