Charlie Chaplin: The Essential Film Music Collection is both a retrospective of Chaplin's own scores and those written by Carl Davis for earlier Mutual Film Corporation productions that Chaplin did not score because he couldn't secure the uncontested rights to them. Sometimes Chaplin's music conflicts a little with what's onscreen, particularly in cases where he scores a film that seemed very old to him as he was attempting to supply music for it some 50 or 60 years after it was made. Some of his own films he didn't regard very highly, or simply didn't remember well, and the result is that some of his music is anachronistic or merely uncertain in its purpose. Even in such cases, on its own terms Chaplin's film music is always excellent, rich with quotations of familiar tunes, ragtime figures, and echoes of the English Music Hall music that were his musical heritage. Many scores have been written for the Mutual films; The Rink is one of the most frequently scored films in history, and sadly, not so always with success. Although he focuses more on onscreen action than was Chaplin's own usual practice, Davis is familiar with Chaplin's own preferences and practices, and produced scores for the Chaplin's 12-film Mutual cycle that are in his style but fit the films to a T.
Davis leads the City of Prague Philharmonic, but it doesn't appear to be the full band, as little more than a theater orchestra was usually called for in most cases, and the Wihan Quartet joins in for passages that clearly only require a chamber group. The Chaplin disc, entitled The Reel Chaplin, consists of two suites collecting various cues; taken together they last about 20 minutes. The rest is made up of single cues or smaller suites, and the result is a very fast-moving collection that never drags. The Davis disc consists of suites from all 12 Mutual productions, averaging about seven minutes each. Like most original recordings from Silva Screen, the sound quality is great. If your taste runs mainly to serious, challenging, and exploratory music, this might not be for you -- it is sweet, sentimental, and heady with the vernacular of a time gone by. For the rest of us, few recordings released in 2006 will prove as easy to listen to and enjoy as Charlie Chaplin: The Essential Film Music Collection.