9 Favorite FSM CDs
With the release of Jerry Fielding’s THE WILD BUNCH last month, it’s the end of the line for the Film Score Monthly label. With a roster of 250 releases since 1996, FSM filled a very important void in the soundtrack business. With its primary concentration on the MGM library (which later incorporated other studios), producer Lukas Kendall had access to one of the richest veins of Silver and Golden Age film music.
FSM had its share of heavy-hitters—the Newman’s, Goldsmith’s, Williams’s, Barry’s, Morricone’s, North’s, Waxman’s, Herrmann’s, Bernstein’s, and basically the entire remaining unreleased MGM output of Miklós Rózsa. Personally, I happily crammed my CD shelves full of every André Previn and Bronislau Kaper release. And without Lukas’s efforts, I wonder if we would have seen releases from lesser-known—but no less talented—composers such as Scott Bradley, Leigh Harline, Gerald Fried, Frank Cordell, and so many more.
I’m only missing three or four FSM CDs and plan on adding those to my collection soon. Whittling 250 down to nine was a rough task, and my list is a completely personal look at my relationship with the label and the composers it represented over the years. There are some major composers and titles left off the list, but such is the nature of these things. I’ll miss the FSM label, but I am so proud of my small involvement with the label and I’m thankful for the many hours of listening pleasure it has given more over the last decade and the many more it will provide in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
ALL ABOUT EVE
My introduction to FSM came from an online search for this, my favorite film composed by my favorite film composer. Alfred Newman’s theatrical musical atmosphere is the perfect backstage accompaniment to this barbed look at the theater world. I had no expectations of finding an actual soundtrack, but that’s the beauty of search engines, even as far back as the early 2000’s. I’d never heard of Film Score Monthly and had no idea a whole soundtrack business even existed. That one online visit ended up costing me untold amounts of money over the years, and yet paid back a hundred fold in friendships and information from the film music community, and, oddly enough, a new career. Not a bad ROI for one quick click of a mouse.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
David Shire has been an early favorite of FSM since releasing THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 on the Retrograde label back in 1996. But I never thought I would see the release of Shire’s brief, tense, understated score for this potent political thriller. In hushed tones, Shire’s music percolates underneath the surface and haunting brass fanfare gives us a musical taste of the seedy underbelly of the American political system.
ISLANDS IN THE STREAM
I bought the Intrada rerecording of this score on the day Jerry Goldsmith died in August 2004. I was grasping at straws to try and make sense of the emotional roller coaster ride that was going on inside me. I’d never seen the movie or heard the music before that day. So this particular score has weighty emotional baggage attached to it. Yet I wondered how could the original tracks surpass what I thought was such a marvelous rerecording? They do, they just do. Maybe it’s this particular reading of the haunting main title or simply the vividness that comes from a recording session performed to film, the original tracks drown Goldsmith’s own rerecording in its wake.
LASSIE COME HOME: THE CANINE CINEMA COLLECTION
One of the stranger compilations from FSM, the breadth of talent involved in this collection—including Daniele Amfitheatrof, Elmer Bernstein, Scott Bradley, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Robert Franklyn, Bronislau Kaper, André Previn, Nathaniel Shilkret and Herbert Stothart—is astonishing. My affection for this release comes from my involvement in writing the liner notes. While the Lassie films will never be considered prime American filmmaking, their innocence and stunning vistas gave these composers a chance to cut loose. Though Lukas may tell the story differently, I pride myself that my badgering may have helped prod him to go back to the archives and include all of Previn’s first film score, THE SUN COMES UP. Some film music fans weren’t able to overlook the use of music and effects tracks on some of the films and ignore the dog barking. Their loss.
The releases of Bronislau Kaper’s scores were few and far between over the years, but Lukas remedied that. A particular delight was the release of Kaper’s Oscar-winning score. Anchored by the hit “Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo,” Kaper’s music is tuneful, effervescent and charming. Listed among my Top 50 scores, I simply never tire of this one. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a song in your heart. (Ugh, I can’t believe I just wrote that. Mea culpa.)
MIKLÓS RÓZSA TREASURY
Thanks to Lukas’s efforts over the years, film music fans now have basically Rózsa’s complete MGM output on CD. This 15-CD box set is an embarrassment of film music riches and, arguably, almost too much Rózsa, at least for one sitting. While some fans carped about the inclusion of the music and effects tracks for QUO VADIS, arguably the centerpiece of this collection, they ignored the many other amazing titles on display. First and foremost is YOUNG BESS, with Rózsa in energetic Renaissance mode.
MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY
FSM’s 100th release was a doozy. If the number 100 wasn’t reason enough to celebrate, the 3-CD set of Bronislau Kaper’s monumental score certainly was. Finally, fans now had the complete score as it is heard in the finished film. But the inclusion of a complete “alternative score” from the initial recording sessions—as it was intended from March 1962—album versions, additional source music, and additional alternative orchestral cues gave fans a rare opportunity to see the sometimes tortuous process behind creating one of the towering achievements in film music.
ON THE BEACH/THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA
An Ernest Gold double-header that shows off the Oscar-winning composer of EXODUS at his melodic best. While the theme and variations of “Waltzing Matilda” provide the perfect musical backdrop to the end-of-the-world drama on display Down Under in ON THE BEACH, it is SANTA VITTORIA’s lively Italian atmosphere that is the personal favorite here. From the cello countermelody in the sweeping main theme to the sparkling orchestrations, Gold supplies a lively, moving tarantella from start to finish.
TESTAMENT isn’t your typical nuclear holocaust drama and the music isn’t your typical James Horner score. There’s very little music in this haunting film but what is there is Horner at his understated best. From the yearning French horn main theme to the innocent flute melody, the music keeps the emotions in check while subtly underscoring the dissolution of American life in the wake of a nuclear disaster. Here’s a case where Lukas’s later relationships with other studios (in this case Paramount) yielded a film music gem, a testament to everything that was—and is—great about FSM.