Music Reviews

Media reviews by Robert Buchanan
  1. A Man, a Horse, a Gun (A.K.A. The Stranger Returns)
  2. Aliens
  3. Andalusian Flamenco Song and Dance
  4. Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Dance Suite
  5. Beethoven: Symphony No. 9
  6. Cape Fear
  7. Ecophony Gaia
  8. Escape from New York
  9. The Evil Dead
  10. The Fog
  11. Kodály: Duo; Bartók: Contrasts; Liszt: Concerto pathétique
  12. Mastercellist - Legendary Recordings 1956-1978
  13. Mozart: Piano Sonatas Nos. 7, 9, 8
  14. Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, March, Overture on Hebrew Themes, Classical Symphony
  15. Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3; Ravel: Piano Concerto, Gaspard de la nuit
  16. Pulse
  17. The Transformed Man
  18. Trumpet Concertos: Vivaldi, Telemann, L. Mozart, Hummel
  19. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
  20. Yojimbo

A Man, a Horse, a Gun (A.K.A. The Stranger Returns)

Composed by Stelvio Cipriani

Nary a note is squandered nor surplus in Cipriani's second of 220+ scores to date, commissioned for the second entry of The Stranger trilogy that spoofed Leone's own epochal, ternary Man With No Name series upon its dusty coattails. Affirming Morricone's seminal preponderance, its mimetic arrangements employ affective horns, acute strings, darting electric guitar, guttural hoots and shrieks, bass, bells and percussion of galloping, marching, pounding rhythms. A stirring main theme's contagious melodies are apportioned in tasteful reserve, thereafter succeeded by a poignant leitmotif of which recapitulations in varied tempi and instrumentation comprise the majority of this suite. One descending figure iterated with bass guitar is punctuated by popping, sporadic thrumming to betoken forbidding tension ultimately reified by a tapping beat and taut guitar riff doubly imposed; another is chirped by guitar to similar effect, accompanied by a deliberate beat, bass melody of equal meter and a droning organ. As idiomatic of the Spaghetti Western as any composition of De Masi, Morricone, Piccioni, Ferrio, et al., it's one of dozens with which Cipriani constituted his stature as a cinematic compositore of formidable ingenuity.


Composed by James Horner
Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Horner

The Main Title of this, one of Horner's most lauded scores, exemplifies the derivative character of the entire work: the opening passage is a plagiarization of that of Penderecki's The Dream of Jacob, followed by a quotation from the famous Adagio of Khachaturian's Gayne Ballet Suite; the remainder of the movement is a counterfeit Hyper Sleep from Goldsmith's superior Alien score. It's nice that Horner took the time to watch a couple of Kubrick movies and the predecessor of the film he was scoring, but he might have been wiser to compose some original music for Aliens. The bulk of this score's most exciting and substantial music consists of signature themes recycled from Horner's music for Wolfen and The Search for Spock. Of course, it's no secret that Horner has a habit of borrowing from his own music and that of others, but he does it so plainly, so shamelessly that it's hard to accept his most celebrated music at face value.

Despite the composer's tendency for unscrupulous appropriation, this score does deserve some (though probably not all) of its fame, if only because it possesses a menacing plangency and enthusiasm that just can't be found in film music anymore. Even if Horner really is the least of his ilk, more than a few rousing moments are to be had in this, and few other examples of marches in a contemporary context are so effective.

Andalusian Flamenco Song and Dance

Performed by Carlos Lomas, Pepe de Malaga, Juan Amaya, Manola de Cordoba, Liliana Lomas, Manolo Correa

With no exertion evinced exceeding that of a breath drawn, Carlos Lomas and his jovial convocation perform a suite of Iberian and Latin American dances with the virtuoso technique and convivial gusto typical of the guitarist's collaborative efforts. Brisk opening sevillanas attesting the nimble facility of Lomas and fellow guitarist Juan Amaya followed by the first of a bulerías doublet -- wherein Manolo Correa's clapping and snapping castanet rhythms executed by dancers Manola de Cordoba and Liliana Lomas vie with Pepe de Malaga's baritone vocal for prominence in confluence with buoyant guitar licks -- establish the exuberant panache of this disc's euphonous juerga. A fandango of comparatively restrained northern lineament highlights Malaga's formidable range ere frenzied polyrhythms sounded by Correa's manual spats and Lomas' and Cordoba's castanets and zapateado assume preponderance in a bracing alegrías of fervid verve executed by the percussionists and guitarists with fleet celerity. Labile folk standard El Toro y La Luna here enjoys an impassioned interpretation of staccato strumming and lilt, its emotive monodic ennobled by Malaga's sonorous vocalization. Thence, a lively Huelvan fandango resonant of the province's sultry clime antecedes a subdued, typically melodic malagueña of measured pace accommodating Malaga's plangent crooning and trolling to an accompaniment of Lomas' floridly melodious picks and thrums. A second, slower alegrías fulfilled in refrain of dancing again confirms this outfit's degage geniality (sans Lomas and Cordoba); in contrast, the ebullience of an adjunct bulerías rivals that of the preceding, exhibiting the guitarists' swift dexterity to unwavering percussive cracks. Jubilant in its brevity, a thrilling rumba concludes the album to the excitation of its festal ensemble.

