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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





  Special Merit 


Music composed by Charlie Chaplin and Carl Davis.

2 CDs

Music composed by Charlie Chaplin

2. THE KID, 1921 (Suite, 8:46)
3. PAY DAY (1922)(4:21)
4. THE GOLD RUSH (1925)(4:23)
5. THE CIRCUS (1928)(6:15)
6. CITY LIGHTS (1931)(5:15)
7. MODERN TIMES (1936)(3:52)
8. THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940)(5:40)
9. MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1940)(Paris Boulevard, 2:15)
10. MONSIEUR VERDOUX (Bitter Tango, 2:51)
11. A KING IN NEW YORK (1957)(Mandolin Serenade, 3:48)
12. A KING IN NEW YORK (Weeping Willow, 1:48)
13. A COUNTESS FROM HONK KONG (1967)(6:40)
14. THE REEL CHAPLIN - A Symphonic Adventure, Part 2: THE CHAPLIN REVUE, MODERN TIMES (6:05)

Music composed by Carl Davis

Suites from --
1. THE FLOORWALKER (1916) (3:34)
2. THE FIREMAN (1916)(4:53)
3. THE VANGUARD (1916) (5:42)
4. ONE A.M. (1916)(6:28)
5. THE COUNT (1916) (7:37)
6. THE PAWNSHOP (1916)(8:28)
7. BEHIND THE SCREEN (1916)(6:29)
8. THE RINK (1916)(7:47)
9. EASY STREET (1917)(6:52)
10. THE CURE (1917)(7:30)
11. THE IMMIGRANT (1917) (8:57)
12. THE ADVENTURER (1917) (6:33)

Performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and The Wihan Quartet, conducted by Carl Davis. Album Produced by James Fitzpatrick. Executive Producer: Reynold da Silva. Associate Producer: Paul Wing. Release Co-Ordination: David Stoner. Recording and Mixing Engineer: John Luard Timperley. Mastering by Gareth Williams. Art Direction & Design: Damien Doherty. Orchestra Recorded Digitally at Barrandov Studios, Smecky Soundstage, Prague.

Silva Screen SILCD1198

Rating: ****

This is another in the ongoing Silva Essential Film Music Collection series. Other compilations devoted to film directors include: PSYCHO: THE ESSENTIAL ALFRED HITCHCOCK (2 CDs, 1999) and DR. STRANGELOVE: MUSIC FROM THE FILMS OF STANLEY KUBRICK (1999). But in the case of Charlie Chaplin we are dealing with more than a director. He was perhaps the most multi-talent artist in film history. Not only was he a fine director, he was of course a superb comic actor, a screenwriter, and he also composed the music as well (or at least the melodies).

There have been several earlier collections of Chaplin's music, one from Silva in 1993 titled simply "Charlie!," conducted by Francis Shaw, and the other one released from RCA/Germany in 1996 titled: THE GOLD RUSH: THE FILM MUSIC OF CHARLES CHAPLIN, with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester of Berlin, also conducted by Carl Davis. Both collections are probably hard-to-find now so this new 2 CD collection is a welcome release. There are those those who find Chaplin's melodies too sugary for their taste. That's their choice. For me, I find them to be as charming as the Chaplin films.

Chaplin himself said: "I tried to write elegant and romantic music to frame my comedies to the tramp character, for elegant music gave my comedies an emotional dimension."

This Silva collection is nicely divided into two sections. The first CD has music composed by Chaplin for his films. The second disc includes music composed by Carl Davis for 12 Chaplin silent films. They make a nice matched pair of discs and focus mostly on the Chaplin silent films where his music abilities are most evident.

The major portion of the first CD is devoted to a large suite known as: "The Reel Chaplin -- A Symphonic Adventure," broken up into two parts (tracks 1and track 14). Listeners who don't know the early Chaplin films may have trouble picking out the various quotes, except for the later films like LIMELIGHT (1952, not released in the U.S. until twenty years later); and probably Chaplin's best known melody, "Smile" from MODERN TIMES (1936), which is also my favorite Chaplin theme. Lyrics for "Smile" were added to Chaplin's music in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons and it became a hit for Nat "King" Cole with Nelson Riddle's Orchestra, as well as others like Johnny Mathis and even Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson.

The suite from his early masterpiece, THE KID (1921)(track 2, 8:45), is a lovely one and is beautifully presented in this collection. The same applies to another famous Chaplin silent: THE GOLD RUSH (1925)(track 4, 4:23). From the later films there is THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940)(track 8, 5:40), with its pseudo-militaristic music. And from his last film, A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG (1967)(track 13, 6:40), there is the beautiful melody, "This Is My Song" which became a Top 10 hit for Petula Clark.

The second CD features music by Carl Davis for 12 Chaplin silent films from 1916-17. This was a dream come true for Davis. His music is very suitable to the madcap antics and sweet sentiment expressed in these silent films. Davis is very adept at capturing the Chaplin magic through his music, such as ONE A.M. (track 4), with its delightfully "tipsy" music; or the swaggering Ragtime style music which opens THE PAWNSHOP (track 6). Davis wisely uses a smaller 16 piece chamber ensemble, including the Wihan Quartet, giving his music a lighter sound that seems just right.

