Few films are as majestic or engrossing as David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. With a running time of nearly four hours, the film is filled with indelible cinematic images, memorable set pieces, and a spectacular, star-making performance by Peter O’Toole. For us film music fans, it’s all about the music and few films scores make the immediate impact that Maurice Jarre‘s does. Now a new recording from Tadlow Music corrects the numerous inconsistencies of previous recordings and brings this fantastic score to new light.
The original soundtrack album, woefully incomplete (as most soundtracks were at the time, and still are) and featuring a lot of reverb, is still preferable to the expanded 1992 Silva Screen edition, which was produced by Tadlow founder/producer James Fitzpatrick. For that release, Christopher Palmer wrote new orchestrations and made cuts in the music, all apparently sanctioned by Jarre, none of which pleased Fitzpatrick. Sure, the score was now available in digital sound, but the changes still left fans of the score wanting more. Jarre pronounced the recording “shitty” and Fitzpatrick promised the composer he would once again revisit the score to do it justice. It took nearly 20 years for a proper, complete LAWRENCE recording, but fans should be more than pleased with the result.
The quality of Jarre’s score cannot be disputed, at least among fans of the score (and I’m one of ’em). Jarre’s music is as integral to the success of the film as Lean’s direction, Freddie Young’s magnificent cinematography and O’Toole’s performance. You can almost feel the desert heat emanating from the cithare (zither), Ondes Martenot and the shimmering strings. But it is the strength of that famous main theme that soars across the desert sands, sweeping us along with it.
When the main theme makes its first appearance in the score proper, as Lawrence makes his way into the desert for the first time, I defy you not to get chills. This is “movie music” at its best–a memorable theme that not only supports the film but gets under your skin and never lets go. The harp glissandi sweep through the orchestrations like the desert wind. When the theme modulates (2:55 in the audio clip below), it brought tears to my eyes. Chills and tears, all in one cue. How often does that happen?
The recording illuminates levels of detail in Jarre’s writing and Gerard Schurmann’s orchestrations that only the most discerning ear has heard up until now…and maybe not even then. Because of 1962 recording techniques, much of the instrumental detail was inaudible, not only in the film, but on the original soundtrack as well. Fitzpatrick wisely placed 11 microphones on the percussion separately, as well as separate microphones for the other sections. With the addition of the seven mics of the Decca Tree above, outside and behind the orchestra, the recording has a feeling of “air and space,” allowing the music room to breathe.
Jarre said that the percussion and exotic instruments were the basis of the score and this new recording certainly bears that out. From the Overture’s pounding opening timpani riff, the percussion are on magnificent display in the recording. Jarre’s unique writing for woodwinds are crisp and clear. Fitzpatrick used an authentic 1962 Ondes Martenot. Since “you only have to look at it and it goes out of tune,” the instrument was overdubbed into the recording, but it is woven seamlessly into the score’s overall sonic fabric.
The score is much more than that one famous theme and exotic instrumentation. In addition to the spectacular first three tracks, other standout cues include the tender “Night and Stars” and the rousing “Lawrence Rescues Gasim,” “Arrival at Auda’s Camp,” and “On to Akaba.” These energetic tracks particularly show off Nic Raine’s superb conducting and the fine performance by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
The second disc, labeled “The Music of Maurice Jarre–A Personal Collection,” featuring 20 tracks of mostly lesser-known, and unrecorded, titles. From the lively tango of MOON OVER PARADOUR, a haunting suite from the little-seen THE FIXER and the lovely end titles to RESURRECTION, this disc gives a wonderful overview of Jarre’s output beyond his “sand epics.” I must say I wondered why a second disc was being included at all when LAWRENCE fit nicely on one CD. But the selections are so varied and so well performed, I took away a much greater appreciation for Jarre’s talent than I had previously.
Kudos to Fitzpatrick, Raine and the orchestra for a fantastic recording. I didn’t think anything could top their performances of EXODUS and THE ALAMO, but this does. First, listen to the recording on powerful speakers at a high volume to get the full impact of Jarre’s score. Then listen to it on headphones for the level of detail in Gerard Schurmann’s original orchestrations and Fitzpatrick’s superb micing of the orchestra. Visit Screen Archives to hear more audio clips and to order.
I have been listening to this new recording nearly nonstop for well over a week now and I’m not through yet. In a landscape filled with cookie-cutter film music, Maurice Jarre created his own unique voice. Thanks to Tadlow Music, Jarre’s 1962 masterpiece is now given the recording it deserve. It’s like water in the desert for film score fans.