As a marginal majority of its content constitutes palo, this platter's title is a gross misnomer: neither fandango is Andalusian; the sevillanas are plainly of Sevillan provenance, the zapateado Mexican, the rumba Afro-Cuban. Whether this divergence from its titular rubric ensued of the artists' insouciant disregard for the genre's demarcation or some nescient denomination is ultimately immaterial. Neither a nonesuch nor comprehensive assemblage in assay of its constricted horizon, this collection is a fine introduction to its pan-Latino phenomenon withal. Admitting of no tawdry production flourishes, its faintly muddled recordings were evidently registered in single takes sans edits or overdubs, yielding a tonic and veracious artifact of its contributors' artistry. Redolent of any coastal fiesta in which aptitude is aroused by the pleasures and amenity of fond society, these performances may well transport any conversant listener by raptus to torrid Granada, Yucatán, the Canarreos...wherever such a jocund ambience is cultivated.

Bartók: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Dance Suite

Performed by the Philharmonia Hungarica conducted by Antal Doráti

Those who grew up with the famous, deliberate, refined Karajan/BPO recording of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta as I did might at first be put off by Antal Doráti's far more faithful take on this material and wrongly assume that it's rushed, offbeat and uneven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Expertly conducting the Cold War expatriate Philharmonia Hungarica, Doráti's treatment of Bartók's most inventive composition is exactly as it should be: briskly paced, angular, wonderfully playful and as a result, characteristically Hungarian. Doráti's accuracy was surely informed by the conductor's own Hungarian roots, as well as his professional experience - as a young man, he studied piano under Bartók's tutelage. Those Bartók purists and general enthusiasts of Hungarian erudite music who chafed at the sleek, controlled sound of Karajan's rendering will take solace in this.

This ensemble fares equally well in tackling Bartók's brief, turbulent Dance Suite, the bracing force of which cements this recording as the best that I've heard on disc.

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

Performed by The Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale conducted by Osmo Vänskä, Helena Juntunen, Katarina Karnéus, Daniel Norman, Neil Davies

Very few contemporary conductors present a fresh rendition of Beethoven's venerated warhorse, and Vänskä is one of them. This interpretation is taut and meticulous, performed at a brisk tempo, but never hurried. Vänskä's reading is by no means historically exact, but neither is it indulgent. Under his baton, the Minnesota Orchestra's playing is exceptional, simultaneously nuanced and forcible. It may be too early to determine if Vänskä possesses the greatness that Szell imparted in his time, but at the very least, this recording confirms that the pairing of this celebrated Kapellmeister with such a fine ensemble has produced a versatile, superior symphonic instrument.

Whether or not this particular recording of the Ninth is for you depends on your tastes. If you're looking for an exuberant reading of this work, you're more likely to enjoy Furtwängler's lush, widely praised 1951 live performance at the Bayreuther Festspiele; if you're inclined to a more conservative interpretation, Abbado's recording with the BPO will surely be your cup of tea. While I don't agree that Vänskä's work is radical or groundbreaking as some of his devoted admirers do, this punchy, exigent take on Beethoven's iconic achievement is exemplary.

Even when played in my Walkman or cheap CD player, the clarity and transparency of this recording is remarkable, and quite complimentary to such a fastidious performance. I don't possess equipment capable of exploiting the fidelity of this disc's HD layer, but I can imagine how it must sound through a good stereo equipped with an SACD player.

Cape Fear

Composed by Bernard Herrmann
Arranged by Elmer Bernstein

Bernstein's interpretation of one of Bernard Herrmann's most popular and recognizable scores is no cheap, trendy reworking. To be sure, the crushing force of the main theme's four-note motif is even more disquieting than it was in the original score; if anything, this is an enhancement of Herrmann's music which is in no way unfaithful to the intent of the original composition. While Bernstein implements a few of his favorite recurring hallmarks (trilled flutes are among the most evident of these) with respectful congruence, these elements only add color and vitality to the score's numerous evocative themes.

The savage Martin Scorsese remake of J. Lee Thompson's original Cape Fear is so different as to be incomparable to its' more subtle predecessor. Likewise, Bernstein's take on this classic film music isn't especially better or worse than the source material. Scorsese's film required a more muscular, intense music, and in this instance, the preferable of the two scores is more a matter of taste than of objective determination.

