The best classical film music albums of 2019

So you thought compact discs were a dead format? Not to soundtrack collectors. Film music labels continue to flourish, turning from current sheet music to, increasingly, limited edition expansions and even new recordings of classic sheet music from the past.

Many movie studios have (as they did in the 1950s and 1960s) formed their own in-house music labels and frequently release digital-only albums of their film and television soundtracks. Thus, traditional soundtrack labels focus more on older, classic material, often expanding older albums from 30 to 40 minutes to a CD length of 75 minutes or more. They also research and license original soundtracks that are of interest to collectors.

It’s a business model that seems to work for more than a dozen labels in the US and Europe that are dedicated to releasing music for movies and TV. So here are, in alphabetical order, our picks for the best classic film music releases of 2019:

“Air Force One” (on the Varèse Sarabande label). Collectors have been complaining for two decades about the overly short 35-minute album from Jerry Goldsmith’s thrilling score for the 1997 action thriller Harrison Ford. Now they can rejoice in this expanded edition, full two hours of music. spread over two discs (including additional music written by Joel McNeely, brought in by Goldsmith when time ran out).

“An American tail / Apollo 13” (Intrada). Two of the late James Horner’s most renowned and Oscar-nominated efforts, developed for the first time since their much shorter soundtrack albums in 1986 and 1995, respectively. “American Tail” won a Grammy for Song of the Year for “Somewhere Out There” and “Apollo 13” marked a first for Annie Lennox, lending her voice to a film score.

“Birds do it, bees do it” (Caldera). Only one documentary has been nominated for an Oscar for its musical score: this 1975 David L. Wolper production of animal mating habits, composed by Gerald Fried (who would later win an Emmy for Wolper’s “Roots”). Fried’s first hybrid score example – part electronic, part orchestral – served the little-seen doc perfectly.

“The Bride of Frankenstein” (La-La Land). Franz Waxman’s flagship score for the 1935 Universal classic (which many believe to be Boris Karloff’s best of “Frankenstein” films), first released as part of the studio’s Film Music Heritage Collection series. Not all of the original tracks survive, but this 43-minute album is a vivid reminder of the power of this music against those startling images of mad scientists.

“A Delerue-Truffaut triptych” (Music Box). The last three scores of the French composer Georges Delerue for the director François Truffaut – the great waltzes of “The last metro” (1980), the dramatic “The woman next door” (1981) and the suspense “Confidentially Yours” (1983) – are brought together in this two-disc set from one of the most successful composer-director collaborations in international cinema.

“Dial M for murder” (Intrada). Russian composer Dimitri Tiomkin has composed four films for Alfred Hitchcock, including “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train”, but his latest, “Dial M for Murder” (1954), is perhaps the most popular. William Stromberg has conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in this breathtaking new recording.

“Collection of disaster film soundtracks” (La-La Land). Three classic music from John Williams’ disaster films – “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974) by Fox and “Earthquake” (1974) by Universal – are brought together for the first time, with quality Significantly improved sound over previous versions and, in each case, containing both the original film tracks and the finest soundtrack albums.

“Dracula / The Curse of Frankenstein” (Tadlow). James Bernard was the English composer most responsible for the sound of Hammer’s classic horror films of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Two of his oldest and most memorable scores, “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) and ” Dracula ”(1958), were reconstructed for this superb re-recording by conductor Nic Raine and the City of Prague Philharmonic.

“Ennio Morricone: Soundtracks 1964-2015” (Universal France). Not even 18 CDs could scratch the surface of the prolific Italian composer’s nearly 500-film career, but this “best of” compilation comes as close as it gets. The attraction for diehard Morricone is the unreleased music of favorite tracks like “Orca”; sound improved on masterpieces like “1900”; a very first collection of old Morricone tracks used in Quentin Tarantino’s films; and a 40-page book featuring a new interview with the maestro.

“Ghost story” (Quartet). French composer Philippe Sarde (“Tess”) composed one of his most intense and effective scores for this 1981 American horror film starring Fred Astaire and John Houseman. The 35-minute LP, long considered Sardinian’s “horror symphony”, was fine, but this expanded album maintains the concept while adding an additional 20 minutes of orchestral fright.

