Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham (14thApril 2018)
(The Halle Orchestra conducted by Stephen Bell)
I had seen the famous 86-piece Halle here in Nottingham when they played ‘The Music of James Bond’ in May 2016. I had been very impressed with the high standard of playing. They came back here in March last year, with their conductor Stephen Bell, to play an impressive set entitled ‘Great Sci-Fi Movies’.
This latest ‘thriller’ from The Halle – "Classic Movie Thrillers" -part of the Nottingham Classics concert series - was faultless as was the informative compeering from a very knowledgeable Petroc Trelawny who presents BBC Radio 3’s ‘Breakfast’.
The concert got off to a cracking start with one of my favourite pieces – ‘The Dance of the Witches’ from John Williams’ score to ‘The Witches of Eastwick’. Pleasingly, this has now become a staple part of Williams’ concert music. The pace got even faster for the next piece – Lalo Schifrin’s great title theme from the TV series and film ‘Mission Impossible’. Flawlessly played it was preceded by ‘The Plot’, which always played out in the series before the end title theme.
It was now the turn of the great Ennio Morricone and a tune I had never heard before. I must admit I was a little surprised, but delighted – the main theme from Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 Western ‘The Hateful Eight’ was a terrific tune and I’m now wondering whether to invest in a CD of the complete score, which won a Golden Globe and, incredibly, Morricone’s first Oscar!
A concert of film music wouldn’t be complete without at least one track by Bond regular John Barry and, for the second time, I heard the Halle play a lovely version of Barry’s ‘Piz Gloria Escape’ / ‘Ski Chase’ from ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ There was some great twangy guitar playing; and kettle drums towards the middle of the tune. Simply great. The orchestra then toned it down a little for Barry’s 2nd piece - a nice version of ‘The Ipcress File’, where the guitar aptly doubled for cimbalom, which had played out on the soundtrack to the film.
It was time for another John Williams piece – in fact, the 2nd of 5 on the night! ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was a lovely jazzy cue from Spielberg’s 2002 film featuring a charming saxophone solo.
The next cue was an odd one – a very slow, simple theme from a composer I’d not heard of – David Julyan – who was, in fact, sitting in the audience at the very front of the upper tier, taking his bows at the end of this very short cue. It didn’t do anything for me; and even the audience delayed slightly before applauding - though, to be fair, they probably hadn’t expected it to finish so soon.
One of my favourites was next, the headline cue for this concert. This was the great overture from ‘North by Northwest’ by the late, great Bernard Herrmann. This music is always great to hear but the second part of the section was quite laid back and I can only assume this was the cue ‘Conversation Piece’.
Side one of the concert finished with Michael Giacchino’s awesome theme from Pixar’s computer-generated animation film from 2004 – ‘The Incredibles’. Compeer Trelawny reminded me of a fact that I had long-forgotten. Yes, it was John Barry who had originally been chosen to compose this score - but Barry wanted to look forward for his inspiration for his music and the producers wanted him to look back to his old scores / music. In fact, the film’s actual trailer was tracked to Barry’s ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ theme. Nevertheless, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable piece of music.
Side two opened with Stephen Sondheim’s theme from Tim Burton’s 2007 horror film ‘Sweeney Todd’. Quite enjoyable. Next up was a charming waltz theme (Waltz No.2) for Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ from 1999; originally composed by Dmitri Shostakovich. Another horror from 1999 followed - James Newton Howard’s piano theme from ‘The Sixth Sense’. I have to admit that all three of these themes were new to me but they were all played splendidly and were very enjoyable.
It’s hard to think of a concert where ‘Jaws’ isn’t played these days and sure enough this was Williams’ third piece of the night. I’m not a keen fan of ‘Jaws’ – the theme has never done anything for me, aside from Lalo Schifrin’s pounding 6-minute disco rendition that reached No.14 here in the UK singles charts in 1976.
Perhaps one of the best themes of the night was to follow. How can one omit ‘Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Psycho’ masterpiece from a ‘Classic Movie Thrillers’ concert? I’d only just watched ‘Psycho 2 & 3’ a few days before so this was surely one of the highlights of the evening for me. ‘The Rainstorm’ cue preceded the famous, but all-to-short shower sequence – great to hear the screeching / shrieking violins. This had been yet another polished performance from The Halle, who received a fantastic reception from the audience. They then went on to play what would be the third Herrmann theme of the night – in fact, the atmospheric theme to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976) was to be Benny’s last as he sadly died Christmas Eve, 1975 before the film’s release.
