The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
CD Review: Cinema Serenade
total time: 53.55
label: Sony Classical SK63005
produced by: Caroline Records Inc.
Itzhak Perlman, violin
Henry Doktorski, accordion
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, John Williams conducting
Review by Gregory A. Vozar:
If composers of concert or classical music are a relative minority in relation to the total population of human beings, then those who write successfully for the cinema are an even rarer breed. There are very specific limitations in this type of creative endeavor; a composer's hands are tied because his/her score must not just provide a motion picture's emotional overtones, but support and underline the unfolding on-screen drama. This must happen within a strict time frame and on cue, and the music must never be so obtrusive that it overwhelms the film. Unlike opera where the music sets the dramatic pace, here it must follow, cooperate and often bend to the will of another: the film's director. In spite of the apparent limitations placed upon creative genius, there have been individuals whose work has been exemplary: Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Elmer Bernstein, Miklos Rozsa and John Williams among others.
Like a submarine surfacing from the depths, film composers do occasionally get a chance to bask in the glow of the silver screen. This is by way of an outstanding theme or film song that has the power to evoke in the listener the emotional atmosphere and dramatic impact of the scenes from which it was drawn. This CD, Cinema Serenade is a collection of such musical high points from a number of films of the past several decades, performed here by Itzhak Perlman, violin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by none other than John Williams himself.
From the very opening notes of the first track, the main title theme from the film The Color Purple, it's apparent that the listener is in the hands of superbly competent musicians. Since many of the arrangements are the work of John Williams as well, there seems to be a complete accord between the conductor's concepts and their musical consummation. Perlman's magnificent violin floats above the orchestra throughout, his wine-warm tone swirls and winds its way from one piece to another, sometimes suddenly breaking through the orchestral texture like the sun through dark clouds. At other times, as in the song "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" from Yentl, if the ache of a broken heart could sing, it would sound like his instrument.
The first time I listened to this recording, I put it in my car CD player while doing my daily commute from office to home on Los Angeles' busy freeways. I was wondering what an album of movie tunes might offer a concert and vocal music buff like myself. After the first few minutes, the strain of traffic and pressure of the drive disappeared; the road seemed to become lost amidst the soaring "vocal" line of Itzak Perlman's violin. It was in the second selection, Carlos Gardel's now classic tango, "Por Una Cabesa" that I first realized why I was reviewing this CD for The Classical Free-Reed. There, playing a counter-melody to Perlman's violin, was an accordion. Yes, it had to be Henry Doktorski! Of course, this album was the recording work he did with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in December of 1996. (Those interested may read about this in Henry's article: Recording with Itzhak Perlman and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.)
There seems to be two opposing camps as to whether free-reed tone blends well with strings; I personally side with those who say it does, superbly well. However, unlike the harpsichord, an instrument that also blends well with strings, the accordion never gets lost in the orchestral shuffle. It seems to go just as well with winds and reeds. In "Por Una Cabesa," Henry's counter-melody is shared by several woodwinds to telling effect. The other selection that features his instrument and talent is Luis Bacalov's "Theme" from the film Il Postino. Here the accordion and violin trade off solo and counter-melody against the orchestral background; this selection, one of John Williams' arrangements, is one of my favorites on the album.
Alas, the accordion is still considered somewhat a novelty when it comes to concert music, and we aren't treated to its presence in any other arrangements on this CD. That is a loss because at least one more selection cries out for it! That is Michel Legrand's magnificent song, "I Will Wait for You," from the innovative musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. There is something quintessentially français about the sound of a musette, and this is one place where its absence is keenly felt.
Do I like this album? I love this album! I look back at my initial doubts upon slipping it into my CD player and feel like the man who came to scoff and remained to pray. There is superb musicianship oozing from every track of this disk, from both Perlman & Williams, the unnamed soloists (of which Henry Doktorski was one) and from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. These are more than simply film tunes with a 'classical' spin! In the hands of this kind of talent, simple melodies can achieve a sublime presence; indeed, the whole album has a golden, autumnal glow. It was once said of the great contralto, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, that she could turn a C-major scale into a great work of art, and I will say it again here of Itzhak Perlman.
Would I recommend this album? Well, with its superbly mastered digital source tape and all that musical talent, let's say I'm buying several as gifts for upcoming special occasions! Film buffs will certainly enjoy it, and those such as myself, who admit to having seen only one of the films featured here, will find it equally appealing. Such is the genius of John Williams & Itzhak Perlman that a wide variety of people with varying musical tastes will appreciate it. I know those who receive Cinema Serenade as a gift from me will play it as I have played it, over and over again.
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