Audience concert review: 8 November 2013 (The Genius of Film Music 1960-1980)

The Rest Is Noise: The Genius of Film Music 1960-1980
Richard Lane, 8 November 2013

Friday night at the movies

I love film, am fascinated by the early Hollywood era, and enjoy some of the scores that film has inspired, notably Korngold's operatic treatment of the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood … but that is another era, the late 1930s. Truth was I was not sure what to expect from a whole evening of film music from the 1960s-1980s.

I do not recall having seen the film Cleopatra from the early '60s (so maybe I am not so much of a film buff after all), though I recall images of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor gazing lustfully into each other's eyes. The opening piece, part of North’s score of that 1963 film, was a rather long, brooding affair that did not set the pulses racing, but I find that is often the case at the beginning of a concert – it is as though you need half an hour to adapt to your surroundings after a long day in the office and a battle through crowds and cold, wet, windy November weather.

No matter. Rota’s The Godfather - A symphonic portrait from the original film of 1972 and the sequel in 1974 immediately painted cinematic pictures, that amazing story of Sicilian-American family feuds with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and the like. I heard wonderful Italian-New World sketches, and pictured those cramped streets and tensions of the New York City suburbs where a lot of the film action was set.

Waxman’s The Ride of the Cossacks was less interesting, but then, I am not familiar with the film; so my guess is that film music is only really interesting if you know the film that the music is 'talking about', otherwise it’s just … well … film music without the film. All changed soon though, with a shattering reminder of Hitchcock’s gothic masterpiece from 1960 - Psycho. The film was made on a shoestring which explains Bernard Hermmann’s scoring for string orchestra only (he did not have the budget for a larger-scale composition, apparently). Actually I’m rather glad about that - the music is so brilliantly neurotic and tension-filled from the orchestra’s string sections, eerie harmonics, mysterious muted sounds, brutal stabbing effects - I could just visualize poor Janet Leigh getting into that shower (apparently when Hitchcock was asked what he had used for the blood in the shower scene he replied ‘chocolate sauce’ - well, the film is in black and white).

Kaper’s Mutiny on the Bounty provided some lyrical relief and contrast after Psycho, before the familiar sounds of Star Trek - The New Enterprise rang out to end the evening - except it was not quite the end. American conductor John Mauceri paid tribute to two other film music masterpieces as encores: Maurice Jarre’s Lawrence of Arabia (truly a great film, and what a score! Jarre followed that up with Dr Zhivago, remember); and almost unbelievably, an elderly cellist received recognition for his part in the original recording of Lawrence half a century ago.

And the encore of the encore – a beautifully lyrical extract from Morricone’s classic 1984 film Once Upon a Time in America. You could hear Mahler alright, as John Mauceri said we would. An elegant elegiac end to a curate’s egg of an evening.

Richard Lane is a keen amateur musician and concert-goer, who is be sharing his year of The Rest Is Noise through blogs and podcasts.

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