Avid collectors of soundtracks, particularly those of movie musicals, will already have the titles under discussion in this review, since they're reissues of a series previously available from the Turner Entertainment Co. in the late 1990s and 2000s. But making them newly available at affordable prices for the UK market is hugely welcome since they are absolute models of their kind.
First up, we have the most classic of them all: The Wizard of Oz. The fact that this movie is so over-exploited can make it easy to forget its impact, and in particular the complexities of its score. This version of the soundtrack, originally produced by Marilee Bradford and Bradley Flanagan in 1995, is greatly extended and allows us to experience both the song score by Harold Arlen and E.Y.Harburg and the symphonic score composed and arranged by Herbert Stothart.
Therefore, in addition to 'Over the Rainbow' we have the extended version of the 'Cyclone' music that takes Dorothy to Munchkinland. The Munchkinland Sequence is here in its complete version – the complexity of this loose-formed number cannot be underestimated, with lots of little motives strung together in a chain – and there are also extended versions of 'If I Only Had a Brain/Heart', 'If I Were King of the Forest' and 'Delirious Escape'.
Rich indeed was this score: Arlen was never more stylish than here, and that mixture of innocence and awareness in Harburg's lyrics makes the piece even more timeless. What a cast the film has, too: not only Judy Garland but also Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr, all of them highly accomplished star performers of the period. The movie's background is explained in the lavish liner booklet, which includes an essay by John Fricke, lots of photos and admirably full recording information (such as the names of the orchestrators and the dates of recording). Though the soundtrack sounds its age, it also has a vibrancy that it will never lose, and this extended version – which, it ought to be mentioned, is actually less complete than a two-disc version that appeared years ago – is highly recommended.
The other two soundtracks under discussion here aren't exactly classics, but they still have much to offer. I've always been a huge admirer of the music of Meredith Willson, so it's lovely to have this complete version of the soundtrack to the movie of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (she who survived the sinking of the Titanic). Originally released in 1964, the movie suffered from having many of the songs from the successful stage version cut, though some of them are used as underscoring.
The movie itself is nowhere near as good as The Music Man but Willson's score is not far behind his earlier hit. Debbie Reynolds and Harve Presnell excel in the songs, which include the lyric masterpiece 'I'll Never Say No' and the vigorous 'Belly Up to the Bar, Boys'. It's just a shame that so many of the show's better songs were cut. Sony's release, however, has twenty-eight tracks and contains the songs plus the underscoring. George Feltenstein's work as both producer and writer of the liner notes is excellent.
Lastly, Victor/Victoria comes to us in a near-ideal release featuring thirty-one tracks. This allows us to hear Henry Mancini's score in all its glory and includes numerous previously-unissued selections. Both versions of 'You and Me' are included (i.e. the one from the film which is interrupted and the complete version as released on the original official soundtrack), as is a rehearsal of 'The Shady Dame from Seville'. The joy of this film for me has always been the combination of Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, which is so delicious that one wishes they'd got together much more often.
The anomaly about this musical is that the songs aren't all that plentiful and some of them aren't all that good either – a problem that Andrews and her director-writer-producer husband, Blake Edwards, encountered when they took the piece to Broadway over a decade later and had to replace and add more than half of the score. The highlights are the decadent 'Le jazz hot', which shows Andrews's voice still in its prime, the appealing duet 'You and Me', in which Andrews's and Preston's collegiality comes through, and the haunting 'Crazy World'. Others, such as 'Chicago, Illiois' and 'The Shady Dame from Seville', are just too generic and are more notable for their orchestration than their composition. Some of Leslie Bricusse's lyrics aren't his best, but the latter song does show his poetical side. For me, this piece is better as a movie than as a score, but Mancini's melodic invention is evident throughout and makes this a worthwhile purchase.
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