Time for another Williams piece! Selections from the Indiana Jones series of films always go down well and this time we were treated to the main theme from ‘Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade’, another Spielberg film from 1989. Stirring stuff – Williams’ scores for these films were all very energetic.
It was horror time again and a film I’d seen on TV not too long back. Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ (1992) was composed by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar – another chilling and rarely heard piece of music that went down well.
I’d never been keen on Hans Zimmer but he occasion comes out with a corker. Surprisingly, the next pieces were two of those - ‘Batman Begins’ (2005) and ‘The Dark Knight’ from 2008. Rousing stuff.
After a great concert it was sadly time for the final selection of the evening. The 5th John Williams composition and one of my favourites – the 5 minute plus main theme from Spielberg’s dinosaur epic from 1993 ‘Jurassic Park’. I’ve heard this many times before in concert but like it immensely – it’s like you get two themes in one. Later on this year, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, there is to be a live concert, with the music performed to film and conducted by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra.
After rapturous applause Stephen Bell reappeared to announce an encore – Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. This certainly got the crowd moving - and I was humming this great tune all the way to the bus stop! Of course, it had to be good – the great Quincy Jones had produced it.
Another great concert of film music was over. Again The Halle proved faultless and the concert had been a refreshing change from the previous space themes. Highlight of the evening??? There were too many nice tunes to choose from but ‘Witches of Eastwick’ / ’Mission Impossible’ / ‘O.H.M.S.S.’ / ‘North by Northwest’ / ‘Pyscho’ / ‘Batman…’ / ‘Jurassic Park’ were perhaps my favourites. Here’s to the next one!
© Gareth Bramley – April 2018
(Burke; Van Heusen)
Nelson Riddle’s arrangement analysed by Robert Walton
A Debussyian pug-nosed dream starts straight in with a short simmering shimmering vision of a country-dance. Then the strings play a magnificent symphonic-like surge in the whole-tone scale that completely overwhelms me. It might be only an impressionist effect from the main tune of Polka Dots and Moonbeams but the way Riddle scores it, we are almost into Sibelius territory. After recovering from this dramatic opening, things soon settle down as we arrive at a more conventional introduction for an arrangement of this 1940 popular song that was Frank Sinatra’s first hit vocal with Tommy Dorsey. The tension disappears when we drop down to the actual key of the song (F) with the rhythm section playing in a slow foxtrot tempo.
Jimmy Van Heusen’s beautiful melody is tailor made for Riddle as he effortlessly applies his own close harmony style to it. You’ll immediately notice he pays special attention to detail. On bar 3 (“I felt a bump”...) he unexpectedly makes the strings go soft, echoing the first two bars. It’s back to the original volume on bar 5 (“Suddenly I saw”...) then soft again on bars 7 and 8. It’s an extremely subtle effect and works every time. Very few popular arrangers use this classically inspired device. The same pattern is then applied to the next 8 bars.
As the strings continue into the bridge, one doesn’t miss the woodwind or brass at all. Riddle is perfectly happy with strings only. So are we. He was born to write for them. Again he softens the whole thing halfway through. In the final 8 the same moderately loud and soft tones prevail. In a repeat of the bridge the melody is unusually carried by the lower strings. You mightn’t be aware of it but we have just changed key to G.
In the last 8 the listener luxuriates in an abundance of string sounds, but all slotted in perfectly, creating a sound as rich and ravishing as a popular song will allow. Riddle’s constant “loud and soft” routine has never been incorporated so effectively in such a setting. And more than anything else it’s all so incredibly simple: no going off on a tangent. One vital ingredient that needs mentioning though are the brilliant lyrics of Johnny Burke, not least his highly original description of the young man’s potential partner for life referred to so lovingly in the opening gambit. Incidentally listen to the lovely last chord which is a gorgeous Gmaj 9,11+.
Can be heard on
“More Strings in Stereo”
Guild GLCD 5159
Andre Kostelanetz and His Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
As a child I didn’t really take much notice of André Kostelanetz apart from the name. It was years later I discovered his orchestra at a New Zealand friend’s holiday cottage near Auckland. It was the dawn of the long-playing disc and the “bach” was littered with his albums. So that was when I became aware of so-called commercial “mood” music. For me Kostelanetz was a pioneer of 20th century light music having been one of the first to take the Great American Songbook seriously and arrange it for a large combination.
