Review: Film Music Masterworks - Alan Silvestri (2006)

Composer: Alan Silvestri

Label: Silva Screen Records

Catalogue Nr.: SILCD2009

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Silva Screen Records is world famous for their extremely large catalogue of film music samplers containing selections from all kinds of scores. No matter if it's a timeless classic theme or just an obscure fan-favourite, chances are high that you can find it on a Silva Sampler. Well, at least a re-recording done with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite Silva's endless list of compilations dedicated to famous films and composers, one of the great names of contemporary film music has long been lacking such a release from the label. Their latest series of samplers is called Film Music Masterworks and as a part of that series, Alan Silvestri finally receives his first solo-album on the prolific label. The Silvestri sound is pretty unique, instantly recognizable and can be a tough challenge for anyone who wants to re-create it due to it's energetic nature. John Debney had to make that painful experience with his re-recording of Back To The Future (1985) done for Varese Sarabande Records which was completely out of pace and suffered from a lackluster performance by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Can the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra match with the lively and energetic quality of Silvestri's writing? And does Silva's selection of cues from the composer's rich body of work suffice, especially for the hardcore Silvestri-fans? Read on to find the answers!

The compilation:

A very famous and obligatory Silvestri evergreen kicks off the sampler. His "Main Theme" for the time travelling adventure Back To The Future (1985) is without doubt his most famous main theme composition ever. With such a well-known theme that is a sacred cow for Silvestri fans, the bar lies very high for any performance other than the original recording but the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra pulls it off really well apart from the incipient build up which is a tad too slow. The rest of the cue has all the punch and excitement that Debney's interpretation was lacking of. Especially when it comes to pacing and brass performance, the brass section of the orchestra really delivers. In my opinion, the brass section of the City Of Prague Orchestra is among the best in the world and they are sometimes so good that they can overpower the other parts of the orchestra that can get lost pretty quickly within the large concert hall reverb. The way the Back To The Future theme is arranged actually accommodates the orchestra's strength in that regard with it's focus on brass and strings. Actually a very good performance that is only surpassed by the original recording. Another Silvestri evergreen follows with the main theme from the popular Schwarzenegger actionflick Predator (1986). The theme with it's pounding mix of militaristic and exotic percussion put against strikes of synth-drums is a classic of modern action scoring. This re-recording of the piece gets the dark opening fanfare perfectly right. Only when it comes to the percussion passage, the new recording can't really keep up with the original. The percussion sounds too flat, especially because the synth-drums were replaced by a rambling piano that does not have the necessary punch and just makes the whole thing sound too thin. Surely, it is a very tricky arrangement for a concert hall performance but the lack of punch due to the absence of synth-drums is sad because that was a very important aspect that made the piece such a classic.

The Abyss (1989) comes next with a re-recording of the end credits which is essentially a combination of "Bud On The Ledge" and "Finale", so before you get your hopes up, there is no previously unreleased music to be found. The performance of the Crouch End Festival Chorus is quite excellent and can easily compete with the original performance while the reverb of the recording location makes it sound a lot more wider which adds nicely to the heavenly nature of the piece. A bit problematic is the pacing which is notably too slow and the brass sounds surprisingly lame here. Normally, the brass section of this orchestra really goes for it but here they almost appear to be lifeless especially when compared to the mighty brass attacks of the original though it's still a good performance. Love Theme from The Bodyguard (1994) shifts the mood to depressive with a haunting solo trumpet accompanied by solo piano. In my opinion, this theme is among the best Silvestri ever composed and I just love the way the slow solo trumpet represents a bit of gentle hope put against a somber and colourless piano and string background. A wonderfully effective tune, wonderfully performed by the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. They really have a knack for this kind of deeply emotional and intimate material. In fact, this re-recording is so good that it is almost like listening to the original because there is just nothing wrong with it. Another jazzy Silvestri score is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) which carries a nice jazz cue for solo trumpet with Eddie's Theme. This cue is the only recent re-recording on this album and the only one which was not performed by the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. What we hear instead is a nice, laid back nostalgic performance by the N.Y. Jazz Orchestra. There is a lot of free interpretation going on in this performance but in a way that nicely adds to the composition's urban feeling. We now go west with The Quick And The Dead (1995) where Silvestri goes Morricone. The heroic solo trumpet theme with it's Mexican twist playing against a driving guitar is a magnificent homage to the Italian maestro and the Prague Orchestra nails it pretty well apart from the final build up where the brass nearly gets lost completely over the cymbals due to the enormous reverb.

