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Waxman: Taras Bulba / Raine, City Of Prague Philharmonic

Release Date: 08/23/2011 
Label:  Tadlow   Catalog #: 954047  
Composer:  Franz Waxman
Conductor:  Nic Raine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAXMAN Taras Bulba Nic Raine, cond; City of Prague PO & Ch TADLOW 13 (2 CDs: 128:06)

In my enthusiastic review of Kritzerland’s reissue of Franz Waxman’s one-of-a-kind score for the 1962 United Artists production of Taras Bulba , I mentioned rumors of a complete new Tadlow Music rerecording that would be a potential blockbuster for several reasons. Good as the music was, that “original soundtrack” was disappointing because Read more it was actually a drastically truncated rerecording using a smaller orchestra and containing only 37 minutes of music with extremely shrill sound that bordered on being unlistenable. Given the spectacular orchestration of Waxman’s melodic and wide-ranging, hyper-dynamic music, I can think of no other orchestral score more deserving of modern stereo sound. This complete rerecording contains more than 90 minutes of orchestral music, plus several songs written by Waxman and valuable bonus tracks including concert versions of the Overture and “Ride of the Cossacks,” a piano six-hands arrangement of the “Ride of the Cossacks,” and a purely instrumental version of “The Wishing Star.” The songs will have negligible value for most listeners primarily interested in the orchestral music, so producer James Fitzpatrick has sensibly placed them on the second CD after completion of the score, and separated from the instrumental bonus tracks.

As for the score itself, Waxman researched Ukrainian folk music while he was on a historic tour conducting all of Russia’s major orchestras. He actually used only one authentic Ukrainian melody, but much of the music is written in the style of Russian folk music. “The Wishing Star” is one of Waxman’s finest romantic themes. The raucous Overture and battle music must be heard to be believed in terms of their irrepressible energy, flamboyant orchestration, and pure decibel level. The “Ride of the Cossacks” (also known as the “Ride to Dubno”) accompanies the gathering of the Cossack tribes in the film’s most famous set piece, and is frequently heard in concert halls all over the world. In short, Taras Bulba , despite the fact that the film was a critical and box-office flop, is one of the most massive and stylistically diverse scores ever written by Waxman (or anyone else). As a pure orchestral showpiece, it is unmatched in the annals of film music.

No film-music fan can question the need for a complete new recording of Taras Bulba . The principal question is whether Nic Raine can even remotely approach Waxman’s conducting tour de force on the film’s soundtrack and his rerecording of excerpts from the score. Well, the answer is yes. Raine does not quite match Waxman’s almost unimaginable intensity contrasting with chamber-like intimacy, but he comes close enough, aided by modern sound, to make this amazing music explode out of your speakers. The “Ride of the Cossacks” has all of the required swagger, and it is good to have both the concert and film versions. I do have some minor quibbles about some of Raine’s interpretive decisions, such as his rushed pacing of the final solemn and elegiac statement of the Cossack brotherhood theme near the end. But these are minor matters when compared to the dynamic impact of this recording as a whole. Raine is helped immeasurably by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra as it copes heroically with Waxman’s nearly impossible demands.

Needless to say, the sound contributes immensely to the success of this project. The orchestra is recorded in a reverberant concert hall setting that permits more effective dynamic range. The tonal coloration is much darker than Waxman’s rerecording, where the high frequencies were often uncomfortably over the top. Fine inner instrumental detail is outstanding, and the impact of the bass drum is stunning (if you have the system to reproduce it). The huge percussion section is well integrated with the rest of the orchestra. The principal sonic glitch is that the chorus in “The Wishing Star” and some other intimate episodes (for example, “The Birth of Andrei”) are miked so closely that the chamber-like delicacy inherent in the music suffers. The album production does full justice to the size and scope of the project. There are extensive essays on Waxman and his music, including a detailed track-by-track analysis of the score and notes by Fitzpatrick.

To sum up, Tadlow’s complete Taras Bulba is an overwhelming triumph, primarily because of Waxman’s music and the dedication of Fitzpatrick, Raine, and the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. This Taras Bulba must rank at or near the top of any list of complete Golden Age film score recordings. Don’t miss it.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

1. Taras Bulba by Franz Waxman
Conductor:  Nic Raine
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra

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