The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus,
Mid Hertfordshire Youth Choir,
Conducted by Nic Raine
Concertmaster: Lucie Svehlova
Choirmaster: Miriam Nemcova
Vocals by Edith Adlerlova, John Langley, Nik Stoter
Solo Trumpet and Solo Recorder: Gareth Williams
Album Produced by James Fitzpatrick of Tadlow Music
Executive Producer: Luc Van de Ven
Score reconstruction and additional orchestration by Leigh Phillips
Original Lyrics by Lord Robert Vansittart
Additional Lyrics by Rebecca Devereux
Music Preparation by Ben Thomas, Gavin Manuel and Jiri Simunek
Sleeve Notes by Frank K. DeWald
Producer's notes by James Fitzpatrick
Orchestra, Chorus and Solo Voices recorded at Smecky Music Studios, Prague, March & April 2016
The Mid Hertfordshire Youth Choir conducted by Peter Twitchin,
recorded by Gareth Williams
Prometheus Records 2 CD set XPCD179
When I ran a web poll in 2007 for the centennial birth of film music master
Miklós Rózsa, I was surprised and also delighted that the film score that received the most votes was THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940).
For the entire list of Rózsa film soundtracks in the web poll -- CLICK HERE
This should not so surprising since the film remains very popular. It ranks an amazing 100% with critics on the Rotten Tomatoes website.
This is not the typical kind of film score for Rózsa. He would compose quite different music later on for such masterpieces as SPELLBOUND, A DOUBLE LIFE and BEN-HUR -- all of them Oscar winners for him. He was nominated for THIEF OF BAGDAD but the winner for that year was PINOCCHIO, score by Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith and Ned Washington. I believe that Rózsa should have received the Oscar instead for his colorful film score. It is a marvelous fantasy trip filled with colorful themes and songs.
The film has a marvelous cast of characters. It stars Sabu as Abu, the young thief. June Duprez as The Princess, Conrad Veidt as as the evil Jaffar, John Justin as King Ahmad, Miles Malleson as the Sultan of Basra, and the terrifying and terrific,
Rex Ingram, as the 75 foot tall djinn who grants Abu three wishes.
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD is much lighter with its themes and textures than other films of that time, except for the Disney animated films.
In his detailed and very good booklet notes, Frank DeWald confirms this with his description:
In some ways, the musical style of The Thief of Bagdad is atypical of Rózsa. To a certain degree (and perhaps quite appropriately), much of the music has a "cartoonish" character. The young composer relies much more heavily on the technique of Mickey Mouse than he would do in later scores, and possibly overuses stopped brass to imitate laughter.
Then after being somewhat critical of the "cartoonish" style, DeWald adds:
But for all the musical-dramatic sophistication his music would accrue over the following years, he would arguably never write another score so fresh, so beguiling, so wonder-filled, so colorful and delightful as The Thief of Bagdad.
That description nicely summarizes this magical film score -- complete for the first time -- on this outstanding new Prometheus Records 2 CD set.
Not only are their many wonderful orchestral cues but also vocals by several soloists, a humming chorus and youth choir. For those who think that only recently has fantasy been a prominent theme in films they should have a look at this wonderful film, produced by Alexander Korda. It is perhaps the best example of a beautiful Technicolor film for a fantasy from the 1940s.
One of the main complaints I have expressed on many other film soundtrack releases is not including the texts for the songs in the CD booklet. This is especially needed for Edita Adlerlova, whose command of English diction is not very good. For this release, I have been informed there was not enough space to include the lyrics in the CD booklet and so they are available online at this link:
As for the songs themselves there were six of them composed, with lyrics by Lord Robert Vansittart, and they are all included in this CD set. But only three of them were used in the film. DeWald quotes several who describe one of the most prominent songs, "I Want To be A Sailor," as "simply dreadful" (Royal S. Brown) and "an incredibly lousy song" (Paul Bowles). I disagree. The song may not be a classic but is very catchy and fits the character quite well. It is sung in the film by the thief, Abu, portrayed by the Indian actor Sabu. On the CD (track 10) it is sung by either John Langley or Nik Stoter (no identification is given on the CD case or booklet). Another prominent song used in the film is the lovely Love Theme (track 14), unfortunately the words are lost in the badly garbled diction of Ms. Adlerlova. Shouldn't we be able to know what she is singing about?
As good as this score is to hear in all its splendor, brilliantly performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under Nic Raine's expert direction, it is the bonus tracks on Disc 2 which are especially worth having.
Unlike many CD releases which only have a few short bonus tracks, this release has 14 of them with an extra 30 minutes of music, ending with a wonderful World Premiere recording of "The Love of the Princess" beautifully played by violinist, Lucie Svehlova, and the Orchestra. This new arrangement is by Leigh Phillips. It is a most appropriate way to end this journey back in time for this tale taking place in Bagdad.
Kudos to Album Producer, James Fitzpatrick; Orchestrator, Leigh Phillips; all the musicians in the orchestra and chorus; and the engineers who have assembled another excellent film music restoration triumph.
Take a magical ride on a flying carpet of delightful music by Miklós Rózsa,recorded complete for the first time and how welcome it is too!
If you are a fan of Rózsa's film music or are a classical music lover, this 2 CD set belongs in your CD collection.
I give it my highest recommendation.
-- Roger Hall, 30 December 2016/updated 12 January 2017
See also the interview with Album Producer, James Fitzpatrick --
Recommended DVD/Blu-ray with Rózsa interview:
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD
Film Music Review (Home Page)