As popular and accessible as film music often is, it is arguably taken for granted more frequently than other forms. Throughout the history of the medium, a good number of musical scores have proved to be truly memorable, rising to iconic status as cultural markers and helping to define the popular culture. Yet our relationship to such music is almost entirely through the digital sound of our local cinema or our home theatre systems. So it is a rare and welcome opportunity to hear some of this music performed live by a first-class orchestra, where the warmth and resonance of the concert hall can open our ears to layers of detail that are sometimes obscured by the onscreen action.
Conductor Bob Bernhardt’s program for this concert draws upon well-known pieces from the classical repertoire that were famously pressed into service: Also Spracht Zarathustra by Richard Strauss(from 2001: A Space Odyssey); Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major(Elvira Madigan); and several equally well-known original film scores: Gone with the Wind, Exodus.
The opportunity to hear such compositions removed from the context of the film narrative they were intended to support allows appreciation of the force and impact of the music that is only sometimes possible in the cinema itself. A particularly fine example was on display this evening when pianist Michael Chertock and the Louisville Orchestra delivered a performance of Exodus: Tone Picture that seemed even richer and more nuanced than the original. Mr. Chertock’s fluid and delicate playing lifted the piece beyond the sometimes over-emphatic nature of Ernest Gold’s composition and allowed us to hear the familiar work with new appreciation. And this a highlight of an evening that included strong renditions of the aforementioned Mozart Piano Concerto, as well as the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Both were beautifully executed, but it is a testament to Mr. Chertock’s formidable talent and Mr. Bernhardt’s care in selection that this film score stood up alongside such masterworks without shame.
Another high point was the inclusion of Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalaria Rusticana. The piece figured prominently in The Godfather, Part III, and Mr. Bernhardt introduced it as “the most beautiful five minutes of music in opera” – a statement that might strike some as a risky thing to proclaim just before performing the piece. But the conductor and his players proved the point with a reading that was graceful and stirring.
Mr. Chertock finished his evening with a lighthearted piece by American composer Michael Daugherty entitled Le Tombeau de Liberace – 4, Candelabra Rhumba. There was no listing in the program, so what, if any, film it appeared in is up for question (a search of IMDB provided no results). But the Liberace homage was another shift in tone in a program that was eclectic and unexpected. The Latin rhythms of the material showcased the percussion section as much as the piano keyboard and were an effective interjection of liveliness and humor just before the finale.
Said finale, a suite from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl by Klaus Badelt, was a last-minute substitution and therefore also not listed in the program. Here was the only disappointment of the evening. Routine and bombastic music that only barely rises above the average big-budget action film score, it was given an energetic reading here that brought out the sweep and pace that are its only distinguishing characteristics; but it failed to provide a proper finish. Whatever difficulties prevented the advertised Symphonic Suite from Lord of the Rings (conductor Bernhardt was not telling) from being included were a wet blanket on an otherwise well-chosen selection of material that nicely balanced the populist appeal of film scores with their better-regarded classical cousins.
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