Ecophony Gaia

Composed and performed by Geinoh Yamashirogumi

This album is inexplicable. It would be impossible to believe that one of the most innovative, experimental and erudite musical collectives of the twentieth century could have created something as uninspired and nauseatingly insipid as this album if I hadn't heard it with my own ears.

The slim majority of Ecophony Gaia's music consists of textures and themes recycled from the group's brilliant Ecophony Rinne album and their soundtrack for Akira. Both the live performances and sequenced portions of this retreaded material are vastly inferior to those of the preceding albums, and all of the music here lacks the conceptual cohesion of Ecophony Rinne or the narrative focus of the Akira soundtrack. But the worst elements of this album can be found in its original music, a pastiche of cheap synthesizer presets and clumsy programming. Numerous passages from this music could easily have been extracted from an extended interlude of any third-rate soft rock or new age album. How Tsutomu Oohashi ever allowed this mess to be conceived (much less released) in its present form is beyond my understanding.

Perhaps the most insulting aspect of this album is the fact that the element of the choral group, which has always been the primary focus of the Yamashirogumi's music, is absent throughout much of the album and often shunted to the periphery when vocals are present. It's not that this matters, as again, the bulk of these vocals is almost identical to what can be found in the aforementioned Ecophony Rinne and Akira soundtrack. But this is endemic of one of this album's greatest flaws: despite the eco-friendly title and sounds of wildlife used to awkwardly segue each of this albums's six awful tracks together, there is nothing genuinely organic about this album. It is soulless, thoroughly processed, overproduced and mechanical in its execution. While most of the Yamashirogumi's output is as recognizably human in character as it is diverse in origin, this release pretends to be more of the same through pretense, though it is certainly not.

Newcomers to the music of the Geinoh Yamashirogumi would be well advised to avoid this album, lest they come away thinking that all of the group's work is this terrible. Ecophony Rinne and the "best of" Nyumon compilation are far more suitable albums for a first glimpse of their extraordinary discography. However, it can be said that cultureless yuppies who seriously use phrases like "world music" and any number of spineless college pukes will probably appreciate the undemanding, shallow temperament of this album. As if prepared for the Wiccan flakes among them, two of its tracks are titled Genesis and Gaia, though the album is best described by that of the fourth: Catastrophe.

Escape from New York

Composed by John Carpenter

If you're familiar with John Carpenter's early, spare analog synth scores, you have a basic idea of what this is like. The music for Escape From New York is undoubtedly one of his best scores for one of his best films; it's an infectious blend of simple, ingenious melodies and rhythms that can induce even the heaviest, most reluctant toes to tap along. While some of the themes are almost overused in their repetition, the score is never boring. It's a cold, exciting and sometimes creepy aural supplement to a film that's as violent and desperate as this music implies.

One of the score's highlights is a condensed, synth-rendered version of Engulfed Cathedral from Debussy's first book of Préludes. In the film, this track accompanies a sequence wherein Snake Plissken (Kurt Russel) navigates a glider through the penal colony of 1997 New York, ultimately landing atop one of two decaying World Trade Towers. Both the production of this track and the composition itself perfectly complement the theme and character of this scene.

Carpenter's influence as both a film director and a composer of his own film scores has been fairly widespread. One of the most notable instances of this is Robert Rodriguez's recent score for his Planet Terror contribution to Grindhouse, which implements quite a bit of analog kitsch in the vein of Carpenter's scores. In fact, a scene in the film utilizes an extract from this disc's Back To The Pod Version No. 2 / The Crazies Come Out. What an homage!

The Evil Dead

Composed by Joseph LoDuca

Joe LoDuca's debut film score was the first of many that would be commissioned by Renaissance Pictures for numerous movies and television programs. He's still underrated and a relative unknown among film score composers, but enthusiasts of the Raimi/Campbell/Tapert team are quite familiar with and appreciative of his work.

Synthesizers are implemented extensively here, as are a string quartet, guitar, piano and a variety of percussion instruments (including a shaker and a talking drum!) in some very creative arrangements. The result is weirdly experimental, frequently kitschy and surprisingly lush. Alternately tender and harrowing, this music is perfectly suited to Sam Raimi's goofy, gory vision of uncompromising horror.

Raimi and Campbell asked LoDuca to compose music similar to Bernard Herrmann's score for Mysterious Island. While that influence is evident in many passages, others are also discernible. A movement known as Not The Shower Curtain in the track listing of this score's commercial releases cleverly quotes two passages from the Adagio of Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. Unfortunately, most of this movement was excised from the film's soundtrack. The prominent synthesizers of another movement titled Love Never Dies also bear a striking resemblance to portions of Wendy Carlos' score for The Shining. Despite these derivations, LoDuca's score is surprisingly original and very unusual, especially for its time. This music is essential listening for Raimi fans, and will surely be of interest to anyone curious about unorthodox compositions.