Russian-born in 1901, Kostelanetz arrived in America in 1922 working temporarily as a singers’ accompanist but it was radio that launched his career with a 65-piece orchestra. His attention to detail of the technology of early recording was legendary. Apart from his arranging skills, the unique Kostelanetz sound was largely created by his choice of microphone positioning, a specially built floor for violins and a carpet for trumpets to absorb their sound so as not to drown the fiddles. I could never understand why the piano often sounded so far away.
So let’s examine one of his most famous recordings used as the signature tune for BBC Radio’s “Family Favourites”. I have always been fascinated by the introductory 13 seconds, which wasn’t included in the theme so let’s start right at the beginning. The humble celesta begins this classic Kostelanetz arrangement accompanied by quiet strings. Then something stirred in the orchestra and before we know it, after a piano and harp glissando, lower strings robustly start the tune whilst the remainder decorate in harmony. After an upward gliss, the brass takes over while unison strings sharply embellish the melody. At last, rich violins get a chance to play the tune followed by a little extension. Then we have a jazzy taster of the Kostelanetz woodwind sound, a ha’peth of harp, seven repeated muted trumpet notes and a short traditional light music intro.
A mellow old-fashioned clarinet solo with singing strings is interrupted by swinging brass and a darting flute. The woodwind continues the tune with pizzicato strings while arco strings finish the phrase. Brass, strings, horn and a solo oboe bring the piece to a close. A lovely violin solo is played, followed by a bluesy end with the strings having the final say.
In conclusion, there’s plenty of evidence that André Kostelanetz must have laid the foundations for Robert Farnon. You’ve only got to listen to a Kostelanetz score to hear for yourself how Farnon was undeniably influenced. He burrowed into the world of Kostelanetz to unearth many of the hidden facets of his music. The celesta alone was a favourite device. Of course the strings in all their various dimensions had perhaps the most enormous effect on Farnon’s psyche. The other André (Previn) considered Farnon’s string writing the finest, but we all knew that, even before Previn confirmed it. However perhaps the most unexpected feature was Kostelanetz’s merging of a dance band within all this symphonic-like framework later developed by Farnon. It’s one aspect we don’t always associate with Kostelanetz. And yet in it’s own way is as distinctive as the strings. Also we mustn’t forget Farnon’s straight woodwind flare clearly derived from the Kostelanetz model. To complete his “training” the brass too must have taught Farnon a thing or two.
One thing they had in common was that they both died on islands. Kostelanetz in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1980 and Farnon at his home on Guernsey in 2005.
Can be heard on the
very first “Golden Age
of Light Music”
Guild GLCD 5101
Analysed by Robert Walton
I can’t believe I have only analysed one Campbell composition. That was Cloudland for the 186th edition of JIM. Disgraceful! So it’s high time I rectified the situation and wrote another one. There’s no doubt Robert Farnon’s music had a huge influence on Campbell’s creations but at the same time over the years Campbell developed an instantly recognizable style. Like Farnon, he inherited the elements of good taste, mainstream modernity and above all quality.
Just to remind you of Bruce Campbell’s connection with this highly specialized music. He was a fellow Canadian who came to Britain some years before Farnon and played trombone with well known British dance bands during the 1930s. Later as an arranger, Campbell assisted Farnon on radio, films and recordings and as composer became a regular contributor to mood music libraries. So let’s dissect one of Campbell’s most beautiful waltzes. He obviously had a knack for unusual titles too. Of course the idea for this title was borrowed from the traditional start to ‘fairy’ stories that has existed as a phrase for centuries. One of the first times it was used was in George Peele’s 1595 play “The Old Wives’ Tale”. 360 years later Campbell coined the phrase Once Upon A Dream.
There are two ways of introducing this piece. Either go straight from the top, or supply a few gentle warm-up bars to meet and greet the tune. The latter was Campbell’s wise choice. Judging from the gorgeous 4 bar opening, the harmonies suggest he was a jazzman at heart. Although basically a dance in three-quarter time, Once Upon A Dream is taken strictly in rubato tempo which does full justice to this laid-back hypnotic melody. It almost has overtones of church bells. Sensitivity is the name of the game here. The sheer lack of a steady “Silvester” beat is the very thing which brings it to life. This is purely rural music with not a hint of people, vehicles or cities. I know because I live in the country. So all those requirements are fastidiously taken care of by Bruce Campbell. Perhaps it was his Celtic DNA kicking in. The tune has a similar opening shape to Give A Little Whistle.
