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OST The Big Country

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Album Review

If it were possible to rate a record here at higher than five stars, this might be the place to do it, as a sort of "best of the best." Jerome Moross' soundtrack from The Big Country (1958) was one of the earlier albums in the output of United Artists Records, but it has never had an official re-release on CD, evidently because the master tapes for the album are long-missing (as a unit of a movie distributor — which is what United Artists was, rather than an actual studio — without its own lot and storage facilities, a lot of master materials for film-related UA Records releases are unaccounted for). This CD takes a leap beyond the gap left by the absence of the album — the producers at Screen Classics put together this extraordinary CD of the complete, unmixed music from the actual scoring session for the movie itself. Apart from containing about double the music that was ever on the LP, there are numerous advantages to the use of the material — in recording the music for the movie, Moross used an orchestra upwards of 80 players, and state-of-the-art equipment for the spring 1958 production date of the movie; in cutting the album, by contrast, it was customary to use a reduced complement of musicians, owing to recording fees and related costs, and so what is heard on this CD is not only more of the music than was ever heard on the LP, but it's also the music played by about double the number of musicians that would normally be heard on the LP, if the master tapes were still accessible. The results, even in mono, are most impressive — producers Craig Spaulding and Susanna Moross Tarjan (the composer's daughter) have given us a CD with a big sound, rivaling the depth and range that one gets out of SACDs in 2005, with vivid textures across the entire audio spectrum and a close, rich sound on even the leanest, most understated musical passages, such as "Courtin' Time" — indeed, hearing the results on this CD, most recording artists, classical or pop, would be pretty disgusted with what's on their own CDs of the same vintage origins; they'd want to know how the CD captured the sound on the brass from "The Raid (Pts. 1 and 2)," as though there were multiple microphones at the bells of the instruments; or the resonances off the strings in their bowing made it on to this disc. However it was done, this is arguably one of the best-sounding CDs out there, and one of the best single-CD accounts of a movie's original soundtrack, and is worth its weight in gold and then some. And that's not just for the sound but the performance itself — in the early '90s, Silva Screen came out with a CD of a new, modern recording of Moross' music for The Big Country, but it falls flat next to the original tracks, which are not only better recorded but also played in a way that is spectacularly superior to the new recording — the orchestra on Silva Screen's CD plays Moross' music much too gently and elegantly, as though it were Haydn or Mozart, like it would "break" if they pushed it too hard in the tempos or the nuances, while Moross gets his orchestra to thunder along at 103-percent of their capacity, pushing the tempos hard and never letting up on the drive behind individual phrasings, or how they're shaped, so that every note of this 74 minutes of music is exciting. The annotation is also extremely thorough, on a biographical and a musical level, and the disc is essential listening and a must-own release for anyone with an interest in film music, great orchestral music, this particular movie, or Jerome Moross, or superb programmatic music.


Born: 01 August 1913 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Soundtrack

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Jerome Moross was one of those composers who, despite some notable success, was cursed by anonymity before the public for much of his career. He wrote at least two of the most well-known pieces of film music associated with Western subjects ever to come out of Hollywood -- the music for William Wyler's The Big Country (1958) and the main theme from the long-running series Wagon Train, which is still instantly recognizable 40 years after the show left the air -- yet few outside of the "the business"...
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