The Fog

Composed by John Carpenter

Those who are as comfortable as I am with the exhaustive repetition of John Carpenter's other early scores should enjoy this. To complement the film's slow pace, this music is far more subtle and deliberate than any of his other musical works. Like Carpenter's Halloween score, the main theme (which is more satisfactorily reworked into two shorter reprises) and numerous other movements stretch a few simple motifs into surprisingly long tracks. This isn't to suggest that the music of this score isn't good - most of it is. But it's best implemented in the context of the film's soundtrack.

Overall, this is a middling score for Carpenter. It's certainly better than his latest scores (which are as dismal as the movies they've accompanied), but it doesn't favorably compare to his music for Escape From New York, Halloween or Assault On Precinct 13. Apparently, Carpenter's skill as both a composer and a director have simultaneously waned in recent years.

Kodály: Duo; Bartók: Contrasts; Liszt: Concerto pathétique

Performed by Martha Argerich, Chantal Juillet, Truls Mørk, Nelson Freire, Michael Collins

Like most of his works, Kodály's Duo for violin and cello is imbued with the spirit and style of Hungarian folksong, adapting the erratic intonation and thematic idiosyncrasies of this unique music to convey an enormous emotional range...while never actually quoting any folk melodies. The influences of Bartók's Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano are also exclusively Hungarian, but his influences are taken from a trio of sources: military recruitment and folk dances, as well as the lush atmosphere of nocturnal environments. Both of these compositions are, like the men who scribed them, brilliant in their invention and thoroughly Magyar.

Liszt's Concerto pathétique is also a composition that could have been penned by no one other than its conductor, which makes its inclusion on this disc decidedly incongruous. Despite his nationality, Liszt was no educated man's example of a Hungarian, and his works emphasize this fact: notable for their advancement of Teutonic convention and bombast, they are surely as German as the man's own lineage. This isn't to say that the Concerto pathétique - evaluated either on its own merits or as a grandiose reworking of the composer's own Grosses Konzertsolo - isn't a very fine piece, even by Liszt's own standards of composition. But there is nothing Hungarian about it, and this makes the tone of this disc oddly uneven while reminding us that unfortunately, only two truly Hungarian composers ever obtained worldwide renown. The efforts of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to commit its shows to disc via EMI are commendable and these live performances really are first-rate, but whoever programmed this album might have considered how lopsided the thing sounds as a whole.

Quibbles aside, this music is as expertly played as the recognizable names on the album's cover would imply. The trio consisting of Juillet, Collins and Argerich are especially engaging through the Sebes movement of Bartók's Contrasts; here, they almost seem to perform as one. Fans of Argerich and/or Freire may not find this to be an ideal purchase unless they're completest collectors of the output of one or both of these legendary pianists. Argerich is relegated to the periphery throughout the first two movements of Contrasts and is never highlighted through the course of the piece, and while the Concerto pathétique is a magnificent and rigorous work, it almost seems mild in comparison to Argerich and Freire's usual selections.

Mastercellist - Legendary Recordings 1956-1978

Performed by Mstislav Rostropovich, Alexander Dedyukhin, Berlin Philharmoniker conducted by Herbert von Karajan, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Berlin Philharmoniker conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa

Deutsche Grammophon issued this compilation in celebration of Rostropovich's 75th birthday in 2002; in the wake of the great Russian's recent death, this two-disc retrospective has been granted a slightly renewed relevance. What more can be written of Rostropovich's preponderance that hasn't been exhaustively posited and discussed? His playing was characterized by an emotive fervor and meticulous technical excellence that are very nearly unsurpassed. His legacy as both a musician and an anti-Communist proponent have been assured.

The first of the two discs is dedicated to many notable orchestral works featuring a prominent cello soloist, and over half of its' length is dominated by Dvorák's Cello Concerto, a piece that Rostropovich famously recorded more often than any other and which was, in turn, mostly popularized by him. Its' execution in this most famous of these numerous recordings is flawless, as the fastidious cellist is here paired with fellow perfectionist Karajan at the height of his powers. But it could be said that Rostropovich and Karajan have made this piece seem greater than it actually is; for all the hype, the Cello Concerto is not unlike some of the lesser Mahler symphonies: meandering, nearly aimless music punctuated by passages of extraordinary power and beauty.

While Schumann's own Cello Concerto is hardly a masterwork, this extremely focused, busy composition is admirable for being one of too few works in which cello is closely paired with orchestra during the entirety of its' duration. By contrast, Tchaikovsky's Andante cantabile (originally a movement of his first string quartet) features a lush cello part and a sparse string orchestral accompaniment. This particular recording is notable as a showcase for Rostropovich's diverse talents, as he conducts the BPO while performing the solo part. The first disc ends with Glazunov's heart-rending, almost incomparably beautiful Chant du ménéstral, a magnificent relative obscurity that deserves inclusion in this compilation, if only to receive more attention.

