CD Review: Exodus

There are innumerable issues that can crop up with with re-recordings of old scores. Sure, we can expect the sound quality to significantly improve, but will it match the intensity and quality of the original performance? What about the tempos? The timbres? Will it sound too stuffy or too bright? So many things can go wrong. For every Charles Gerhardt masterpiece, there’s a Leroy Holmes hack job waiting in the wings.

Those reservations are tripled when it’s one of your favorite scores. For me, all of those questions and more ran through my head when I read that Tadlow Records was releasing a complete recording of Ernest Gold‘s Oscar-winning score for EXODUS.

On one hand, I was thrilled. Tadlow had released some great recordings in the past: Dimitri Tiomkin’s THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, Elmer Bernstein’s TRUE GRIT, and Miklos Rozsa’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, to name a few. But their complete release of Miklos Rozsa’s EL CID, while certain comprehensive and impressive in its reconstruction, left me a little flat in the performance. If nothing else, Tadlow’s EXODUS was sure to improve on the abysmal sound quality of the original soundtrack.

I’m happy to report that EXODUS is everything I hoped for and more.

This is the EXODUS I’ve been waiting for ever since I first heard it in the late 1970’s. The 2-CD set features over 90 minutes worth of Gold’s Oscar-winning score (which amounts to just over an hour in the film), including tracks that weren’t included in the film. From that opening French horn call, this is grand film music, the kind “they” don’t write anymore. The score is bursting with melody, excitement, and acoustic instruments, with nary a drum loop or synth patch in sight. The performance by Nic Raine and the The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra doesn’t disappoint either..

Preminger hired Gold prior to shooting the film, allowing the composer the chance to research Arab and Israeli music.  And Gold makes the most of it, weaving ethnic melodies and harmonies into the score.

The score kicks off with that memorable main theme, one of the most famous film music themes ever written. Heard in context of the entire score, Gold never overplays his hand and spots the use of the theme judiciously so it never wears out its welcome. Though I would have liked to hear more gusto from the French horn answer in the opening bars, the “Prelude” is still sweeping and majestic, as it should be.

in classic cues from the original album. The strings of “Karen’s Story” soar with passion and a love of the land. My favorite cue, “The Valley of Jezreel,” blends the melodies for Paul Newman’s freedom fighter, Ari, and Eva Marie Saint’s Karen into a lush duet of heartbreaking beauty.

The Valley of Jezreel
Click Track: The Valley of Jezreel

But it is during the action cues that the true success of this recording is tested. This is a case where I wanted the conductor to keep the original tempo (or surpass it if he felt bold). Raine and the orchestra excel in cues like the opening “Escape” and the brilliant “The Bombs (Prison Break),” where the orchestral forces are unleashed with a righteous political and religious fury. Spine-tingling moments, both of them.

Escape
Click Track: Escape/The General

The original soundtrack covered the bases of the main musical moments in the score. But at roughly 45 minutes, it was woefully short and missing a lot of music. The additional cues may not be the classics of some of the tracks mentioned above. But they flesh out this marvelous score, filling in the blanks and providing more emotional depth. Plus, it’s nice to hear a proper recorder on the “Acre Prison” track instead of the electric organ (!) that Gold employed in the original recording sessions.

The sound of the recording is especially impressive. The timpani pounds and the basses rumble deep within the solar plexus, giving the sound a welcome depth, while the brass, especially in the action cues, are crisp and bright. Raine elicits an energetic, passionate performance from the orchestra, full of shading and nuance. This is a score that demands to listened to on headsets to capture every instrumental detail.

The liner notes contain a charming remembrance from Marni Nixon (Mrs. Gold at the time) and excellent track-by-track descriptions by Frank K. DeWald. To round out the double CD set, producer James Fitzpatrick included concert adaptations of EXODUS, selections from other Gold scores, including IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD, SHIP OF FOOLS, and JUDITH, plus other Hebriac film scores, including Jerry Goldsmith’s QB VII, John Williams’s SCHINDLER’S LIST, and Elmer Bernstein’s CAST A GIANT SHADOW. As an added bonus, you can access recording session video footage on the CD-ROM portion of the disc. Visit Tadlow’s website to hear more audio clips.

By virtue of my fondness for this particular score, this is my favorite Tadlow release in an already impressive lineup. It confirms what I’ve known all along–Ernest Gold was (and is) a highly underrated composer. May this excellent recording bring more of his music to light.

EXODUS is one musical trek you won’t want to miss.

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