CD Review: Lost Horizon – The Classic Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin
The final reissued album in the Charles Gerhardt Classic Film Scores series (at least until March) is LOST HORIZON–THE CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF DIMITRI TIOMKIN. Though there were at least two albums in the series that followed–an album devoted to suites from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and STAR WARS and the SPECTACULAR WORLD OF FILM SCORES compilation–the Tiomkin volume effectively closed the book on the Golden Age portion of Gerhardt’s work for RCA. And much as the Korngold volume THE SEA HAWK gave it a rousing start, Tiomkin’s music serves as an effective bookend to this legendary series.
Over half the album is devoted to an extensive suite from Tiomkin’s 1937 masterpiece LOST HORIZON. The score was Tiomkin’s first major success, resulting in the first of 23 Oscar nominations over the next 44 years (though, because of the arcane rules at the time, the nomination actually went to Columbia’s head of the music department, Morris Stoloff, not the composer). Director Frank Capra turned James Hilton’s tale of Shangri-La into the exotic cinematic adventure it was meant to be. With its thick, orchestral palette; long, flowing melodies; and use of chorus and percussion combined in broad musical strokes, the score set the tone for much of Tiomkin’s career. While Gerhardt ushers in some mighty impressive sounds from his 157 musicians, his performance is a bit too staid, missing the energy and bombastic flair of the original tracks. And Sony makes a major goof by not breaking up the suite into separate CD tracks as they did on earlier releases of the album.
“Side Two” of the album begins with the familiar, popular main theme for THE GUNS OF NAVARONE. From there, it’s off to lesser-known Tiomkin territory, without a hint of his three Oscar-winning scores (HIGH NOON, THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA) anywhere in sight.
Though Gerhardt neglected to include HIGH NOON, Tiomkin’s vast output for Westerns is showcased by 1952’s THE BIG SKY. The generous suite shows Tiomkin at his most lovely, with a stunning main theme for the strings that soars over the hills and valleys of the Missouri River.
THE FOUR POSTER was a two-character Tony Award-winning comedy on Broadway in 1951 that followed 35 years of marriage in the lives of Agnes and Michael, starring real-life husband and wife Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. (The play was later musicalized by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, of The Fantasticks fame, in 1966 as I Do! I Do!, starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston.) The film, which starred Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer–and the play and musical, frankly–are generally forgotten relics of a long-gone era, but Tiomkin’s energetic “Overture” captures all the chaos, joy and love of newly wedded marital bliss.
Another unjustly neglected film, 1956’s FRIENDLY PERSUASION (later musicalized in 1975 as Shenandoah), tells the story of a Quaker community during the Civil War. Tiomkin’s music is warm and intimate, as you’d expect as families send their young boys off to war. The lovely “Love Scene in the Barn” flirts with the first three notes of the Oscar-nominated love theme, “Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love),” before launching into a yearning rendition of the theme later in the cue.
When most people think of Tiomkin’s music (myself included), they think of over-the-top selections like the cue that closes the album. The 1958 Cinerama spectacular, SEARCH FOR PARADISE, gives us Tiomkin on a typically grand scale. As three huge jets (on each of the three inter-connected Cinerama screens) roll down the runway, Tiomkin’s fanfare main theme in the orchestra and chorus bears them aloft with a “Off we go!” With orchestral lines in constant motion and the chorus egging us on with a rousing “Search! Search! Search!,” it’s a grand close to the album.
While LOST HORIZON isn’t the perfect introduction to Tiomkin’s (where are such classics as THE ALAMO, GIANT, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE and many others?), its inclusion of lesser known works keeps the album feeling fresh, probably fresher than if those more recognizable titles had been included. Though it isn’t quite Shangri-La, LOST HORIZON is still an excellent album and a great capper to a legendary series.