The 12 page CD booklet is tastefully designed and includes some rare photos, including one of Chaplin himself conducting "Mandolin Serenade" from A KING IN NEW YORK (heard on CD 1, track 11). There's also a photo showing Chaplin speaking with Meredith Willson ( later famed for his musicals, THE MUSIC MAN and UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN), at a recording session for THE GREAT DICTATOR. According to the booklet notes, Willson said about Chaplin-- "I was constantly amazed at his attention to details, his feeling for the exact music phrase or tempo to express the mood he wanted." Besides the photos, there is biographical material about Chaplin from a website and a fascinating essay, "Charlie and I," by Carl Davis. He tells about composing the scores for the silent films for a Thames TV series, "Unknown Chaplin" in the 1980s (heard on CD 2).

The Silva 2 CD set is a most enjoyable collection and is especially recommended to those who love those classic Chaplin silent comedies and also his later films as well.

This is a double musical toast by Charlie Chaplin and Carl Davis.


--Roger Hall, 19 April 2006


Another Review...

Rating: ****


Since I am always just a little wary of Silva’s compilation discs, I racked my brain to see if I could remember any previous Chaplin releases. I came up with only one from the early 1990s featuring the Munich Philharmonic. So, I tentatively am willingly to believe that these are indeed “new digital recordings” as the cover box states. Carl Davis helms the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra for this release.

If you are a fan of the silent film era you will already know the value of having together in one package music from Chaplin’s films. One wishes the accompanying booklet was a little more informative about the individual films, but there is a link provided to the Chaplin website where one can find a wealth of information. The booklet does note that Chaplin provided new scores for the films he made between 1918 and 1923.

Disc One, titled “Chaplin by Chaplin,” features music in “suite” forms for “The Kid,” “Pay Day,” “The Gold Rush,” “The Circus,” “City Lights,” “Modern Times,” and “The Great Dictator.” There are individual selections from “ Monsieur Verdoux” (1940), and “A King in New York” (1957) A suite from 1967’s “A Countess from Hong Kong,” his last film, is arranged by Nic Raine. The disc opens with a twelve minute piece that features selections from several Chaplin films and closes with another six minute work that seems to be cut from the same cloth. It contains a cue used in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1975 documentary film about Chaplin. At times the music in this suite sounds like fuller orchestrated music for a cartoon feature. Along the way there are moments that are really more like Pops orchestra material. Chaplin’s melodic ideas are remarkably catchy making the disc quite enjoyable to listen to throughout its ample playing time. It is a pretty good arrangement which the notes claim as being “little known,” but neglects to say who arranged it.

The other selections are filled with gorgeous orchestral arrangements of music from ten films. Since most of the scores Chaplin provided for these films were written over a period spanning from 1942 to 1976 they tend to have a sound that is more like an easy listening orchestral sound prevalent during that time. There are moments when hints at a more musical revue sound can be heard in music from films like “Pay Day.” The one that is striking is that there is a gentle compassion in Chaplin’s lyrical writing that never falls into pure sentimentality and is never mean-spirited. The music seems to flow through a filmed sequence creating a mood more than hitting comedic rhythms. There is a sense that we have here a musical connection to early musical theater (not necessarily of the operetta or Broadway variety). Chaplin’s style seems to come out of English theater music in a way that one can hear in other composers writing in the 1930s and 1940s like Charles Williams. Listeners unfamiliar with this music will be struck by the tunefulness that flows effortlessly from Chaplin’s musical pen. The disc closes with “Smile,” perhaps his most famous melody. What is interesting is that it caps a series of similarly wonderful pieces undeservedly less familiar. The music has its own unique dramatic sense. The suite from “Modern Times” is really quite fascinating taking a page from Gershwin and John Alden Carpenter and makes for an interesting comparison to Alfred Newman’s score for “Street Scene.” It is another approach to film music taking a page from contemporary popular music. Some of the tracks do end rather abruptly thought the idea seems to be that they “set up” the next track’s cue. This works well most of the time. Since the disc is arranged chronologically by film date, it makes for a nice overview of Chaplin’s film music. “A King in New York” has a gentle chamber quality to it which is slightly different than the style of the previous tracks.

Disc Two is the result of a labor of love by composer Carl Davis who has worked over the past decade providing music for many silent films and in this case twelve of Chaplin’s shorts produced by Mutual Films for which no previous score existed. These shorts were produced in 1916 and 1917. For this recording, Davis has reduced the size of the orchestra to better reflect a period sound and added the Wihan Quartet. While he conducts the scores complete in live concerts, he has pulled together briefer suites that showcase the main themes for each short. He has captured the spirit and style of Chaplin’s music even if the thematic material is perhaps less captivating at times. More interesting are Davis’ orchestrations which attempt to approach the reduced silent era ensemble sound of the 1910s. If you have heard recordings of early silent era film music, or even acetates of music from this period you will have a great appreciation for his achievement throughout this amazing set of music.

The performances here are really quite amazing showcasing the talents of the Czech orchestra in ways that remind you that they are used often for film score recording in Europe beyond the compilations of music often released in America by Silva. This release is one of their best offerings with plenty of music to satisfy the curious.

The booklet for this release is nice but nothing stellar. The brief comments are adapted from information on and there are no film descriptions. The inside booklet does provide cue names for the music on disc one.

This is one of Silva’s finest releases and is a welcome to film music fans looking for a great way to add his music to their collection and sample this little giant of the silent era and beyond.

--Steven A. Kennedy , 11 May 2006

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