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El Cid - The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus

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Genre: Classical / Artist: The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus / Audio CD released 2009-11-02 at Silva Screen Records

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      20.10.2009 11:56
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      Thunderous score well worth the wait and resources poured into the production

      The 1950s and early '60s were the heyday for biblical and historic epics in Hollywood, and these types of films spawned the great majority of the studios' big releases over these years. Films like Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur and Julius Caesar were the order of the day for the big box office successes and often employed state-of-the-art filming techniques like super widescreens and filming in colour (still very much a coming attraction), and no-costs-spared production values of elaborate sets, costumes and box office draws of big-star actors. But interestingly the one person in the Hollywood studio system who almost consistently got spearheaded into these genre films as an almost regular fixture was the Hungarian-born composer Miklós Rózsa. More than any other composer working in Hollywood at that time, it was Rózsa's music that more often than not materialised a lot of the sound world for these epic movies, and which always stood in direct opposition to a lot of music from other concurrent film composers like Max Steiner, Dmitri Tiomkin, or Bronislau Kaper in being considerably more centred on strong, long-lined themes, massive brass enforcements, and a generally less stringent approach in employing his music on such thick orchestral textures as to bury the very strong and powerfully straight-forward themes under too much orchestral ruckus. And even if Rózsa regularly did employ his orchestral forces in mass volume, and with considerable compositional complexity, it was indeed his blocks of themes with their resonating harmonic constructs that usually always stepped up to the forefront of the music that has also managed to make his scores perhaps the most easily approachable of the Golden Age composers for even crowds of modern film score who usually can't seem to digest Golden Age music particularly well.

      Rózsa has often been well served on album as well, and the composer himself often made soundtrack arrangements of many of his scores, turning them into concert works in their own right, just as he also juggled a number of original symphonic works besides his film composing career, very much like Erich Wolfgang Korngold before him did. Thus the great majority of his large scale scores have already seen a release in one form or another. Particularly his epics, which have seen large scale mainstream, as well as limited, releases to patch up a lot of his filmography over the years have made him perhaps the best represented Golden Age composer to date. However, despite his massive and acclaimed scores for such epics like Ben-Hur and King of Kings have for years now been available in many different forms (original recordings and re-recorded ones both), arguably the finest epic score he wrote has sadly been relegated to the passage of time: the 1961 El Cid. The tale of real-life Spanish hero Rodrigo Diaz came right on the heels of King of Kings, and was something Rózsa found himself being quite enthusiastic about scoring as he had an affinity to the country of Spain, its people, and its music, thus making him quite happy about landing the scoring assignment as he himself stated that "[I] composed with a kind of exhilaration." However, despite Rózsa's joy of working on the score, the assignment wasn't to be met with quite that much happiness as recording difficulties caused a delay in the recording of it, ultimately forcing this to take place in London instead of Rome where it was originally to be recorded. And when the final print of the film was reviewed in front of the crew, things were only made worse as Rózsa found out that 23 minutes of score material had been cut entirely, or replaced by sound effects like lightning and wind, with no consultation at all - most likely by the sound editor Verna Fields.

      The frustrated Rózsa tried to appeal to the producer Samuel Bronston, but didn't have any success. And to further add insult to injury was that a contractual agreement with the Italian government, Rózsa could not be credited as composer on Italian prints "since some percentage of Italian craftsmen needed to be credited." Thus Carlo Savina's name was put out instead, regardless of him not having anything to do with the score or film whatsoever. After the film premiere, the score ended up disappearing and it is very likely that the entire score has been destroyed somewhere along the line, thus resulting in the loss of the last great epic Rózsa score. As a compensation of some kind, Rózsa's original soundtrack album re-recording he did in Munich for promotional purposes was for years the only presentation of the score in existence, consisting of 40 minutes of score on 11 tracks, and arranged by Rózsa for listening purposes. In the mid-1990s another re-recording of selections from El Cid emerged, performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and conducted by James Sedares, but by common consent this version is horribly lifeless and completely lacks any sense of scope the score requires. Apart from these two, however, El Cid is the only major Rózsa epic that hadn't yet seen a proper release. Even Rózsa's own re-recording, as good as it was, has suffered from many varying-quality album releases and still misses a lot of good music to make it a perfect release (not to mention hindered by availability issues). However, in 2007 Tadlow Records, who specialise in limited release film score re-recordings, announced that they were going to re-record the entire El Cid score with the City of Prague Philharmonic, who had already done a re-recording of Rózsa's smaller 1970 score for The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes prior to this to great critical reception and amply proving their Rózsa credentials.

