Lucid Culture


A Historically Vital, Epically Sweeping Film Music Album from Daniel Hope

Violinist Daniel Hope‘s latest release, Escape to Paradise: The Hollywood Album (streaming at Spotify), isn’t just a fascinating and rewarding listen: it’s a important historical document. Film preservationists race against the ravages of time to salvage rare celluloid; likewise, Hope’s new recordings of film music by Jewish expatriates, mostly from pre-and post-WWII Hollywood, have historical value for that reason alone. What’s just as important is how vividly Hope underscores how Jewish composers’ contributions were as vital in defining an era in filmmaking as their colleagues on the theatrical side were. What’s more, this new recording, made with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic under the baton of Alexander Shelley, is much cleaner and higher quality than any old, mono celluloid version could possibly be. Many of these pieces are not heard all the way through in the films, and while there were stand-alone soundtrack albums for some of the movies whose music is featured here, others had none, all the more reason to savor this.

As you would imagine from the filmography chronicled here, it’s a lavish, Romantic ride. The album opens with Miklós Rózsa’s ripe, vibrato-fueled 1959 love theme from William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Hope leading the way with a crystalline, guardedly hopeful, soaring tone. Likewise, his highwire lines light up Rózsa’s lush, flamenco-inflected 1961 Love Theme from El Cid. And yet another romantic theme – this one from Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, from sixteen years earlier – shows that Hungarian-born composer had his ecstatically crescendoing formula well-refined by then.

Taken out of context, Thomas Newman’s interlude from the immortal plastic bag scene in American Beauty is remarkably plaintive, a quality enhanced by this performance. The swing-era standard As Time Goes By, popularized in Casablanca, wasn’t written by Max Steiner, the composer of that film’s score, but by Tin Pan Alley song merchant Herman Hupfeld: Hope chooses it to end the album, in a stark solo rendition. A sad Henry Waxman waltz from the 1962 weepie Come Back, Little Sheba foreshadows it

The source material here reaches beyond mainstrean Hollywood. There’s also a majestic, string-driven version of a Walter Jurmann Weimar ragtime piece; Eric Zeisl’s striking overture Menuhim’s Song; and a surprisingly Celtic-tinged instrumental ballad by Werner Richard Heymann.

Not all the composers here are Jewish, either. John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List adds context, along with an achingly lush 1988 Ennio Morricone set piece from Cinema Paradiso that draws a straight line back to his predecessors here.

And the album isn’t just film scores. German crooner Max Raabe sings a marvelously deadpan version of Kurt Weill’s Speak Low. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his work with Andres Segovia, gets a shout via a rippling take of Sea Murmurs, from his Shakespeare Songs suite. Erich Korngold – whose Hollywood success springboarded a career in serious concert music – is represented first by a dynamic version of his Violin Concerto in D. Hope dances and weaves over an alternately sweeping and gusty backdrop as a dramatic melody with all the hallmarks of a movie title theme rise to the forefront. The Serenade from his ballet suite Der Schneeman (The Snowman) is more low key, with a similarly heart-on-sleeve ambience. Virtually everything here will sweep you away to a land that time happily hasn’t forgotten – if you tend to find yourself immersed in something on Turner Classics at three in the morning, do yourself a favor and get this album.

December 15, 2014 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 1/12/09

Every Tuesday here we have our own quarter-sized version of what Kasey Kasem used to do on Sundays back in the day. Each of the links below correspond to the songs on our little hit parade. It’s designed as something that with a few clicks of a mouse will keep you entertained through your lunch hour if you’re at a desk job, or late at night if you’re bored.


1.  Maynard & the Musties – Elvis Museum

Frontman Joe Maynard’s ostensibly true story about one obsessed woman’s tribute to the King, with subtly sly commentary on the culture of celebrity. Producer Ryan Adams on piano and lapsteel.


2.   Max Raabe – Oops I Did It Again

German retro cabaret crooner covering Britney Spears. Words cannot describe.


3.  Kerry Kennedy’s Ghostwise – More from the Mountain

Gothic Americana like the Walkabouts. Eerie and irresistible. They play Rose Bar on 1/21.


4.  Heather Nova – Talking to Strangers

Long and hypnotic with haunting strings and Nova’s trademark wail. Streaming at her site.


5. The Naturals – Missus Sinclair

Super catchy 60s flavored dark guitar pop from North Carolina. Check it out. 


6. The Slackers – Dreidel Dub

A little late for the holiday, this amusing ska instrumental is ultimately a good excuse for a characteristically ripping Glenn Pine trombone solo. Thanks to Jacob of Across the Aisle for the heads-up on this – it’s a new single w/a dub remix as the b-side.


7. Close2death – Memory

An artsy, ornate, minor-key metalish ballad from this intriguing female-fronted band. They’re at Arlene’s on 2/12


8. The Sleaze Tax – Tape You to a Star

This is consistently surprising, multistylistic indie rocker Barbara Manning’s latest project, something akin to Exene’s shortlived but excellent Auntie Christ


9. The Darrin James Band – Had Enough of Me

Swinging minor-key oldtimey Waits-style piano ballad as Jack Grace might have done it. Sweet. He’s at the Parkside on 1/15.


