Featuring arrangements by Dan Redfield, the latest Titanic-inspired compilation offers material from James Horner’s 1997 score and Maury Yeston’s Tony Award-winning musical Titanic, with some additional themes and period songs, all performed by the amusingly titled White Star Chamber Orchestra, of which some musicians played on Horner’s original score recording.
In terms of consistency, Redfield’s arrangements are clean and precise, and the orchestra features a balanced array of chamber, folk, and vocal artists, so there’s consistency in tone and mood throughout the album. The CD’s engineering is equally precise, with each instrument’s nuances coming through very cleanly.
Those not fond of Horner’s love theme (and more specifically, its vocal version) may prefer the original soundtrack album, as the arranged selections here cover the score’s main and most popular cues – the title theme, the ship’s departure from Southampton, a piano version, “Hymn to the Sea,” and an up-tempo vocal version, performed by Zoe Poledouris. Poledouris’ version is a bit of a struggle as her voice doesn’t quite match the dynamic harmonics which diva-belter Celine Dion was able to tackle; and the lyrics, sung in a more measured (and intelligible tone) also reveal the inherent banality of the libretto. It’s quite clear the song affected listeners because of Dion’s powerful voice, and the repetitive melody that carried a catchy corkscrew chorus.
The Yeston songs from the musical offer a better contrast with their rock-solid lyrics and fine vocal arrangements, and most of the selections are used to break up the inherent monotony of hearing Horner’s love theme in slightly different guises. Vocal performances in “No Moon” and “We’ll Meet Tomorrow” are very lovely, and surprisingly avoid the bathos that tends to affect Horner’s vocal theme. Yeston’s tunes are interpolated between the Horner cuts, and nestled in-between are versions of “Nearer My God to Thee,” the supposed last song played by the Titanic’s orchestra; John Williams’ “Titanic Trot” from pilot episode of Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel TV series; chamber versions of John Barry’s main themes for the cinematic dud Raise the Titanic; and Howard Blake’s rarely heard theme from S.O.S. Titanic, cleverly built around three monotonous piano hits mimicking the Morse Code distress signal.
Blake’s orchestrations are really inventive in the way the 3-note motif establishes the tempo, spins off the melody, and shifts chords to infer varying levels dramatic gravitas. It’s the CD’s most dire cue, and the performance between chamber strings and piano is quite exquisite. Pity more of the score wasn’t included (or more of Blake’s work exists on CD, for that matter).
BSX Records’ lengthy CD also includes detailed liner notes by Randall Larson, who provides a brisk overview of prior scores for TV, film, and Broadway, and comments on the selected themes.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan