Sunday, October 17, 2004

Exploring the CD Collection, #7

Film Music of Lee Holdridge
London Symphony Orchestra
Charles Gerhardt, conductor

This is a good CD to talk about on two levels. First there is the conductor, Charles Gerhardt, who is most famous for his long career of championing film music and the art of music recording. Gerhardt recorded a fine series of film music compilation albums for RCA; his recordings - - undertaken with the assistance of George Korngold, the son of the great film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold - - that are staples in the collection of any serious lover of film music. Gerhardt died in 1999 while he still might have had years of music in him. A bio of Gerhardt's career can be read here, while an article specifically on Gerhardt's film music recordings can be read here.

RCA's decision to abandon Gerhardt's film music series is a particularly frustrating one for film music fans. Since we are used to seeing worthy recording projects go undone because of commercial concerns, it's doubly annoying when projects like Gerhardt's recordings are terminated despite their commercial success. Anyhow, the recordings of Charles Gerhardt for years represented the only real way for film music lovers to explore the work of "Golden Age" composers like Herrmann, Korngold, Steiner and Rozsa. And even though many classic film scores have over the last decade at last been issued on CD, both with the original music tracks or in re-recordings, Charles Gerhardt's CDs are still worthwhile interpretations of film music's underexplored byways.

This particular CD was not part of the RCA series; rather, it was issued on Citadel Records in 1985, exhibiting the work of composer Lee Holdridge. Holdridge is one of those film composers who, like Bruce Broughton or Basil Poledouris, always gets mentioned by film music fans as a composer who just doesn't get the high-profile projects that he deserves. His music is always very melodic and memorable, even though his filmography includes relatively few films that many people will have seen. He gets a lot of work, but he never seems to get that big project that could catapult him into the rarefied air where people like James Horner and Howard Shore hold forth. This is especially frustrating in light of all the "cookie cutter" film music being churned out these days by guys like Hans Zimmer (whose music, to be fair, I do enjoy at least somewhat) and his Media Ventures disciples.

Holdridge's most "famous" efforts -- if that word can even really be applied -- include his score to The Beastmaster (is that movie still on TBS something like every nine days?), his love theme to the early Tom Hanks movie Splash, his themes to the TV series Moonlighting and Beauty and the Beast (a show which also received fine music from Don Davis, who went on to score the Matrix trilogy), and his very fine score to the recent TV movie The Mists of Avalon. (This last might have been one of the most memorable scores of the year 2001, had it not been for a TV project and had it not been completely overshadowed by Howard Shore's work for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.) And the theme of Holdridge's that is most likely to be very familiar to mainstream audiences is his East of Eden theme (limited-time sample here), which is probably better known because it was used prominently by magician David Copperfield in his "flying" illusion than because of its use in the East of Eden TV film.

This is one of the very best CDs in my film music collection. Lee Holdridge is a composer who deserves more attention, and Charles Gerhardt was in many ways film music's greatest evangelist. Here you get both.

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