“Henry King at Fox” (Kritzerland). Veteran 20th Century-Fox director Henry King was fortunate enough to have composer Alfred Newman in two dozen of his films. Five classics are collected in this five-disc set, including “The Black Swan” (1942), Oscar nominated “Captain From Castile” (1947), “Prince of Foxes” (1949), “The Gunfighter” (1950) and the Oscar “Love is a thing of many splendours” (1955).

“Rat King / Howard the duck ” (Intrada). English composer John Barry wrote these scores 20 years apart – a melancholy accompaniment to an acclaimed prisoner of war drama, one of six films he made for director Bryan Forbes in the 1960s; and an outrageous Marvel Comics sci-fi consignment that was a box office disaster in the mid-80s. Both are extensively developed from their original LPs (“Howard” is now a 3-CD set) and a gift for Barry aficionados.

“Nevada Smith: The Paramount Westerns Collection” (La-La Land). This four-disc set brings together the wide-open sheet music for 11 westerns made by Paramount over a 20-year period from 1949, many of which have never been released before. “Les Furies” by Franz Waxman (1950), “Nevada Smith” by Alfred Newman (1966), “El Dorado” by Nelson Riddle (1967) and “Will Penny” by David Raksin (1968) are particularly welcome.

“Planet of the Apes: Collection of Soundtracks from the Original Film Series” (La-La Land). A meticulous restoration in five discs of revolutionary avant-garde scores for cult films: “Planet of the Apes” by Jerry Goldsmith (Oscar nominated in 1968) and “Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (1971); Leonard Rosenman’s “Under the Planet of the Apes” (1970) and “Battle for…” (1973); and “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” by Tom Scott (1972).

“Romeo and Juliet / The tame shrew” (Quartet). Delicious scores by Italian composer Nino Rota for Shakespeare adaptations by filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli: a two-disc expansion of the music of Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton’s “Mégère” (1967) and a welcome remaster of the long out-of-print album for Olivia Hussey-Leonard Whiting’s “Romeo” (1968) which, thanks to numerous vocal versions of her love theme, became Rota’s biggest worldwide hit.

“Rough cut” (Quartet). The most unexpected arrival of the year was Nelson Riddle’s jazzy and hip score for the 1980 Don Siegel caper film starring Burt Reynolds and Lesley-Anne Down. Riddle, perhaps the greatest arranger of the 20th century, has adapted several tunes by Duke Ellington and augmented them with his own stylish originals, all performed by some of the West Coast’s top jazz musicians.

“Saddles, mugwort and Steiner: western scores by Max Steiner” (Brigham Young University Film Music Archives). The prolific Austrian-born film music pioneer composed some 30 westerns during his 35-year career in Hollywood, and this three-disc set features eight of his Warner Bros. films, including classics such as “Virginia City” (1940) and “Santa Fe Trail” (1940).

“The thin red line” (La-La Land). In the “I never thought I would hear it” category are Hans Zimmer’s two and a half hours of original music for Terrence Malick’s 1998 WWII epic. Zimmer’s sheet music (more than half unused in the film) is ultimately a meditation on the madness of war, and his calm reflection provides a dramatic contrast to his music for other war films like “Black Hawk Down” and “Dunkirk”.

“Unchained Melodies: Themes from Alex North’s Film” (Kritzerland). The respected American composer recorded a best-of album for RCA in 1958 (including his “Unchained Melody” and themes for “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “The Rose Tattoo”, “The Bad Seed” and more). These 12 tracks, surprisingly fresh on CD, are accompanied by a rarely heard classic, “Holiday Set” from 1954.

“Young Sherlock Holmes” (Intrada). This Grammy-nominated 1985 score is one of composer Bruce Broughton’s best works. Alternately charming and intense, it has already been on CD but never so complete (the 37-minute soundtrack album is included in the three-CD box set, as well as the 90-minute film soundtrack) or sounds as well.

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