Carl Davis / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Ben Hur: MGM 1925

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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson

Prolific film composer Carl Davis scored MGM's 1925 silent film Ben-Hur in 1987, and in 1989 recorded the music with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. More than two decades later, after taking the music on tour around the world, Davis has released this vivid performance as part of the comprehensive Carl Davis Collection, and the album is sure to be a treat for his fans. In keeping with the film's New Testament narrative framework, the music has many sections that are reverent in tone and evocative of familiar religious movie music, including an overt borrowing of the Dresden Amen, orchestrated in full Straussian grandeur. But as important as the religious themes are to Ben-Hur, the intimate music for Ben-Hur's family life and the violent and heroic passages that accompany the action sequences play a crucial part in setting the scenes, and Davis provides the full range of moods, from private expressions to epic struggles. The most striking movement from a dramatic viewpoint is "The Chariot Race, with its relentless drumbeat and grim dissonances, and this is undoubtedly effective when played with the film. Overall, the music is delivered with rhythmic vigor and vivid sonorities, and the orchestra under Davis' direction has a presence and richness on CD that is extraordinary, particularly for the time when it was recorded. Ideally, one should see the film and hear the music together to appreciate them as Davis intended, but in the absence of the former, the latter is still one of his most important efforts and his pride in presenting this score is justified.

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