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CD Review: The Great Escape

The Great Escape: The Deluxe Edition *****


Varèse Sarabande CD Club VCL 0804 1029

Disc One: 22 tracks - 42:03    Disc Two: 20 tracks - 48:14

Thanks to the dedication of Robert Townson, we have yet another gem uncovered, once thought lost to the ravages of time and apathetic studio administrations of yore. In this case it is the complete original soundtrack, in stereo, of Elmer Bernstein's masterpiece The Great Escape. All previous LP and CD incarnations had been of a studio re-recording with an orchestra half the size as the one heard here, and it's a revelation to hear it now, in it's entirety, as it was meant to be heard.

Sound quality on the album is fantastic, as is evident right from the start, when Bernstein's classic march kicks things off in the "Main Title." The score is surprisingly varied when listened to as a whole -- it's not just a bunch of variations on the march. Naturally, Bernstein provided a fair deal of suspense for the allied P.O.W.'s plans for escape, but tracks like "The Scrounger/Blythe" feature warm music for the bonding between the prisoners; it's not all just triumph and heroics. These surprisingly tender moments offer a brief and welcome reprieve from the overt testosterone and masculinity of the score.

Disc One ends delicately with mysterious flute and harp solos. There is also a recurring theme throughout, for mysterioso strings, that signifies the ever-present Nazi guards and the threat of discovery. High anxiety figures prominently in cues leading up to the actual escape, as in "20 Feet Short" and "Foul Up." Finally, the last third of the album concentrates on the great escape itself, with Steve McQueen at the vanguard of the action. Most of his material is based on a thrilling scherzo, which accelerates to climax to aid McQueen in his daring motorcycle escape, and surely provided inspiration for Williams' "Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra" from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

For Bernstein fans, this is a must, and few other collectors out there would be be well served by finding a spot in their collection for this one. It's be a fine lasting tribute to the late maestro. And when it's all done, be sure to stay tuned after "The Cast" for a patriotic bonus.     -- Darren MacDonald

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