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Music Review: Various Artists – ‘Play It Again: The Classic Sound of Hollywood’

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Once upon a golden time in a world now seeming far, far away, Hollywood movies boasted lush orchestral scores composed by the likes of Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre, Bernard Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, Miklós Rózsa, and Henry Mancini. Remember those days?

Naturally, the folks at Turner Classic Movies not only remember those opulent sounds, but they’ve teamed with Sony Masterworks to produce a luscious two-CD set to celebrate TCMs 20th anniversary. The result, Play It Again: The Classic Sound of Hollywood, is a package designed to please both connoisseurs of lesser-known movie music as well as those of us who enjoy hearing familiar themes of films we’ve seen, well, probably countless times.

Play it AgainThe first disc of Play It Again will most appeal to serious soundtrack collectors as it includes recordings by Charles Gerhardt and London’s National Philharmonic Orchestra produced for RCA Red Seal in the early 1970s. Originally part of the Classic Film Scores series but unavailable for decades (and now re-edited by Gerhardt), the selections themselves will primarily serve as standalone compositions. The films they supported, after all, are somewhat obscure. The suites include music from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s work on The Sea Hawk (1940), Between Two Worlds (1944), and Of Human Bondage (1946). The disc also offers selections from Daniele Amfitheatrof and George Duning’s score for Salome (1953), Franz Waxman’s Peyton Place (1957), and Dimitri Tiomkin’s The Thing from Another World (1951).

It’s disc two that is likely to interest most moviegoers as it’s essentially orchestral interpretations of many of the most noted themes in cinema history. We hear epic melodies from epic films like Gone with the Wind (1939), Ben-Hur (1959), and two samples of Maurice Jarre’s work for director David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

Science-fiction and stories of imagination are represented by the earliest of the selections, Max Steiner’s King Kong (1933) and John Williams’ Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Two films from Alfred Hitchcock represent the world of suspense in samples from Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Vertigo (1958) and the unsettling violins of the shower scene in Psycho (1960). The grandeur of the Western is heard in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1967). And what could be more recognizable than Casablanca (1942) and Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)?

It’s tempting to say disc two of Play It Again: The Classic Sound of Hollywood could be the perfect accompaniment for your next party when everyone can challenge themselves to “name that theme.” But the production of these discs makes them more than background music. Classic themes are classic for a reason, and the care, depth, and clarity in the Sony Masterworks package makes this collection a very fine presentation. Many other film favorites didn’t make the cut here—is there a volume two in those Masterworks?

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