The second disc focuses on some of Rostropovich's recordings of chamber music - specifically, his work with pianist Alexander Dedyukhin. It opens with Rachmaninov's exhaustive Sonata for Piano and Cello, an impressive piece characteristic of the late romantic's tendency to imbue his works with a wide emotional range and no small number of technical challenges for a performer. Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise brillante for Cello and Piano was initially a less generous work in regard to its' cello part, which was modified by Rostropovich for this recording to provide it with a greater prominence. As a work characteristic of Chopin, the cello almost seems incongruous.

The last three recordings on the disc are transcriptions of popular compositions for piano and cello: Rachmaninov's Vocalise (initially scribed as a warmup exercise for a vocalist); Schubert's Impromptu (the cantabile of which is surely more challenging for a pianist as the little Austrian originally intended); the Träumerei movement of Schumann's Kinderszenen (itself an adaptation of the popular transcription for violin). In all three of these recordings, Rostropovich's performances are superlative in a way that makes these works seem as though they were originally written for the cello. Träumerei is especially lovely; the deeper tone of the instrument lends a weight to this transcription that a violin or viola just can't afford. In all of the tracks on this disc, Dedyukhin's light, deft accompaniment is equally assured and subtle. Dedyukhin knew to defer to his partner's eminence, but his own familiarity with and mastery of these works is nothing short of impressive.

While this album has been capably remastered and most of the second disc's content (excepting the Rachmaninov sonata) wasn't available on CD before this release, it feels both incomplete and inadequate as a compilation. In fact, it's hard to imagine any release less than a large (and probably expensive) boxed set that could encompass the majority of Rostropovich's best work as either a cellist or a conductor during any period. Even as it is, the selections on this album are questionable. Many of the excellent commissioned works written specifically for Rostropovich by his contemporaries (Lutoslawski, Khachaturian, Britten, Shostakovich, Schnittke, Penderecki, etc.) would have been better choices for inclusion on this album than the lesser concert recordings or transcriptions. DG makes the best of what it has on hand and that's all well and good, but Rostropovich would have been better honored with a reissued series of his recordings. Any compilation of such a long and accomplished career is likely to be insufficient.

Mozart: Piano Sonatas Nos. 7, 9, 8

Performed by Mitsuko Uchida

Uchida's approach to Mozart's sonatas is quite like Gulda's: she applies a modern sensibility to her interpretation, while always keenly aware of the composer's intent. However, Gulda never performed Mozart with such intimacy or grace. As in her live performances, Uchida's playing is distinguished by nuance, and only as gentle or forceful as any given passage requires. While not entirely unique, hers is perhaps the most balanced and mature take on these tremendous works. Particularly notable is the A minor sonata, too often performed with ostentatious menace, but sincerely explored here as an intelligent expression of malaise.

Recorded in February 1985, the fidelity of this terrific recording does justice to Uchida's remarkable talent. Warm and clear, not a note of it sounds muddled. It's so nice that I don't even mind Philips' obvious greed - there's ample space on this disc that could have been occupied by her equally impressive recording of the famous A major Alla Turca sonata, which was released the same day as this was on another disc along with the F major sonata and D minor Fantasia. Ah, well!

Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, March, Overture on Hebrew Themes, Classical Symphony

Performed by The Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Claudio Abbado
Peter and the Wolf narrated by Sting

Too few compositions (especially among those in the popular repertoire) are geared towards children; Peter and the Wolf is perhaps the most well-known of these, and for good reason. Prokofiev's charming, rustic, brilliantly scored tale of brave child, impulsive beasts and bewildered adults has an almost universal appeal among the very young.

The Russian luminary's March and Overture on Hebrew Themes are no less pleasant. The former must be the least aggressive composition of its form composed for performance by a military band, and the latter is an intriguing homage to Jewish folk music. These rather formal contrivances of lively klezmer dances are as authentic to the spirit of Ashkenazi music as any composition scribed by a Gentile could be.

True to its name, the Classical Symphony is something else entirely: an accessible modernization of eighteenth-century symphonic works. Prokofiev regarded this piece as his notion of what one of Haydn's symphonies might have sounded like had it been written in 1917, and that's as apt a description of this brief symphony as one could conceive. Due to the pressure of the Soviet Composers' Union and his own particularly modern musical sensibilities, Prokofiev could never be mistaken as a classicist, but his reverence for that era and his comprehension of the period's peculiar formalities are evident when listening to this piece.

