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CD Review

Bernard Herrmann / Alfred Newman

The Egyptian

  • Restoration and Reconstruction by John Morgan
Moscow Symphony Orchestra & Choir/William T. Stromberg
Marco Polo 8.225078 DDD 71:30
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For most of today's viewers, 20th Century Fox's "The Egyptian" may be almost unwatchable, despite direction by Michael Curtiz, who also did "Casablanca." Unevenly cast, this epic film is a typical period mish-mash of ancient religiosity and spectacle, partly redeemed by a good script. Darryl F. Zanuck, head of the studio at the time, told his staffers he wanted "width, not depth," and they obliged him generously with "The Egyptian."

The score by Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman probably is the film's most durable element. Newman was first to be named as composer. He had numerous competing projects, however, and Zanuck suggested that he get either Franz Waxman or Herrmann to assist him. Of the 30 cues on this CD, 19 are by Herrmann, although in some cases he was working with thematic material already provided by Newman. Herrmann sounds like Herrmann nevertheless. To their credit, "The Egyptian" sounds like the work of a single composer, which I suppose implies that Herrmann was the dominant partner. It's a spectacular score in every sense of the word. While it acknowledges the musical clichés one expects to find in a film about Egypt during the time of the pharoahs, it transcends those clichés, thanks to the quality of the workmanship, which is imaginative, exciting, sensuous, and very capable of giving enjoyment apart from the visuals. John Morgan has done an excellent job of, in his own words, "distill[ing] the almost 100-minute score to the best 70 minutes." Many of the cues are continuous, so there's no feeling of fragmentation, and the music's interest never flags. To me, the best cues are those that deal with the one-sided romance between the hero and a manipulative courtesan, who seduces him into betraying his family for her. This is Herrmann's music, and it shows his wonted flair for depicting dysfunctional romance. Newman comes into his own near the end of the score with a series of increasingly tragic and epic cues.

Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra have released 14 film score CDs on Marco Polo; this 15th is perhaps their finest. They respond to the music's exoticism with playing that is full, passionate, and atmospheric. The engineering is first-class. The booklet contains almost 30 pages of information about the music, the film, and the people behind both. It is a model for how film music should be presented on CD.

Copyright © 2000, Raymond Tuttle