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The Essential Elmer Bernstein Film Music Collection

Elmer Bernstein

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Album Review

The death of film composer Elmer Bernstein in 2004 made him an obvious choice for Silva Screen Records' "Essential" composer series (Gone with the Wind: The Essential Max Steiner Film Music Collection, The Essential Nino Rota Film Music Collection, etc.). Silva Screen is dedicated to creating new recordings (sometimes the first ever) of film music, generally performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (which doubtless works cheaper than a major orchestra in the unionized West would), and it has had occasion to apply itself to Bernstein before, sometimes with his active cooperation. In fact, of the 26 tracks included here, 15 have been released previously on such albums as The Crimson Pirate: Swashbucklers of the Silver Screen and Jazz in Film (performed by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra). The compilers and producers, primarily James Fitzpatrick, have chosen from among Bernstein's 150-plus scores with an eye toward the composer's versatility as well as his best-known work. He was typecast in Hollywood, but fortunately, with such a long and prolific career, he managed to be typecast several times for different things. Early on, The Man with the Golden Arm marked him as a "jazz" composer, and he got similar assignments, which he treated similarly (a good example being Walk on the Wild Side). Then, with the success of The Magnificent Seven and its memorable, appropriately magnificent theme (the leadoff track here), he became known as a composer for Westerns, and there is a noticeable similarity in his work on such successors as The Comancheros, True Grit, The Sons of Katie Elder, and The Shootist, even though the compilers have deliberately spread them out through the album. Later in his career, Bernstein's delightfully parodic score for Airplane! (with a suite given a premiere recording on this collection) suddenly made him the man to see for comedies, though listeners get relatively little of that work here. The compilers have gone out of their way to find scoring that falls outside of these three main threads in Bernstein's work, including horror (a premiere recording of "Metamorphosis" from An American Werewolf in London), period romance (The Age of Innocence), and musical comedy (Thoroughly Modern Millie, another premiere recording of the cue "Sky-Hi"), along with more exotic efforts such as Zulu Dawn and Hawaii. Perhaps Bernstein's greatest scores (though also atypical) get the longest excerpts: a haunting eight-plus-minute suite from To Kill a Mockingbird and a stirring eight minutes of the overture from The Ten Commandments at the end. The result may not be all of the essential Bernstein on two CDs in 110 minutes, but it is a good sampler of a lengthy and varied career.

The Essential Elmer Bernstein Film Music Collection, Daniel Caine Orchestra
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