Abbado's deft guidance of the COE is typical of the Italian maestro's impeccable adroitness. While the COE lacks the stringent precision of the BPO or LSO, these interpretations are as faithful as could be expected. Though the choice of Sting as raconteur was obviously inspired primarily by his star power, he is adept in the role: his narration is characterized by an excited playfulness that's perfectly suited to the proceedings of Peter and the Wolf.

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3; Ravel: Piano Concerto, Gaspard de la nuit

Performed by Martha Argerich and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado

It's criminal that Deutsche Grammophon waited almost thirty years to reissue these excellent recordings as a Compact Disc edition. Never mind the middling late Karajan discs or all this overwrought Lang Lang tripe that they're defecating into mass-production these days - this 1967 release is the finest of many stunning collaborations between Argerich and Abbado at the distinguished helm of the BPO.

The first of the two piano concertos on this disc is Prokofiev's third, and it's undoubtedly one of the best performances of both Argerich's and Abbado's respective careers. The performance ebbs and flows naturally with note-perfect precision and vibrant (but never overstated), colorful dynamics. Argerich has a keen understanding of any composer's more playful sensibilities, which is why her intuition has always been especially insightful when interpreting repertoire works that express wit by the likes of Prokofiev. Cliché as it is, the only complaint that one could direct at this recording is that it's too short - after three thrilling, relatively brief movements, one is left breathless, but wanting even more. If a better performance of this work has been committed to disc, I'm not familiar with it. Argerich's 1998 recording (paired with Dutoit and the MSO) is good but inferior to this, and the Prokofiev/LSO/Coppola recording available from Naxos suffers from the deterioration of its source; due to the poor quality of the latter recording, many aspects of that terrific performance are impossible to evaluate.

The recording of the Ravel piano concerto is almost as exhilarating as that of the Prokofiev concerto, for all the same reasons. Both pianist and orchestra tackle the amusing inventions that Ravel invested in this remarkable piece. The three part form of the second movement is especially well navigated, something that can't be said of many other performances of this composition.

The expanded storage capacity of the CD format permits another recording in addition to the two of the original Prokofiev/Ravel LP: Argerich's amazing 1974 performance of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. If any recording presents this composition as the one of the most difficult of the standard repertoire and Argerich as one of the finest pianists of her generation, it's this one. Both technically and expressively, it is almost incomparably superb, only surpassed by Pogorelich's brilliant interpretation. Argerich exhibits a curious insight pertaining to Ravel's unique, macabre adaptation of Bertrand's poem, and her execution of what Ravel called a "caricature of romanticism" does this insight justice. The speed and tonal color produced in her performance of the infamously difficult Scarbo movement is almost inhuman, and must be heard to be believed. This recording was originally released on LP along with numerous other excellent Ravel solo piano works such as Valses nobles et sentimentales and Sonatine. Most of those other recordings are available on different DG compilations, and the inclusion of Gaspard succeeding the two concertos on this disc feels appropriate.

Like most of the discs in DG's "The Originals" reissue series, the remastering of these recordings is adequate, but hardly exceptional. The original recordings of the concertos were a bit too bright (almost harsh), and the remastered versions amend this while rendering the soft passages a bit too subdued. Overall, this is a fair trade-off. At the cut price, you can't possibly go wrong with this phenomenal release.


Composed by Takefumi Haketa

Employing a string orchestra, harp, guitar, synthesizers and reverb-soaked soprano vocals, this music is very nearly as creepy, apocalyptic and depressing as the brilliant Kiyoshi Kurosawa film that it scores. Almost the entirety of this album's themes and flourishes consist of well-worn horror film clichés, but Haketa's approach to this material is so novel and presented with such conviction that it feels fresh anyhow, and can even induce a few chills when removed from the context of the movie's visuals.

Mostly known for his occasional anime and television scores, this is Haketa's only composition for a live-action feature. As it's fairly unpopular and quite short (over a minute shy of a half-hour), it's safe to assume that this score will never, ever be released outside of Japan. However, it is available on a variety of file-sharing networks if you're willing to conduct a patient search for it. Recommended for fans of horror film scores and especially Kurosawa's amazing motion pictures.

The Transformed Man

Written and/or composed by William Shakespeare, Edmond Rostand, Bob Dylan, Ervin Drake, Vincius DeMoraes, Norman Gimbel, Antonio Carlos Jobim, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, William Shatner, Frank Devenport, Don Ralke
Poetry translated by Frank Devenport
Performed by William Shatner

Recorded in '68 to capitalize on Shatner's Trek fame and savaged by obtuse, humorless critics both then and now, this is the first great landmark of aural high camp. Halting and bombastic, The Shat's trademark delivery is adroitly accompanied by overwrought band, choral and orchestral arrangements as he croons, wails and sputters iconic Shakespearean dialogue, contemporaneous Dylan, Beatles and Ervin Drake covers...and more! Comparable recordings have since been voiced by Eddie Albert, Telly Savalas, Andy Griffith, Phyllis Diller, Merv Griffin and fellow Trek star Leonard Nimoy, among many others. Those most comparable of this album's 1968 peers are Rod McKuen's Lonesome Cities and Kim Fowley's psychotic Outrageous, yet Shatner possessed a nearly singular ability to parody the tacky zeitgeist of the late '60s. Absolutely nothing (not even Shatner's amusing 1977 live album or entertaining 2004 effort, Has Been) can compare to this album. Nothing.

