Lawrence of Arabia

CD Review: Lawrence of Arabia

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?

“First Entrance to the Desert”
“Exodus”

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.

  1. Looks like another album I need to acquire once I come into that sure-to-be-coming fortune of mine…

    1. Most definitely, Tim. It’s a great recording of an excellent score. I’d argue that it even supersedes the original soundtrack. How often does that happen?

  2. Thanks for the sample tracks and the review; I was wondering about this new recording, and you’ve convinced me to go for it. I’m not familiar with anything on the second disc, but I’m open for some new discoveries.

    1. I think you’ll be pleased with the LAWRENCE disc. I’d actually be surprised if you’re not. To my ears it’s almost like the original soundtrack with cleaner sound. And you picked the perfect word for the second disc: “discoveries”. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

  3. This film and score hold a special place in my heart and it sounds like Rain and the Prague Orchestra have done a fabulous job. I always felt that the original score had a quality that even Jarre led live performances lacked.

    This along with advanced technologies may in some respects surpass even that magnificent achievement – which by the way wasn’t as credited in the film conducted by Sir Adrian Bolt but indeed by the composer himself.
    Thanks for the review and samples of this great score Jim.

    1. Has Boult’s name always been missing from the credits, even when the film was first released? I never found any information that Jarre’s name was on the film in 1962.

  4. I think Adrian Boult received sole conducting credit originally but was only hired as an additional British citizen so that Sam Spiegel could take advantage of a apecific production tax break, and really only conducted the overture – this according to a statement Gerard Schurmann released around the time of the film’s restoration (and just recently discovered by me while web surfing).

    Charles is probably familiar with that open letter and then some, because it didn’t seem clear to me whether Maurice Jarre alone had conducted the balance of the score or shared that with Schurmann. Maybe the latter felt he’d already dished enough dirt – he claims reluctantly (and believably considering he’d held his tongue for over a quarter century). It makes for interesting further reading: the orchestrator wonders, e.g., what Jarre could have played for the producers to get the gig at all! I guess the huge, stormy production was fated to have a stormy scoring history, but the right people came together somehow.

    1. You probably came across the same article I did, Dave. It really is interesting reading, isn’t it? You just don’t know what to believe when the statements are polar opposites of each other. Thankfully, the end result was spectacular.

  5. oh my god,i played this in my bedroom in full surround sound, the score is so perfect it stood my hair on end goose bumps all over. well done to all involved in bringing this piece back to life.

  6. Music release their latest stunning production, the complete re-recording of Maurice Jarre’s classic score for 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia. True, the original soundtrack album has long been available and Tadlow’s own James Fitzpatrick brought out a splendid expanded re-recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra on the Silva Screen label some 20 years ago, but this new recording with the City of Prague Philharmonic adds more than 20 minutes to even that version. Not only that, but every care was taken in the choice of venue and recording techniques to ensure that this sounded as true as possible to the original score recording and didn’t come off sounding like a concert performance.

  7. Pingback: CD Review: Lawrence of Arabia | Film Score Click Track | Simple Press 2
  8. Pingback: Maurice Jarre | Lawrence of Arabia | 1001 best film scores

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