      The re-recording Tadlow producer James Fitzpatrick started out was a huge undertaking, certainly the largest re-recording project they had ever done... not to mention expensive considering Mr. Fitzpatrick pays everything on his own. The recording was spread out over the space of six months, with existing score parts being recorded first (with corrections) and the remaining 90 minutes were reconstructed by Nic Raine from Rózsa's original sketches. The results are truly staggering in both execution as well as the amount of loving work that has gone into this endeavour. The City of Prague Philharmonic has certainly improved a great deal since their earliest re-recordings of movie themes, and are now a highly accomplished orchestral group. There is an inherent sense of fun and enthusiasm evident throughout the musicmaking and never is there really a lull in performance quality. And even if the recordings include some artistic licences with certain details, as well as an adherence toward Rózsa's original tempo markings as opposed to those in the finished film, the score really is served to a largely very faithful degree. Even the recording itself has been executed with a drier sound environment as opposed to a concert hall-like reverb setting of normal recording companies, though it does feature a more fuller sound than a 1960s recording would naturally. Some people more well-acquainted with the film and score have commented on that Rózsa's original recording is in a sphere of its own with an intensity level that has only been replicated on album in his own re-recording in 1961, but the Tadlow recording certainly has nothing to be embarrassed about. And as the original recordings are pretty much lost forever (unless a miracle happens), then this re-recording is pretty much the next best thing.

      Speaking of the music itself, Rózsa's El Cid is truly one of his finest scores that stands even above in some instances of his other epics. The general sound world throughout is heavily inflected with the lilting melodicism of Spain and Rózsa, always the avid researcher, even included several traditional Spanish canticles throughout the score, either as straight source music or weaved in as actual thematic material. In the best Rózsa tradition, the score is littered with one extremely memorable theme after another, even going so far as almost wastefully writing melodies of such great memorability, and then using them only once or twice! The basic thematic work of the score is built up from some dozen distinct themes of varying importance and intent very much in the Wagnerian leitmotif construction. Kicking off with a habitual "Overture", which interestingly doesn't employ any of the main thematic material, sets the tone that is to continue throughout the score. From the heraldic fanfare signalling the underlying age of kings, to the following "knight rider" theme (only making a return in the cue "Betrayal/Ambush") and a general melody of Spanish style (never to appear again), the "Overture" is mostly a tone setter than anything else. The following "Prelude" main titles then finally sets down the two predominating themes of the score, beginning with a particularly swashbuckling and turbulent performance of the theme for the hero Rodrigo, aka. El Cid himself. This theme is generally heroic in demeanour, and which will develop throughout the score from its more humble first appearances to more confident and bold statements as Rodrigo goes about becoming a more and more legendary figure in his striving for a peaceful world. By the time the score reaches its end, the theme has been transformed through a very subtle mournful variation in "The Cid's Death" to a gloriously resonating organ version as a signal for his eventual transfiguration to a legendary saviour type icon in "The Legend and Epilogue". It is a theme that underlines its main purpose as a hero's theme with a strong ethnic hint with a smidge of Moorish music in it, while being flexible enough to suit its different applications well.

