CD Review: QB VII
In the Dark Ages before cable or the Internet, the Big Three of network television—ABC, NBC and CBS—ruled American homes. In 1974 a new form of television drama came to dominate the airwaves—the miniseries. Spread out over multiple nights or weeks, the miniseries was the water cooler moment that dominated pop culture for its run. Usually based on bestselling epic novels, the miniseries’ lavish productions and high-powered casts became sure-fire ratings grabbers during the all-important sweeps period. Following the success of British miniseries THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII and ELIZABETH R on PBS, QB VII was the first American network miniseries and remains a prime example of the format.
Based on Leon Uris’ 1970 bestseller, which in turn was based on real life events in Uris’ life, the courtroom drama stars Anthony Hopkins as the plaintiff, decorated Polish/British doctor Sir Adam Kelno, and Ben Gazzarra as bestselling Jewish author Abraham Cady, who, in his book, The Holocaust, accuses Kelno of collaborating with the Nazi experiments on the castration of Jews as an inmate in Jadwiga concentration camp. Less than 30 years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust was still potent subject matter and the British trial of a potential war criminal at Queen’s Bench No. 7 made for riveting television. Featured on the cover of TV Guide, the new format was a ratings hit and QB VII racked up 13 Emmy nominations (though none for either Hopkins’ or Gazzarra’s sometimes overwrought performances), winning six including Juliet Mills as Cady’s long-suffering wife, Anthony Quayle’s steely prosecutor and Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable score.
The single LP release of the original soundtrack obviously only presented 30 minutes of highlights from the lengthy score Goldsmith’s composed for the 390-minute production. Now, the good folks at Tadlow and Prometheus have given us the world premiere recording of Goldsmith’s complete score.
Fans of the original soundtrack release are already familiar with Goldsmith’s plethora of memorable themes. The pair of beautiful love themes for the women in Cady’s life—the heartbreaking clarinet melody (“I Cannot See My Love”) for Juliet Mills’ nurse and the more hopeful, yearning “Free To Love Again” for Lee Remick’s Lady Wydman.
The music also provides foreshadowing of some of the musical trademarks of Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score to THE WIND AND THE LION a year later. Tracks like “Journey Into the Desert” and the rousing “Visit to the Sheik” feature swirling melodic figures as if the desert sands had whipped the orchestra into a fury.
Fans will notice period trademark Goldsmith motifs such as the oscillating five-note motif in “Poland” or the reverbed, repeated notes in “The Witnesses”. But the heart of the score is the haunting threnody for the six million Jews killed during the Holocuast. Whether in instrumental form or with chorus, Goldsmith’s memorable “A Kaddish for the Six Million” cries out in pain and yet soars in vocal defiance. Special mention goes to the chorus, which lends haunting wordless vocalizations of the Holocaust dead to tracks such as Kelno’s “ID Parade,” Cady and Lady Wydman’s viewing of “The Holocaust” on film, and especially the horrifying flashbacks in “Jadwiga Relived”. They also give full-bodied voice to the lost in the “Kaddish” that closes each disc.
The Hebraic harmonies and melodic turns anchor the score. As Goldsmith is quoted in the liner notes, “I have this affinity for this kind of music that only a Jew can do.” And whether or not you agree with that statement, the affinity is certainly on display.
With so much wonderful “new” material to hear, it’s pointless to remark on specific moments. And yet cues such as “Sir Adam Kelno,” a swirling waltz that verges on chaos for the newly anointed knight; and the heady glamour of “Hollywood” show just how strong a score this is beyond what has been available so far. Perhaps the most palpable joy of this new recording is the complete “symphonic” picture of Goldsmith’s score that simply was not possible with the original LP.
Comparing the two performances, Goldsmith’s original tends to be a bit more raw than that of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. That is not to imply that conductor Nic Raine and the musicians turn in a lazy, timid or whitewashed reading of the score. By no means. The French horns rip ferociously in the desert cues, the strings soar in the love themes and the brass regally capture the mixed meter of the main theme. Instead, the two-CD set now plays more as a symphony than as a collection of cues.
James Fitzpatrick has miced the recording so that it still has that ’70s bite in the air space without the excessive reverb from the original recording, while never suffering from a flat, muffled studio sound to which some rerecordings fall prey. Frank DeWald’s liner notes are particularly informative, especially when read in view of a project that many film music fans may not have seen.
While I’m happy to have any complete Goldsmith enter the realm of recording, I originally questioned whether QB VII was necessary, especially for a television film that many film music fans might either not know or remember. Oh, how wrong I was. Not only is this an example of Jerry Goldsmith at his prime. This IS a necessary—and important—contribution to the legacy of recorded film music. Consider this an essential addition to your library.