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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





The Film Music of Phillip Lambro

The Film Music of Phillip Lambro

Music composed, orchestrated, arranged, and conducted by Phillip Lambro.

25 Tracks (Total Time = 43:46)
MINERAL KING (8 tracks, 13:52)
FATHER PAT (8 tracks,14:37)
CELEBRATION (4 tracks, 6:42)
GIT (5 tracks, 8:19)


Produced by Phillip Lambro and Robin Esterhammer. Recording engineered by Ivan Fischer. CD Mastered by Aaron Hook and John Strother at Penguin Recordings. Liner Notes by Randall D. Larson. Design by Jim Titus.

Perseverance Records PRD 021

Limited edition of 1500 copies.

Rating: ***


Phillip Lambro is a name most film music fans may never have come across. He composed several documentary scores and in 1964 headed out to Hollywood to write his first feature score, GIT!, which appears on this disc. Lambro began his musical career as a pianist and composer starting with his concert debut at 18 at Boston’s Symphony Hall. His classical compositions won many accolades and were performed by the likes of Herbert von Karajan and Leopold Stokowski. Like many American composers not writing in strict serial music, his work was a bit overlooked—none of his concert works are currently represented on disc. This is the third of Lambro releases from the label, the other two featured single score releases of music from CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD and MURPH THE SURF. With titles like these, it is no wonder that the somewhat disillusioned composer returned to his classical music successes after a series of low budget features in the 1970s.

Lambro’s music is often highly-acclaimed, and this disc opens with his score for the 1972 documentary, MINERAL KING, which received a Best Music for a Documentary award from the National Board of Review. The score here is for a reduced chamber orchestra with highlighted trumpet, piano, and banjo against a string texture. The opening “Trumpet Voluntary” features a somewhat Americana line cast against growing astringent harmonies in the strings. Harsher dissonances appear in “Vanishing Wilderness” as a piano idea flits about in the texture and a flute line, with a Native American flavor, floats pointedly above the texture. The harmonic areas seem a bit modal, closer to say Shostakovich, when they are not clustered in dissonant sounds. “The Old Country Road” is a nice little banjo number, not out of place in any Western, and played here by the great Joe Pass. The solo harmonica in “Miner’s Tune” and the instrumental solos of “Mineral King and Trumpet Voluntary” would not be out of place in a Jerry Fielding or Alex North western score that shied away from a strict Americana style. Overall a fine little score which makes for a good mid-century chamber suite as it moves from dissonance to lyric 20 th century writing and then dissolves back to dissonance over its near 15 minute playing time. Trumpet playing here is by the superb Thomas Stevens, then first chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Next up on the disc is a score for the short documentary, FATHER PAT. This film, produced by the Catholic Family Theater, tells the story of Father Patrick Peyton who coined the phrase, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Lambro’s “Main Title” has a hymn-like quality (think a denser Song of Bernadette sound with a little Rosza thrown in). The score places these fascinating chord structures against pointillistic instrumental ideas. The string harmonies sometimes lie static while a lyric line moves above them. There is some gorgeous lyric writing here in “The Lean Years/Arrival in Scranton” that has an almost folk-like quality. But more importantly perhaps, is Lambro’s shaping of the score as a whole, a mark of the opening score. Again, the music dramatically moves naturally in the way one would anticipate from a concert work with musical gestures that flow out of the material so well that one occasionally forgets that this is written to support film. The music here is a bit more accessible across the brief 14-minute playing time.

The next score is CELEBRATION, a series of cues for a 1971 US Information Agency propaganda film intended to be shown overseas to highlight America’s many celebrations. The opening “Main Title” is also in a more modernist style with the addition here of tubular bells. "Distant Land” is a beautiful cue cast in a modernist-Copland style. The central track features a little Italian accordion music to represent the San Gennaro celebration on Bleeker Street
in New York.

All composers aspiring to work in film have to start somewhere, and for Lambro, that start was with the horrid Western GIT!, listed in the 100 Worst Films of All Time according to the composer. Probably one of the handful of people who were forced to sit through the film more than once. But the score, as is often the case with B (D?)-films, is the only true redeeming feature. The “Main Theme” is a nice little acoustic guitar idea that immediately sets the tone of the score. The reduced ensemble continues to follow a fairly traditional Western musical sensibility in Lambro’s modernist style (in the reduced forces here often coming across like a hybrid of Copland, Fielding, and North). The score makes for a fitting conclusion to this disc.

The release is an interesting discovery for fans of 20 th century chamber music and film music since many of these scores play like concert works on their own. It makes for a brief, but fascinating musical experience made more enjoyable by Randall Larson’s superb liner notes.

A clip from each score on this disc is available at the label’s website:


--Steven A. Kennedy , 13 March 2008

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