An epic feast is Silvestri's score for Judge Dredd (1995) which was the peak of his early 90's work and this score is represented here by a compact suite which offers the previously unreleased "Prologue", the first half of the "Main Titles" combined with the ending of "Judgement Day" and the militaristic climb from the ending of "New World". The Performance of the "Prologue" is good and it's great to hear some previously unreleased music from the score. Only the rousing fanfare section from the "Main Titles" segment is too slow while "Judgement Day" just has the right tempo but appears to be too fast since it follows a slowed down "Main Titles". Again, it is the brass section that sells the entire cue and the Crouch End Festival Chorus on "Judgement Day" is very good while the percussion could have needed a bit more punch because it once again sounds flat here or there. What follows now is the only real performance nightmare because the orchestra just fails to re-create the militaristic suspense "March Of The Lava" from Volcano (1997). Remember the bone-chilling anvil strikes and the string driven rhythmic carpet of the original recording? Both are nearly absent from this new recording which strips the piece of it's brilliance. The rise to the heroic fanfares near the end of the march was absurdly changed into something else which complements this new interpretation but does not really have anything to do with the rousing quality of the original piece. Odd, because the ending section with a segment from "Cleansing Rain" is perfectly right. An End Credits suite from Silvestri's 8th collaboration with Robert Zemeckis, the sci-fi drama Contact (1997) brings some more bittersweet orchestral brilliance to the selection and the lengthy cue benefits from a well-balanced arrangement. There is hardly a better ending for a Silvestri compilation than the thunderous action music from The Mummy Returns (2001). Although the cue description says main theme, the cue's content is really 100% previously unreleased music including the heroic burst of the theme and the romantic statements of the love theme from "Rescued & Finale" to the marvellous "End Credits" that Silvestri fans wanted to have on CD for years. The performance is by far the best of the entire album and the most surprising one. Hardly have I heard the City of Prague Philharmonic at such a furious speed without flubbing the performance but they have done it well. It's as joyful as listening to the original recording and having the "End Credits" on CD is so cool. Great ending for the disc.

 

RATING:

Selection of cues for compilation: 67%

Quality of the performance: 79%

TOTAL: 73%

 

The presentation:

The first solo-Silvestri CD in Silva's catalogue ever is certainly a reason to celebrate but should not belie the fact that most of these recordings already appeared on countless others of Silva's samplers. For example, the Prague re-recordings of Back To The Future, Judge Dredd, Predator and Contact all appeared as a part of Silva's Space & Beyond compilations while The Abyss has been part of their Cinema Choral Classics compilation. This constant re-packaging of old recordings while adding only one or two newer recordings is quite common with Silva's releases. Only The Mummy Returns and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? are recent recordings. Therefore, the selection on this album with it's string of Silvestri evergreens is probably a bit uninteresting especially for Silvestri fans who already own these cue's original recordings. The running time of barely 50 minutes would have left room for equally impressive but more under-the-radar material such as Super Mario Bros, Mac & Me, Young Guns II or Fandango. Prague re-recordings of these themes exist in the catalogue of Silva's sister Edel Records but apparently they hesitated to go through the additional work of licensing this material which would have made this CD a lot more interesting especially for Silvestri fans who seek previously unreleased material. They also avoided to make new recordings specifically for this album even though there are so many cues from previously unreleased Silvestri scores that could have been re-recorded for that occasion. I am thinking of Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box, The Polar Express, A Cop And A Half, Stuart Little or Blown Away... I think you got the idea. The cover artwork leaves much to be desired (the DMC on the front cover isn't even the time machine from Back To The Future) but the insert includes a nice but short comment by Peter Johnson about Silvestri's career.

Presentation by the Label: 65%

 

Summary:

Apart from the all too obvious recycling of material done by Silva Screen Records, the album offers good Prague performances of several Silvestri evergreens that just never get old. Silvestri's fans probably have most of them already especially if they collect Silva Compilations and those folks will only want to buy this album for an excellent jazz arrangement of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and the finale and end credits recording of The Mummy Returns. The album as a whole is recommended to anyone who never heard any of Silvestri's music before because it is a nice starter box which features mostly good performances though a more daunting cue selection and the inclusion of new recordings specifically for this album could have made it a must-have for everyone.

Review by Andreas Creutzburg

 

                   Tracklisting:

01. Main Theme from Back To The Future (03:24)
02. Main Theme from Predator (04:11)
03. End Credits from The Abyss (04:27)
04. Love Theme from The Bodyguard (03:43)
05. Eddie's Theme from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (05:03)
06. Main Title from The Quick And The Dead (03:40)
07. Suite from Judge Dredd (04:50)
08. Suite from Volcano (05:42)
09. End Credits from Contact (08:47)
10. Finale & End Credits from The Mummy Returns (05:26)