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Monday, May 17, 2010


The Alamo
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Conducted by Nic Raine
Prometheus Records XPCD 168
Disc 1 - 22 Tracks 58:48 mins Disc 2 - 19 Tracks 58:18 mins Disc 3 - 16 Tracks 47:16 mins

When I first publicised this album, I described it as the film music event of the year - in fact, any year - and now this impressive 3-disc set is to hand, I certainly see no reason to change my opinion.
The Alamo was one of the first films ever to make an impression on me, musically, that is; and through my childhood I re-enacted the climactic battle many a time with my model soldiers, all the while accompanying the action with Dimitri Tiomkin's music, which just seemed to lodge in my head, even after a very few screenings - so impressive was his music for the final assault in the film.
As I grew older, I would not tire of watching the movie every time it received a TV airing, and grew to appreciate the score even more. Needless to say, the soundtrack album was one of my first purchases when I began to seriously collect film scores. Being a big John Wayne fan, I was always moved by Davy Crockett's death scene; Tiomkin's overwhelming, doom-laden rendering of the Deguello as he fought to his last never failing to send chills up and down my spine, often leaving me in tears. And, if I survived that, the climax of the film, where Tiomkin and Webster's "Ballad of the Alamo" soared forth, always got me.
Tiomkin wrote many a fine score in his time, from Lost Horizon to High Noon, from Friendly Persuasion to Fall of the Roman Empire, and many more, but I'm so glad that I am not alone in believing The Alamo to be his masterwork. This album, lovingly created by Luc Van de Ven and James Fitzpatrick, two fellow film music enthusiasts I have known and admired for many a year, is evidence of that. Luc, in fact, published a detailed analysis of the score, by Ken Sutak, many years ago in his Soundtrack Collector's Newsletter.
Tiomkin (aided by lyricist Paul Francis Webster) really threw the kitchen sink at The Alamo, coming up with a whole series of memorable themes, two of which I have briefly mentioned above, but there's also the nostalgic The Green Leaves of Summer," that became a popular hit; the jaunty theme for Crockett and his men; the catchy "Here's to the Ladies;" the beautiful lullaby "Tennessee Babe;" and of course the all conquering music accompanying Santa Anna and his men, including the aforementioned Deguello, which is of Tiomkin's own composition, even though the General did favour a Deguello of his own when going into battle. There's an underlying folksy quality to Tiomkin's music, but he in fact actually used very little original material, save for "The Eyes of Texas are Upon You," in the score.
Whilst the soundtrack album that was originally released featured many of the key moments in the score, there was an awful lot that wasn't included. A reissue some years later promised to address that fact, but proved a big disappointment, as the new tracks were actually lifted from the film, dialogue, effects and all. Here, we have Tiomkin's complete music for the film, both heard and unused, together with alternate takes and album versions (soundtrack albums those days were mostly re-recorded and often differed from what was actually heard in the film). In short, just about everything one could possibly want. If, like me, you have lived with the score for a very long time, you will obviously notice differences in these recordings from what you've been used to but, bearing in mind what is bracketed above, I have to commend the orchestra and chorus for a splendid job, adhering to Tiomkin's original score sheets as preserved in The University of Southern California's Cinematic Arts Library. This is not easy music to play and is particularly challenging for the brass section. Fitzpatrick singles out these players and especially trumpeter Jiri Houdek for high praise, and I'd generally go along with that, but really one can find very little fault with any of the performances.
Accompanying the music is a splendid 32-page booklet, unfortunately short of stills from the film, due to licensing problems, but with Frank K. DeWald's detailed notes on the film and its music, including the always invaluable cue-by-cue guide; a foreword by Olivia Tiomkin Douglas; James' technical notes on the recording; and full music credits.
Of course, we'd all prefer to have the original recordings but, in a case like this, where they are just not available any more, a well conceived, lovingly produced and executed new recording is certainly better than nothing, particularly when a score is this momentous; and I have nothing more to say other than that every self-respecting film music enthusiast should have this wonderful release in their collection.
Get along to where you can find a full track listing, listen to samples, watch a behind-the-scenes video, and order your copy.
My thanks to James Fitzpatrick for making this review possible.


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