CD Review: The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin
Outside of John Williams and film music festivals, it’s not often that film music concerts are devoted to one composer, especially one from the Golden Age. But few composers lend themselves to such extensive stage time like Dimitri Tiomkin. Memorable melodies and orchestrations that were written for a full orchestral complement, Tiomkin’s music is certainly deserving of an evening. In October 2011, the London Symphony Orchestra celebrated the music of the multi-Oscar-winner and a recording of that performance, The Greatest Film Scores of Dimitri Tiomkin, has just been released on the orchestra’s LSO Live label.
The album begins with the overture from CYRANO DE BERGERAC. With its Baroque stylings, this lively piece should provide an exciting curtain raiser. Instead, the tempo is so stately, adding 45 seconds to Tiomkin’s original running time, that the piece loses all its vitality.
The program pick up with generous suites from THE ALAMO and GIANT. The LSO plays these Western-flavored selections with the necessary grandeur, though the chorus sounds a bit weak, perhaps because of their distance from the mics. A suite from Tiomkin’s Oscar-winning score for THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY is given a lively rendition and the wordless chorus fares much better as vocal coloring. While some of the suites are more a collection of cues than cohesive pieces of music, at least they stay true to the intent of the original source.
Some of the most enjoyable tracks are from Tiomkin’s lesser-known work. An interesting suite of themes from DIAL “M” FOR MURDER and STRANGERS ON THE TRAIN showcases another musical side of Alfred Hitchcock’s work beyond Bernard Herrmann. The lilting theme from THE SUNDOWNERS has a down-home charm and “The Fair” from FRIENDLY PERSUASION captures the energy of Tiomkin’s inimitable style. Arguably the best track is the rousing rendition of the overture from THE FOUR POSTER, everything the CYRANO overture should have been but wasn’t.
You’d never know that this was a live recording. There’s not a clap or a cough to be heard and everything has been engineered to the nth degree, which should please audiophiles. But that engineering magic has robbed the performance of some of the immediacy it may have had in the concert hall.
The LSO is no stranger to film music and plays Tiomkin’s challenging music with energy and polish. But conductor Richard Kaufman seems to be playing it safe and the performances are often missing the raw power and larger-than-life bombast that Tiomkin’s music demands.
This is most evident in the vocal selections. Andrew Playfoot enunciates every consonant in the Oscar-winning “Do Not Forsake Me” from HIGH NOON and the title song from TV’s RAWHIDE. They’re technically proficient renderings without any Western flair or shading. Playfoot fares better on “Thee I Love” from FRIENDLY PERSUASION, where his silky voice is more akin to Pat Boone’s original.
Whitney Claire Kaufman, daughter of the conductor, brings an out-of-place, contemporary sensibility to the title song from WILD IS THE WIND that is unfortunately at home with the cheesy pop arrangement. And her sweet vocals sound more appropriate for LES MISERABLES than LAND OF THE PHAROAHS.
Even with these caveats, the recording is still enjoyable thanks to the composer’s giant talent. If you’re looking for an entry point to Tiomkin’s work, or if you can’t abide by the archival sound of Tiomkin’s original performances, the recording provides a nice overview of his greatest hits and some overlooked gems.