The melody gives the distinct impression it wrote itself. Calmly wending its way over the musicscape, the listener can easily trace the tune in what seems like a familiar strain. I vividly recall hearing the strings for the first time and getting the same feeling. There’s an undeniable freshness about the orchestration too, especially its simplicity. In fact it shows there’s no need to score intricate harmonies for such a basic tune. At bar 25 of a standard 32 bar chorus, listen out for a sublime moment before the tune first comes to a halt. This is in fact is the climax of Once Upon A Dream. Producing such an effect is like the magic emanating from the pages of a children’s story. I find it difficult to contain myself at this point.
Meanwhile manning the middle section, a flute forages in the leafy undergrowth of the woodwind section. This is answered by the rest of the orchestra. Eventually a horn and flute bring us neatly back to the beginning for some more glorious sounds. Once again we can wallow in those beautiful undulating string phrases. I just can’t wait to hear a repeat of that burst of brilliance just before the coda.
With a little help from Farnon, Campbell has again not only written some excellent production music, but also captured our hearts in one of his most radiant of miniatures.
Available on New Town:
Production Music of the 1950s
Guild GLCD 5224
Analysed by Robert Walton
There are three songs I know with the English female name Ruby, popular from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th inspired by the gemstone. The name seems to be having a revival in Ireland at the moment.
The 1969 one by Kenny Rogers was Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. Two years before that there was Mick Jagger’s Ruby Tuesday, but by far the most musical was written for the 1953 film “Ruby Gentry”. Milwaukee-born film composer Heinz Roemheld’s beautifully crafted song Ruby became a standard almost overnight with words by Mitchell Parish. Despite its limited melodic range, the way it gradually builds provides as much emotional wallop as a song with a wider spread. Incidentally one of Roemheld’s best known scores from almost 400 films was that of “The Invisible Man” (1933).
The common element between the various arrangements of Ruby seems to be the harmonica, as in recordings by Victor Young, Max Geldray and Les Baxter’s hit record. Although I’m not a particular fan of Ray Charles, his soulful vocal on bluesy Ruby has remained with me ever since I first heard it, while the more conventional crooning of Vic Damone coming a close second.
For analysis purposes though, I’ve chosen Percy Faith’s interesting piano concerto-like arrangement that can be found in “That’s Light Musical Entertainment” on Guild’s “Golden Age of Light Music”(GLCD 5158). In fact Ruby, full of potential ideas for development, could have easily been the basis for an official piano concerto. If Faith hadn’t injured his hands in a fire, the soloist might well have been Faith himself, as he had every intention of becoming a concert pianist.
After a rousing start, the tune of Ruby gets maximum exposure followed by some relaxed piano reminders of Rachmaninov. Then the faithful Faith flutes with more piano including a touch of Carmen Cavallaro. See if you can fathom out how Faith achieves the sound of a harmonica. Then gorgeous unison violins give the tune a symphonic feel accompanied by that uplifting woodwind sound. Listen out for a wee suggestion of Mantovani.
Going into the bridge with a harp-like piano, the strings in harmony continue to dominate with the presence of horns. The strings now lusher slow right down to a standstill. After the “harmonica” returns, a brief encounter with a violin continues the pattern soon broken by a complete change of mood.
Like the opening, the orchestra suddenly bursts into an almost operatic moment. We’re back in “concerto” style with piano chords a-plenty while dramatic horns play the melody. Soon they swap parts and the strings play for all they’re worth answered by the horns.The middle section gently creeps back in, after which that sublime violin plays a most moving solo bringing Ruby to a peaceful end via an exotic Riddle-like downward string movement with two quotes from Mam’selle. There can’t be anything in the universe as soul stirring as a violin.
Listening to this tune again after so many years makes me realize that the much neglected and underrated Ruby must surely be one of the most dramatic and thrilling standards of the 20th century. It deserves nothing more than this magnificent arrangement and performance. Where has it been all this time? In fact I would go further and say it contains some of the magical ingredients of a Puccini - the ultimate praise of any melody.