April 8th, 2007

Tuco (The Good the Bad & the Ugly)

"It's a big country..."

I just recieved La La Land's reissue of The Big Country today. It is perhaps the best example of how much difference a performance can make in how the music sounds. I first came across this score when I happened to drop by my grandparents' house while were watching the film. The scene that I saw had a marvelous score ("The Raid") and I immediately determined that I would get the score of the film. That is how I discovered Jerome Moross. However, the Silva edition of the original tracks had long since gone from the scene. I came across a copy at Footlight a little while later that was priced a bit steep for an album that I heard didn't have great sound. I ended up with the Tony Bremner recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra that Silva put out. Like their recording of Lawrence of Arabia, it's... nice. Kinda. While I loved "The Raid" in the film, my reaction to the piece when I heard it on the re-recording was pretty lukewarm. It just didn't have the same spirit.

The thing is that the music sounds so much more alive and fun on the original recording than on the re-recording. This version of "The Raid" has all of the excitement I remember from the first time I heard it in context of the film, and don't get me started on the climactic pieces like "The Death of Buck Hannassey" and the Blanco Canyon sequence. If this performance doesn't give you goosebumps, then I think it is safe to pronounce you legally dead. Like Elmer Bernstein's The Magnificent Seven, the original performance by the studio orchestras on those monaural tracks just have a punch to them that no re-recording has ever come close to recapturing. There were some valiant efforts in both cases, but even Bernstein's own re-recordings never had the same freshness to them as the version that appears in the film. The title theme of Moross' score is in the same league Bernstein's representing that era of the American Western. Furthermore the The Big Country is just so damned good natured about itself that it is really infectious; you end up humming that main theme to yourself all day.

Not only is the performance on this recording makes the music shine in a way that it just didn't under Bremner's baton (well intentioned, I'm sure), I also have to say that after the stories about the sound of the Silva edition (I don't know if they are true or not, I never heard that disc), I know I certainly don't have any issues with the sound on this release. The mono is quite clear, and while there is some extremely minor background noise on some of the tracks, all of it is well within any sort of acceptable limits. Quite frankly, I'm listening to it on my headphones and it sounds fine for the most part. And while most scores require some form of abridgement to make the score work on disc, The Big Country is not one of them. There is plenty more music on the La La Land disc and it is all good. The score just bounces effortlessly from one delightful moment to the next; there is no question of which I prefer.

I took advantage of the special and ordered Eric Colvin's scores for the Simon Wincer telefilms Monte Walsh and The Crossfire Trail for five bucks; I was listening to that disc before I went out tonight and I have to say that it was quite nice. I didn't know jack about Colvin, but for that price I figured I'd give the disc a whirl. It was a good call; Colvin was recommended to Wincer and Tom Selleck by Basil Poledouris, who had written the score for Wincer's Quigley Down Under and Lonesome Dove. Since Monte Walsh is the prominent score on the disc, it shall go next to the John Barry score for the 1970 version. Colvin's filmography over at IMDB doesn't look look like there might be too much else out on disc, but I'm interested in hearing more of him, as these scores are quite nice. I will admit that it was a good thing I listened to them before The Big Country, however. That isn't so much a comment on these scores as it is acknowledgement of Moross'.

* The funniest use of it was in Iron Chef Comes to New York when the Iron Chefs battled Bobby Flay.