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Album Review

It's a shame to have to say anything less than completely positive about a Western film compilation that gets so much right, and gets it right from the very beginning — this two-CD set opens with a gloriously opulent performance (complete with chorus) of one of the most beautiful and neglected pieces of Western movie music ever written, Elmer Bernstein's overture from The Hallelujah Trail. The 140 minutes of music here is generally done with spirit and reverence, which is a tough balance, but they pull it off almost all the way through, enlivening even old chestnuts like "The Green Leaves of Summer" from The Alamo and imparting freshness to "The Welcoming/Finale" from The Big Country. The producers have freely intermingled the music from big-budget Hollywood Western epics such as The Big Country, The Alamo, etc., and more offbeat psychological Western films (High Noon, etc.), spaghetti Westerns, and celebrated television series such as The High Chaparral, along with satires like Blazing Saddles — the John Morris music from the latter film fits in very nicely between the expansive performance of the title theme from the series The Big Valley and Bonanza. Even better, the producers have dug deep into various filmographies, far beyond the obvious, so that Jerome Moross is represented not only by The Big Country but also by his gorgeous, Copland-esque music for the far less well-known film The Jayhawkers (which includes "The Brothers," the cue that subsequently became the main title theme from Wagon Train), and Max Steiner gets in a few good moments with his music from The Hanging Tree, as does Alex North with his music from Viva Zapata, which sounds completely different from everything else here, much closer to absolute music, with no Hollywood smoothness or rounded commercial edges. And they've reached up to contemporary films with Lee Holdridge's reflective music from Old Gringo and Alan Silvestri's Morricone-like score from The Quick and the Dead. Morricone himself is well represented throughout, and Dimitri Tiomkin is treated very well in this release, with six scores represented, including a nearly nine-minute suite made from his score for Gunfight at the OK Corral, but that's also where the one major lapse in judgment occurs on this disc; rather than permit Tiomkin's music to speak for itself, the producers felt compelled to place the sounds of pistol and rifle shots and guns being cocked over the music for the scene of the climactic gunfight — the results are distracting and decidedly non-musical. As a minor lapse, they also closed the disc with a performance of the title music from The Virginian that abandons Stanley Wilson's arrangement (which was central to its appeal) in favor of a re-creation of the approach taken by its composer, Percy Faith, which was not as effective. The lyrics to almost all the theme material have been included, though not (mercifully) from the Bonanza title music (which the producers used just once and then abandoned) — even the words for the theme from Giant and How the West Was Won are here, sung in appropriately rousing fashion. There is no annotation, other than extensive recording credits and film and music data for each track, but there's also little needed with this rather self-explanatory disc.

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