CD Review: Master of the World / Goliath and the Barbarians
I’m not a very impulsive person. Because I like to have my activities planned out, I occasionally miss out on some things if I’m not quick enough. Though I’m always willing to explore, I seldom do so without a recommendation, at least when it comes to purchases (and restaurants). Buying an unheard score is very rare. When I blindly purchased Intrada’s new release of Les Baxter’s MASTER OF THE WORLD and GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, I shocked myself!
I’m not familiar with Baxter’s film work, nor with his popular exotica albums from the 1950s and 60s. I haven’t seen either film and I didn’t even listen to the sound clips. Yes, I fell prey to the “gotta have it before it’s gone” mentality. At 1,200 units, I knew it would be gone in a matter of days. Still, this was a leap of faith for me. Thankfully, it paid off handsomely.
As with all new releases, I listen to the music first. Liner notes come later. I like to form my own first impression of the music without reading any production details or track-by-track guides. Disc 1 is devoted to MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961), beginning with 20 minutes of original soundtrack material in crystal clear stereo, followed by a slightly muffled, yet excellent, representation of the mono LP re-recording.
Baxter considered MASTER OF THE WORLD to be one of his favorite scores and you can hear why. A rousing main theme gives way to a soaring waltz secondary theme reminiscent of Victor Young’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, which is not surprising given the Jule Verne source material.
More light-hearted fare can be heard in “Topage.” The main theme is given the full-bodied orchestral treatment with piano solo in the lush “Flight Concerto.” The wealth of melodic mana continues with the Neapolitan-flavored “Mediterranean.” In an interview, Baxter said that the score “had some good melodies and some lovely orchestrations in it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Baxter explores his more dramatic side with GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS (1959). Baxter’s score is every bit as muscular as Steve Reeves’ flexed pecs on the poster. Though the melodies aren’t as memorable as those for MASTER OF THE WORLD, the score muscles its way under your skin.
“Goliath’s March” has an epic Rozsa-like feel to it while an oboe plays the sinuous love theme. Set against tambourines and drums, the Sword Dance weaved its way into my skull. Xylophone and snare drum propel the exciting “Ride of the Barbarians” action cue, with a hint of Prokofiev’s “Battle on the Ice” from ALEXANDER NEVSKY thrown in to ratchet up the tension.
This Les Baxter two-fer has been a welcome discovery, and I look forward to searching out further examples of Baxter’s output. Sometimes spontaneous pays off.