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Ben Hur

 

Ben-Hur (1925/1987)

Music composed and conducted by Carl Davis.

18 Tracks (Playing Time = 71:45)

Album produced by Paul Wing. Original CD coordinated by David Stoner and James Fitzpatrick. Orchestrations by Colin Matthews and David Matthews. Score performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, March 5 th and 6 th 1989. Recording engineered by Mike Hatch.

Carl Davis Collection 014

Rating: ****

 

The Carl Davis Collection began re-issuing a variety of Davis’ recordings a couple of years ago. Many had been recorded and released on the Silva label, some of their crowning releases in fact.

The present release is a re-issue of a 1989 recording of Davis’ score for the 1925 silent film classic BEN-HUR. The recording, featuring the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was made at the time of the film’s restoration and public performance with the orchestra in 1987 and there is something about the energy level of this recorded performance that really captures the response of the orchestra to this music now indelibly linked to this classic silent era film. The recording is being re-released to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics as the music will be part of the opening celebration events surrounding the June festivities.

Though most film fans will be familiar with the grandiose Hollywood version of BEN-HUR (1959) with its classic Rosza score, the 1925 version still manages to hold its own with thrilling scenes of the chariot race being among the film’s many amazing moments. The story itself, from the 1880 Lew Wallace novel has seen many incarnations from an early staged chariot race in 1907 to a new miniseries in 2010. The crash caught on film for the 1925 version can be seen in a series of extra features on the re-issue of the 1959 William Wyler film. Wyler having been present on set of this silent version.

Davis ’ music is organized around several important sequences and identified further by specific track titles on the release making it relatively easy to follow the storyline here. The “Opening Titles” grow slowly and move into a huge brass fanfare that is straight out of Wagner—not a direct quote, but certainly in the style of the late 19 th-century. It perfectly honors what might have been heard at the time with borrowed classical music but the music is both striking and original without being overly melodramatic. The music moves into a more magical scoring in three cues following The Nativity maintaining a glorious extended crescendo worthy of something out of Tannheuser. In addition to the very lush post- and late-romantic style, Davis finds ways to simply state primary melodic material bit then to find simply gorgeous orchestral dressing to accompany it making full use of winds for delicate passages (“Esther and the Young Prince”) in ways that must certainly enhance the viewing of the melodrama. What makes Davis’ score work so well is that it is filled with a wealth of thematic material that works to excite as in the over-the-top opening, but then gets out of the way letting the music ebb and flow through sequences quite beautifully. Though it loses some of its effect away from the screen synching, “Galley Slave” is another of many highlights with its incessant drum beat following the rowing sequence. There are also some exciting effects with intriguing dissonant music to accompany the “Pirate Battle.” “Iris the Egyptian” is almost like its own tone poem at over 7 minutes in length. Of course, the real highlight is the exciting music for the chariot sequence which consists of the gathering music and the race itself—a sequence lasting nearly 14 minutes here. Davis adds organ and a host of percussion for “The Gathering of the Chariots” with a sense of Mahler-ian intensity. The whole score ends in a rather ethereal final moment in “The Resurrection” having moved a far cry from the louder musical intensity.

Though many will likely have the earlier Silva release, the present recording allows another chance to include this classic modern score for an important 20th century film yet again.

It is one of the masterpieces of Davis’ many silent film score realizations and most superbly recorded.

 

-- Reviewed by Steven A. Kennedy, 1 June 2012

Comments regarding this review can be sent to this address: stev4uth@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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