CD Review: The Alamo

John Wayne stepped behind the camera in 1960 for his sprawling epic THE ALAMO. Wayne also cast himself as Davy Crockett with Richard Widmark and Laurence Harvey as Jim Bowie and William Travis. These three men lead the small band of Texan and Tennessee volunteers in their losing battle against Santa Anna’s Mexican army in 1836. The film is closer to flag-waving Hollywood propaganda than stirring historical drama. But spurring on the forgone conclusion is Dimitri Tiomkin‘s rousing score.

All previous releases of the score left a lot to be desired. The score (which clocks in at over two hours, including an overture, intermission and exit music) was cut for the original LP running time and subsequent CD issues inexplicably filled in the extra minutes with dialogue tracks. With this new 3-CD rerecording on the Prometheus label, fans of Tiomkin’s music can enjoy the complete score, as well as alternate and vocal versions of many of the cues.

Tiomkin bases the score around eight themes. “Here’s to the Ladies” and “Tennessee Babe” sound like authentic folksongs instead of Tiomkin originals. The authentic “The Eyes of Texas” may be anachronistic, but it’s used effectively. The memorable “The Ballad of the Alamo” and the Oscar-nominated “The Green Leaves of Summer” also factor heavily in the score.

There is a heroic theme for the Texas volunteers and a menacing, minor-key theme for Santa Anna’s troops. Tiomkin recycles his “El Deguello” from RIO BRAVO the year before as Santa Anna’s bugle call. With its um-chink accompaniment and accordion and harmonica, Tiomkin’s upbeat theme for Crockett and his Tennesseans provides a bit of levity to the sober reality of the situation.

Tennesseans
Click Track: 23 Tennesseans (Davy Crockett and the Tennesseans)

With its many-shifting moods, Tiomkin’s music provides a real workout for any orchestra. And the true mettle of any Tiomkin recording comes from the action cues. Nic Raine and The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra handle these cues impeccably. The music sparkles with energy, precision and brio.

Over the Wall
Click Track: Over the Wall

Producer James Fitzpatrick wisely placed the mics to purposefully recreate the dry, brilliant sound of a period recording studio, and it succeeds brilliantly. Frank DeWald’s liner notes detail the motivic weaving of Tiomkin’s themes. The Crouch End Festival Chorus contribute vibrancy and depth to their choral work, especially in the poignant a capella rendition of “Tennessee Babe/Lisa” that follows the battle. But the ultimate praise goes to Raine and the orchestra who capture the ever-changing moods of Tiomkin’s music with bio, beauty and subtlety. Go to the Screen Archives website to hear more audio clips.

I’ve had the old version of this score in my collection for decades now. I’ve listened to it numerous times over the years but have never been particularly fond of it. This recording opened my eyes to the power and poignancy of Tiomkin’s score. THE ALAMO is a fantastic score and recording from start to finish.

Remember this Alamo!

8 comments

  1. i could not agree with you more about the alamo. it is wonderfull music full of great orchestral themes,great ballads, terrific folk music and lovely americana melodies. awesome release.

      1. As a long-time Tiomkin fan (over half a century, I started young) I am equally pleased with the new recording of the Alamo. I think the strength of the score is it holds your interest as a complete score, which I cannot say is always true when every last cue is available to be included on cds.

        1. Hi Roger. Sorry you had to refill in your information to log the comment. Anytime you use a new email address, that’s what happens. So thanks for doing it a second time. :)

          I agree with you that the score holds its own as a complete score. I was especially surprised since A) I’m not usually a Tiomkin fan and B) the score is such a long one. But it holds together beautifully. Some of the best work I’ve ever heard from Raine and the Prague Orchestra.

  2. I recently ordered this release having watched the film again a couple of weeks ago. I forgot how good the score was, certainly one of my favourite Tiomkin scores. I feel it’s overdramatic in parts of the film but to be honest that what I love about scores from this era.

    Also, this 3CD set is so well put together. All set’s should be made like this! Kudos Nic Raine, you did a marvellous job.

    Thanks Jim, once again, I probably wouldn’t have been aware of this release had you not posted this article! I’m always grateful you include audio clips in your posts. :)

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