      The theme for Rodrigo also gets its own spin-off theme in the form of the "El Cid March" around the half-way mark of the score in the cue "For Spain!/Farewell" when Rodrigo gets command of his own military force, and which gets a fully developed concert outing in the ensuing entr'acte piece "The El Cid March". By its nature, this theme is a very heavily Elgarian march (if he had written a Spanish Pomp and Circumstance march) with its very pompous and militaristically optimistic tone to which Rodrigo's personal theme also joins very much in the same mood. The second major theme introduced in the "Prelude", and the heart of the score's emotional core, is the resplendent love theme for Rodrigo and his fiancée, Chimene. This long lined theme is most certainly one of the most beautiful love themes ever composed in its sweetly tender, yet passionate melodicism of eloquent proportions. Just as the theme for Rodrigo, the love theme also undergoes a great deal of development over the score's duration, from its first hesitant appearances in "The Meeting", its darkly tinged appearances in "Honour and Sorrow" and "The Wedding", and its gradual development through "The Wedding Night" (the theme appearing in a full, but markedly dispassionate tone), "Banishment/Forgiveness" and the culminating concert version of it in "The Barn - Love Theme", where various solo instruments (notably violin and cello) come to signify the theme's growth into a very intimate statement of the two lovers (the solo violin particularly often plays counterpoint to the main melody in future appearances). Eventually this theme, just as Rodrigo's theme in the same finale cues, is likewise enlightened from an initial poignant variation to the final score cue's magnificence as the full choir joins in wordlessly over the full orchestra and organ to bring the score to an almost religiously huge conclusion that is guaranteed to leave you off on a very elated note. This finale is certainly Rózsa at his most dramatically effective with his deft delivery of grandiousness mixed with a heartfelt undercurrent that is extremely powerful and affecting in every way.

      As a general tie-in to the Love theme, it is often prefaced by the innocently sweet theme for Chimene herself, which is usually personified by the oboe, lending the theme a fragility and slight naïvety throughout its appearances. While it doesn't undergo quite the amount of development as Rodrigo's theme or the Love theme, it nevertheless manages to maintain a feeling of softness in its gentle turns of phrase that characterises the main female lead without becoming corny, while containing a subtle hint of melancholy that is hard to miss. The trio of "bad guy" themes are generally all low-key, malevolent and darkly tinged motifs with emphasis on low brass textures. The theme for the main adversary of Emir Ben Yussuf is the first of these, introduced in the first score cue proper, "Ben Yussuf", being the most threatening of these three. This theme in particular gets more prominent for the final scenes of the battle of Valencia when Ben Yussuf becomes the main force to deal with. The other two such themes are for Count Gormaz (Chimene's father Rodrigo ends up killing in a swordfight) and Count Ordoñez, both being essentially similar in demeanour, while Gormaz's theme is more stern and snarling than Ordoñez's more scheming and coercive one. A further pleasantly pastoral theme for Rodrigo's twin daughters is introduced in "The Twins", led by an acoustic guitar and light orchestrations filled with warmth and beautiful simplicity, offering a nice departure from the full-on orchestral material. Minor themes for Rodrigo as the "King's Champion", a regal and glorious theme full of glittering importance, and a more ethnic theme for the Moors of which there are a couple of variations of, permeate other parts of the score along with a few oneshot themes here and there to wrap up the rich tapestry of Rózsa's boundless melodic gifts.

      Of course, as with other spectacle scores Rózsa wrote, there's also a host of original and adapted source music heard throughout, from the lightly orchestrated "Palace Music" and "Wedding Supper", to the many regal fanfares strewn around the movie, such as can be heard in "Entry of the Nobles", "The Court of Ferdinand", "The Fight for Calahorra", "Investiture" and "Coronation", the last of these being another resplendent march. On the other side, El Cid also contains a large amount of action music in conjunction with the various battles in the film. Beginning with the sword fight between Rodrigo and Count Gormaz, a very visceral scene that even parallels the swishes of swords and stabs, the action material shifts from a couple of smaller scenes (though no less brutal, like "Betrayal/Ambush" and "The Road to Asturias/Thirteen Knights") to the final showdown battles of Valencia, beginning with the seven-minute "Battle Preparations/Starvation/Revolt" and working its way to the climactic final scene of the film. On the whole, the score for El Cid succeeds greatly even over its immediate brothers of Ben-Hur and King of Kings in its through-composed style and specifically in its influence of Spanish music that lends the score a certain type of passionate humanity that the religious epics may in their aloofness somewhat miss, and what El Cid greatly sidesteps. The whole 140 minutes of score may still be a bit of a chore to go through in one sitting, but El Cid certainly manages this a lot better than say Ben-Hur does, and which ultimately makes me feel that El Cid is truly the best of Rózsa's numerous epics, and certainly a rightful masterpiece of film scoring.

