The Online Magazine
of Motion Picture
and Television
Music Appreciation
Film Score Monthly Subscribe Now!
film score daily 

CD Reviews: Pursued and Madding Crowd


Pursued ***

MAX STEINER

Screen Archives SAE-CSR-0002

22 tracks - 53:40

Screen Archives Entertainment's ongoing restoration series with BYU has resulted in a series of archival releases that have ranged from long-overdue favorites (Lost Horizon, The Searchers) to lesser-known, more specialized titles (Cloak and Dagger). Their most recent effort, Max Steiner's score to Raoul Walsh's 1947 thriller, Pursued, falls more into the latter category. However, given Steiner's orchestral style -- overwrought, if anything, by today's standards -- the score works better on CD than one might think. Pursued has plenty of moments of typical Steiner bombast throughout, but there are also instances of buzzsawing tension that transcend the more dated material. On the other hand, Steiner's familiar leitmotivic approach is less of an asset here given the other more understated techniques that he plays with in the score.

Steiner's primary theme undulates in a nicely ambiguous fashion, encapsulating old-fashioned romance and emotional distress, but the score's most effective moments come when Steiner dials himself down and concentrates on creepy atmospheric effects. Always the orchestral sampler, Steiner even takes a page or two from Stravinsky, particularly with "Feared Vengeance," a cue that samples a two-note progression that will make anyone who's heard Jaws scratch their head (said progression becomes something of a gimmick throughout the score). Like all of Steiner's music, there are a lot of shifts of tempo and tone (largely dependent on onscreen action), so a lengthy track like "Jeb Returns" or "Courtship" can suffice as a decent sampler for the entire affair. Steiner's method of musical saturation (tossing his themes and techniques around as much as possible) can quickly get redundant despite some good moments. Fans of this more archaic compositional style will find this an excellent example of its type; others will find it less compelling.

As usual with the SAE/BYU releases, the sound quality is better than one might expect given the age of the material at hand -- the sound is somewhat muted, but the orchestral effects come through with admirable clarity. The booklet is a small letdown considering the extravagant packages that have come before; the liner notes are stale and lack the informative snap of previous releases. At least everyone's heart seems to be in the right place. -- Jason Comerford


Far from the Madding Crowd ****

RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT

Chapter III 1005

13 Tracks - 36:39

Richard Rodney Bennett is one of the finest drama composers. He has a penchant for beautiful tunes, his most recent penned for Four Weddings and a Funeral. Most may be more familiar with his masterful music for Murder on the Orient Express, nominated for Best Original Score in 1974. Far From the Madding Crowd was nominated for a Best Original Score Oscar in 1968 only to lose to Elmer Bernstein's lesser music for Thoroughly Modern Millie. John Barry's The Lion in Winter, which happened to win the next year, makes an admirable companion to Far From the Madding Crowd.

Bennett emphasizes cor anglais and flute (in the gorgeous main title, "Fanny and Troy" and elsewhere) to set the mood for this English drama based on the Thomas Hardy novel. The music stands in the inheritance of other English folksong-inspired music. The sparsely scored accompaniments for "Bushes and Briars" create a unique setting under Isla Cameron's beautiful vocals (she also sings on "The Bold Grenadier"). "Tinker's Song," sung by Trevor Lucas, is also an admirable piece.

The chamber music quality of the score sets this work apart from most other period films. Gently lilting strings provide the backdrop for the plaintive melodies that weave through the textures of music that's harmonized in fourths or fifths. More traditional harmonies are then used to bring closure to a scene, and more free-flowing melodies are used to provide a hint of the unsettling nature of things to come. Bennett also includes coloristic orchestral explosions to create tension and propels the music forward by the sheer energy created in these bursts.

The genius of this score lies in Bennett's use of dissonance and in his overall restraint. By spreading out his clusters of sounds, the music is able to communicate the drama without detracting from it. Even when the orchestration settles into simple melody and accompaniment, Bennett still manages to add interesting layers that are easily picked out in the light texture. The atonal flashes then provide the tension needed as contrast to the stable folk music.

Chapter III has done an excellent job in digitally remastering this score. And, there must have been some additional Bennett score in the MGM library that could have rounded off this short CD? But don't let that distract you from enjoying this wonderful music!  -- Steven A. Kennedy

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com


Past Film Score Daily Articles

Film Score Monthly Home Page
© 1997-2019 Lukas Kendall. All rights reserved.