10. Steel Battalion – The Emo Blues

“This song is dedicated to all those motherfuckers who wear more makeup than girls,” snarls these NJ rockers’ frontman on this LOL funny parody. They’re at Trash on Jan 18.

January 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Max Raabe at the Neue Galerie, NYC 1/10/09

Deadpan, heavylidded and debonair in his tux, standing almost motionless by the piano at the front of the museum’s opulent bistro, Max Raabe looked every bit the cat who ate the canary. Seizing the moment, the Weimar cabaret crooner/revivalist worked every bit of puckish innuendo he could find in an entertaining yet somewhat chillingly apt set of songs for the new depression. Completely off-mic and projecting to the room with a mannered but marvelously nuanced baritone, he delivered a diverse mix of both comedic and more serious oldtimey fare, singing mostly in German and accompanied on piano by Christoph Israel, whose understated, occasionally whimsical stylings made a perfectly snug match with Raabe’s tongue-in-cheek vocals. Raabe doesn’t go for laughs: he lets the laughs come to him, and they did in droves, whether in response to the lyrics, the occasional lift of an eyebrow, or when he and Israel would whistle a duet over a verse. He only vocalised a trumpet once, and he didn’t do the Britney Spears cover that’s all over youtube, which was probably just as well considering that he was playing to an older crowd.


The duo opened with a wistful ballad and then a bouncy dancehall tune whose title translated as I’ve Got a Sweet Tooth for You. This was only Raabe’s second-ever New York performance, and he took the opportunity to show off how deep his repertoire is, largely omitting songs from his monumental, lushly orchestrated new double live cd Heute Nacht oder Nie (reviewed here recently). In The Night Ghost, Raabe cleverly catalogued the cantankerous spirit’s reasons for disappearing (he’s sick of everybody looking for him). Love Song of Tahiti, a Bing Crosby hit from the 1934 musical Mutiny on the Bounty was delivered complete with birdcalls, the vocals so perfectly legit it could have easily been satire – with this guy, you never know. The set closed with a comedic number told from the point of view of a musician who’s been missing the same woman all through his life, from his struggling younger days sleeping in the park to his career as an opera star. Raabe used the second verse to let loose and show off his operatic training, which made it obvious why he’d ignored the mic all night.


They encored with the old standard Tomorrow Is Another Day, Raabe effortlessly imbuing the song with an undercurrent of menace. “If you can face the setting sun,” you can make it, he sang, in a way that was distinctly less than encouraging. For a town where cranes at luxury condo sites fall over on pedestrians, the financial district is in chaos and guys like Bernie Madoff run amok, it was something beyond appropriate. Raabe is a star in Europe and not yet well known here; that could change in a hurry.

January 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , | 5 Comments

CD Review – Max Raabe & Palast Orchester – Heute Nacht Oder Nie

Classically trained retro croooner Max Raabe is a big name in Europe. Working strictly in grand style, this is a characteristically ambitious effort (the title translates as Tonight or Never), a double live cd of classic and obscure swing jazz, cabaret, Weimar blues, dancehall numbers and some ballads, most of them from the 1920s. Had Raabe decided to record them in mono with a few pops and crackles, collectors would be going nuts over this stuff. He and his crew have done their homework – this really sounds like the genuine article. It’s not going to appeal to everybody: many will find Raabe’s mannered delivery stilted and completely over the top (rather than singing in character, he is the character). But fans of this stuff won’t be able to resist. For Raabe, life is indeed a cabaret to be savored in all its exquisite decadence. His Teutonic accent only adds to the period ambience. And he’s funny (this is a guy who once did a deadpan, fully orchestrated cover of Oops I Did It Again). His backing band, Palast Orchester is topnotch with lush strings, buoyant horns and incisive, tasteful piano, banjo or tuba authentically filling in the low frequencies. Ultimately, this is festive party music, best enjoyed after a holiday gluwein or three. Most of the songs here are short, three minutes at best. Some have a nostalgic feel, others are exuberant, with a few comedic numbers and instrumental interludes (which are actually the cd’s best moments – this orchestra really cooks). 


There’s a fast, amusing oompah song here titled My Little Green Cactus. Their version of Kurt Weill’s Song of Mandalay is more restrained than Brian Carpenter’s but still good. Dream A Little Dream bounces and plinks along, closer to the original than the Mama Cass hit. Likewise, the version of Alabama Song here benefits from a straight-up treatment, far funnier than Jim Morrison’s. Occasionally Raabe will pull out all the stops and show off his operatic chops; one song features a solo on the spoons. The tuba also takes center stage on a couple of occasions. Campy? Sometimes, yes. But it’s a good party. Fans of the A-list of the American oldtimey revivalists – the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jolie Holland, the Moonlighters, les Chauds Lapins et al. will enjoy getting acquainted with Herr Raabe and his mischievous crew.

November 29, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments