CD: Lost Horizon – The Classic Film Music of Dimitri Tiomkin (1976)

April 4, 2011 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Label: RCA Red Seal/ Released: October 19, 2010

Tracks & Album Length: 6 tracks / (45:51)


Special Notes: n/a.


Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin




Among the represented composers in Charles Gerhardt and George Korngold’s Classic Film Music series, Dimitri Tiomkin is probably the toughest gamble for film score newbies and veteran fans because while he was responsible for a string of popular hit themes during his career (High Noon, The High and the Mighty, Town Without Pity), his writing evolved into a bombastic style that hid nothing: brass were loud, and sometimes mimicked drunken donkey sputtering a frenetic cluster of sounds, and emotional sweeps were invested with an insanely raw enthusiasm.

To some, those are the pitfalls of Tiomkin’s writing, which may have veered into extreme stylistic indulgences because he was so adept at capturing the swagger of heroes, the sudden mass hysteria of huge crowds or a sea of war weary soldiers heading into battle once again, and perhaps he sometimes treated the ridiculous with too much sincerity, as in the case of the giddy guilty pleasure, Land of the Pharaohs (1955).

Due to the selection of represented scores, this album features Tiomkin at his most tempered, and once can trace, even in suite form, Tiomkin’s evolution. The biggest shock is the balance of tone and energy that permeates Lost Horizon (1937) in spite of being set in an exotic locale, with high snowy mountains, and a cultish people visited by awe-eyed white folks. It’s a haunting, engrossing score with beautiful vocals, eerie themes, and unhindered by the bombast of his fifties music. Unlike other suites in other albums, Gerhardt’s 23 min. suite offers a broad spectrum of cues, neatly strung together for an engaging narrative that will prompt some of Tiomkin’s critics to give the original score recording a second try.

The remaining scores are represented by perfunctory theme recordings: the jaunty, heroic The Guns of Navarone which presents Tiomkin’s orchestral oomph with an edgier, more action-oriented tone; the chiming, infectiously energetic overture from The Fourposter (1952), where Tiomkin balances literal bedroom drama with animated vignettes; the love scene from the tender drama Friendly Persuasion (1956); and the choral finale from the Cinerama feature Search for Paradise (1957).

A longish suite is reserved for the superb The Big Sky (1952), with slowly rendered theme variations that illustrate he could, when the material clearly mandated it, write things of beauty without espresso caffeinated verve.

The late film music critic Page Cook used to refer to the composer’s fans as Tiomkinites, which was meant to be a pejorative, but what he failed to understand is that fans likely knew the composer had a tendency to go a bit bonkers, and knew there was much to admire (if not fascinate) in the method of his madness for bombast. The orchestrations were dense and ferocious, and players probably needed a nap after a half-day recording session.

Even if Tiomkin didn’t sometimes see the humour in some of the kitschy projects he scored, fans certainly did, which makes him perhaps more of an affectionate figure among his contemporaries. He was also a rare composer known by film fans during the fifties for his TV appearances (his 1961 appearance on The Jack Benny show was hysterical), and more lately for his colourful butchery of the English language. In the realm of “boom-de-boom,” he was its eternal emperor.

RCA’s reissue boasts crystal clear sound with beautiful dynamic range, once again illustrating the finesse given to the creation of this album in 1976. With the exception of The Fourposter, all other scores on the album are available in partial or complete form on CD.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

IMDB Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography — RCA Classic Film Score Series Links: 123


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