Original Soundtrack

Above and Beyond [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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Above and Beyond is a doubly appropriate title for this CD, referring by intention to the title of the movie for which the music was written, but also by happenstance to the sheer quality of the music -- movie music this good was seldom attempted, much less used successfully. Hugo Friedhofer (1901-1981) was a composer too little represented on soundtrack albums during his own lifetime, and Film Score Monthly magazine seems bent on making up for some of that neglect with this CD release of the composer's score to the movie Above and Beyond (1952). The film, directed and produced by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, told the personal and professional story of Colonel Paul W. Tibbetts, the man who piloted the B-29 named Enola Gay, which dropped the first atom bomb on Japan in August of 1945. The movie isn't shown quite as often in 2005 as it was in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, possibly because its subject matter continues to elicit controversy and television programmers (even on cable) would rather avoid the headaches. The score by Friedhofer is a wonder, though, a thoroughly accomplished piece of screen music-writing that transcends its origins and easily and obviously stands on its own as substantial music -- the influences of Aaron Copland, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Jean Sibelius abound in this superb body of work, although it all seems to be shaped distinctly in Friedhofer's creative voice, which seems almost too subtle and finely nuanced for its Hollywood origins. Friedhofer was a true subversive in his approach to scoring, to judge from this soundtrack and also his music for William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (which has echoes here); he avoided the conventional (and despised schmaltz) and abhorred anything like the expected tonalities and sonorities in his music, which may be one reason why the best of it seems more suited to the concert hall than the movie soundstage. One has to give credit to the movie company executives and music department chiefs who kept him on call, because what he delivered was frequently more challenging that the movies he was scoring; the depiction of the loneliness of Lucy Tibbetts and the agonizing decisions to be made by her husband in his command of the mission are depicted in highly sophisticated, post-Wagnerian musical terms, worthy of a 20th century opera, and that bold as well. This may explain why MGM music department head Johnny Green had one of the cues re-recorded at a lower volume level -- he couldn't question the quality of what he was hearing, but had to wonder if audiences (or production executives) might not feel imposed upon by it as originally scored. The other marvelous element of this CD is that the conductor on these original recordings from 1952 was a 22-year-old wunderkind named André Previn, who had yet to establish himself as a film composer but was already capable of handling an orchestra like a seasoned pro -- indeed, the playing and performances here are so finely nuanced that one would have expected them to be the work of a veteran conductor, not a "kid" just out of the Army. The production of the disc is nigh-on perfect, with excellent digital transfers of the mono source material, which sounds at least ten years newer than its 1952 origins would lead one to expect, and the annotation is as good as this kind of release gets. This CD is worthy of a five-star rating, if only because it's not possible to give it anything higher.

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