Trumpet Concertos: Vivaldi, Telemann, L. Mozart, Hummel

Performed by Maurice André and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan

Karajan is usually lauded for his fine interpretations of baroque, romantic and modern compositions, and rightly criticized for his typically heavy-handed approach to classical works. Put simply, one cannot adeptly convey the wit and subtlety of Haydn or Mozart via Karajan's bold, suit-of-armor style.

These recordings are an exception to Karajan's usually inept handling of classical composition; they're performed with great verve and gentility. Even stranger, André's quintessentially French tone neatly compliments Karajan's Viennese temperament - a curiosity which suggests more of André's vaunted skill than the notion that the Viennese and Parisian schools are in any way compatible!

The Hummel composition is unique in the composer's oeuvre, and quite fine. It's a bit long in the tooth at times and does stretch its principal motif a bit far, but the trumpet part (written for Weidinger) is as magnificent as it is demanding, truly fit for a virtuoso as skilled as André.

Mozart's contribution isn't as bizarre or amusing as his Hunting Symphony or alphorn concerto, but it is a charming and enjoyable two-movement curiosity that suggests that his iconic son surely inherited much of his superior compositional talents.

It took me awhile to warm up to the Telemann concerto. Like so many of the great Proliferati's works, this is slightly lethargic, a bit rushed and too formal for my taste, but many passages are quite lovely nonetheless.

The shortest and most enjoyable (to this listener's ears) of these recordings is that of Vivaldi's trumpet concerto, a lively, delightful derivation of the last three movements of his fourth violin concerto. The result is similar to the Red Priest's excellent concerti grossi.

These recordings are recommended for enthusiasts of Karajan and André, or those who are just looking for good performances of trumpet concertos.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

Composed by Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch, David Slusser
Performed by Angelo Badalamenti, Kinny Landrum, Vinnie Bell, Buster Williams, Grady Tate, Julee Cruise, Jimmy Scott, David Lynch, Al Regni, Rufus Reid, Jay Hoggard, Bill Mays, Andy Armer, David Jaurequi, Don Falzone, Steven Hodges, David Slusser, Myles Boisen, William Fairbanks, David Cooper, Donald Bailey, Bob Rose, Ron Carter, Jim Hynes, Alvin Flythe, Kenichi Shimazu, Brian Kirk

His sixth collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti is also David Lynch's most involved, as the most formal of all surrealist filmmakers wrote much of its music and all of its lyrics, even contributing percussion to a couple of tracks. Still, most of this score is unmistakably of Badalamenti's mode, and his unique blend of light jazz and synth pads was never so prominent in any of his projects before or since.

Distinguished by its mellow, melancholy trumpet lead, a morose opening theme establishes the score's foreboding, downbeat tone. In contrast, follow-up track The Pine Float is snappy and up-tempo, cleverly incorporating passages from both the aforementioned theme and the TV series' iconic Dance of the Dream Man. Though bound to induce finger snapping, it's barely featured in the film's soundtrack! The same can be said of haunting Sycamore Trees, sung by Jimmy Scott in his trademark contralto. Onscreen, this song was premiered in the Twin Peaks series finale; for whatever reason, it's included here rather than on the second-season album. Perhaps it was utilized more extensively sometime in nearly three hours of footage that Lynch regretfully discarded to produce the theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me, in which only a fragment of it (omitting Scott's vocals) is heard. Although the lightweight, mellow Don't Do Anything (I Wouldn't Do) is easy on the ears, its presence in the movie's soundtrack is just as fleeting. I can't help but wonder if this album was assembled prior to Lynch's post-production schedule.

While Badalamenti's crazed, spoken-word babble in A Real Indication is a hilarious complement to Dana Ashbrook's frenzied euphoria in a brief scene, it's a whit too silly when removed from its filmic context. The same might be said of The Black Dog Runs at Night, for which Badalamenti voices the titular lyric repeatedly and generates some synthesized and pianistic clatter to counterbalance Lynch's offbeat bass percussion. However, these portions are great for those seeking to bemuse their dinner guests.

