Dimitri Tiomkin

Land of the Pharaohs [Original Soundtrack]

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Dimitri Tiomkin's tenure at Warner Bros. wasn't as lengthy or prestigious as that of Max Steiner, but he had his moments, and some of the best of them can be found in the score he wrote for Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs. In keeping with Hawks' outsized production, and the absence of anything resembling a "hero" in the narrative, Tiomkin generated a score that was big on grand gestures and short on subtlety, with relatively few quiet moments -- indeed, in this score more than any of his others, we get the repeated use of the orchestral "growl," of rasping, dissonant brass and horns, that he used as selective "stings" in most of his other work. In other places, we get a kind of larger-than-life faux-Near East soundtrack, recorded close and loud (and in stereo) -- a lot of what's here was actually lifted by Tiomkin from the best moments of his score for Frank Capra's 1937 drama Lost Horizon, but overscored almost to the point of absurdity, so that what we get sounds like Rimsky-Korsakov gone to seed. And it's all entertaining listening, as well as being charming in its boldness, its quiet, and its sophistication, principally in the extended track covering the music written for Joan Collins' Princess Nellifer. Tiomkin conducted -- and can be heard at work with the orchestra in an untimed two-minute "bonus track" at the end of the disc, with Ken Darby handling the choral work, and the results are amazingly potent for music that was never supposed to be heard free-standing, on its own -- the transition of the "Songs of Joy" to the "Song of Despair" marks a key plot element in the movie better than the visuals to which they became attached, and hold up well as absolute music, too. The annotation is a little sketchy, as is the music itself, which is less concerned with the film at hand and more concerned with the larger body of Tiomkin's work for Hawks, but until the Brigham Young University film music archive gets around to working with these tapes, this is probably the best representation of the movie's music that we're likely to have.

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