      As mentioned above, the performance of the City of Prague Philharmonic is outstanding and enthusiastic. The recording may not be entirely faithful to the original film recordings in its efforts to be a better musical interpretation rather than one constrained with the film environment itself to replicate the score exactly, but this hardly should be a big problem. Nic Raine's re-construction is masterful and it certainly helps to know that he once worked for Rózsa himself as an orchestrator, so he does have an insight into the composer's preferences to make for an apt interpreter of Rózsa's original sketches and wishes. The Tadlow set was limited to 3000 units, containing an extensive booklet for a track by track description, with a few notes from the producer, as well as additional prefaces from Rózsa's daughter Juliet and Martin Scorsese. Included was a third bonus CD with some alternate takes of a few cues (notably the final "The Legend and Epilogue" with the alternate song conclusion "The Falcon and the Dove" with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster), a suite from Rózsa's 1944 score for Double Indemnity, and special multimedia content of four recording videos, and an 11-minute interview with producer James Fitzpatrick and orchestrator/conductor Nic Raine. However, to make this score even better available, the re-recording has now been released on the budget Silva Screen label, minus the third bonus disc. This is a good move as it opens this magnificent score available for a larger set of people who may want to get their hands on one of Miklós Rózsa's best scores, or for those who originally missed the Tadlow release. In conclusion, I can't recommend this recording and score more. It is sad that the original tapes have most likely been destroyed, and that the score itself was terribly mangled in the film, but this re-recording certainly presents Rózsa's work at its finest to great effect. Brilliant recording of a brilliant score that remains arguably Miklós Rózsa's best epic score and one of the best scores ever written for film as well as re-recorded.

      © berlioz, 2009

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Overture
      2 Prelude
      3 Ben Yussuf
      4 Destiny/Burgos
      5 Palace Music
      6 Bad News
      7 Entry Of The Nobles
      8 The Meeting
      9 The Slap
      10 Count Gormaz/Courage And Honour/Gormaz/Death/Honour And Sorrow
      11 The Court Of Ferdinand
      12 The Gauntlet
      13 The Fight For Calahorra
      14 The Kings Champion
      15 Chimenes Decision
      16 Investiture
      17 The Expedition
      18 Betrayal/Ambush
      19 The Wedding
      20 Wedding Supper
      21 The Wedding Night
      22 The Road To Asturias/Thirteen Knights
      23 Ride To Valencia
      24 Al Kadirs Delights
      25 Sanchos Demand
      26 Dolfos Mission/Sanchos End
      27 Coronation

      Disc #2 Tracklisting
      1 Alfonsos Oath
      2 Banishment/Forgiveness
      3 Friendship
      4 The Barn Love Theme
      5 For Spain!/Farewell
      6 Entracte The El Cid March
      7 Rodrigos Men
      8 The Twins
      9 Rodrigos Doubt
      10 Unity
      11 Moorish Feast
      12 The Siege Of Valencia/Rodrigos Encampment
      13 Desperate Love
      14 United Again
      15 Battle preparations, Starvation, Revolt
      16 Valencia For The Cid!
      17 Ordonez Death
      18 For God And Spain!/Battle Of Valencia
      19 The Arrow/The Promise
      20 The Cids Death
      21 The Legend And Epilogue