Julee Cruise's vital contribution is a breathy, angelic vocal for Questions in a World of Blue, perhaps the most beautiful song that Badalamenti and Lynch wrote for her. No one else could voice this gentle expression of longing and lost love with such heartfelt frailty.

For me, the selling point of this album is The Pink Room, composed by Lynch to underscore the apocalyptic filth of his picture's degenerate Canadian PARTYLAND truck stop. Propelled by a slow, chugging beat, cemented with a steady bass riff and punctuated by shrill blasts of cacophonous guitar noise, this is something to which the most dissolute can party and fuck. Only four minutes in length, it's also a fifth as long as it ought be; the hypnotic effect that this track imparts waxes palpably approximately a minute before it ends.

Co-written by Lynch and David Slusser, Best Friends is a simple, appealing tune obviously intended for any given scene in which Laura Palmer and Donna Hayward exchange angsty gossip - again, it's heard only momentarily in the soundtrack. Lofted by meandering vibraphone, tinkling piano variations and light percussion, Moving Through Time hangs unfolding in the air like a multitude of ambiguous questions, tethered by the weight of a steady acoustic bass and erratic, curiously inquisitive cello. Equally substantial, Badalamenti's Twin Peaks pastiche cunningly segues some of the series' most recognizable themes - Girl Talk, Birds in Hell, Laura Palmer's Theme, Falling - all of which are arranged for maximum effect. I'd have preferred the entirety of Falling as a separate track, as it's featured in its entirety in Fire Walk With Me, but its inclusion in the first-season album likely precluded this possibility.

Composed for the film's denouement, the heart-rending The Voice of Love is a bare, synthesized progression of beautiful melodies and simple harmonics that represents the joyful redemption of a wayward, tortured soul, prematurely remanded to her strange and terrible afterlife.

At his very best, Badalamenti creates music that's felt so much as heard. Only he can compose music so befitting Lynch's themes of lost innocence and defiled beauty. Like all of his most substantial scores, this is accessible, yet never obvious - even his loveliest passages possess a certain elusive quality, and Lynch's lyrics are indecipherable to the uninitiated.

Also recommended as an aural accompaniment to: passionate cuddling; filthy, loveless sex; laundry chores; hallucinogenic experiences; aimless telephone conversations; rural wandering; funerals.


Composed and conducted by Masaru Sato

Divested of his office to flux in the conclusive decade of Edo, Toshiro Mifune's shrewd, slovenly samurai rambles in search of engagement for mercenary service, represented by a theme of trudging percussion, clamorous horns, strings and guitar of forbidding portent and a slyly sinuous oboe solo, executed in toto for a span of titles and subsequently reprised as transposed incidental cues and discrete passages in manifold tempi. His peregrination terminates at a ruined vicinage, where two petty, mutually antipathetic gangs in the employ of a sake brewer and silk merchant (indicated by sprightly staccato melodies betokening foibles and folly) cow what remains of their locality's supine population whilst waging a trifling turf war. Exercising vulpecular guile and deft swordsmanship, this ronin's wily interposition reduces both parties via surreptitious attrition for lucre and a furtive gesture of largesse in succor to a victimized peasant family, whose tribulations are bewailed by plaintive strings and harpsichord. Within days of his arrival, Tatsuya Nakadai's vigilant, glowering gunsel, patrikin of one gang's doyen whose mordant temperament is articulated with a swaggering clarinet and tense doublet rhythm of brushed snare, exposes the clandestine machinations of the erstwhile bakufu retainer.

In adherence to Akira Kurosawa's sole proviso requesting a composition divergent from the prevailing musical idiom of jidaigeki (of a placard otherwise indulgent of discretion) for their fourth of six collaborations, Masaru Sato again commensurated the jazz flavor of his partiality in symmetry with traditional Japanese and orchestral arrangements. The sportive ingenuity of this effort is irrefutable: each tune is at once memorable and invigorating, and no less amusive when removed from its cinematic context. Playfully channeling conceits of Ravel and Mancini, Sato's every note and beat denote crucial motion, expression or reflection to underscore the picture's conflux of subtilized violence and eccentric black humor. Morricone's bracing music for Sergio Leone's unauthorized transposition of this narrative to the burgeoning spaghetti western codified that genre's aural conventions, but the distinct and idiosyncratic dash of Sato's achievement have endeared this composition to an audience of no paltry enthusiasm.

Three editions of this music have been commercially disseminated in North America: MGM's 1962 LP, which aggregated most of its permuted movements and cues into thirteen tracks; Toho Music's imported CD of 2002, which subsumes its entirety withal alternate takes and another jaunty variation of the aforementioned main theme utilized in the film's theatrical trailer; Master Classics Records' CD and MP3 release of 2011, in which the trailer tune and incipient cuts are omitted. All of these reproduce the original mono recording with dulcet fidelity.

© 2007-2013 Robert Buchanan

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