Review: Egyptian, The
4 / 5 Stars
Through rarefied circumstances that could only have come about in the movie-factory that was Hollywood's Golden Age, the 1954 widescreen extravaganza The Egyptian boasts a score co-composed by both 20th Century Fox court tunesmith Alfred Newman and cantankerous legend Bernard Herrmann. So it seems only fitting that in the last two years film score fans have been treated to two separate but dazzling releases of that collaboration. The first was this, the Marco Polo label's brand spankin' new re-recording by the illustrious reconstructing and conducting team of John Morgan and William T. Stromberg, again working with the talented Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir. The second was released not long ago by Film Score Monthly's own label (reviewed here), and was a valiant effort to preserve the deteriorating original stereo tracks. The rerecording seems to favor Herrmann's material, with about forty of the seventy-one minutes credited to the renowned fussy one, while the OST weighs in with slightly more of Newman's work.
Meaning no disrespect to the amazing rescue job of the FSM preservation team, a big chunk of the original 35mm music stems were just not salvageable for their release. They openly acknowledge this, and thank God they went ahead anyways and preserved what was left. But as a listening experience, the FSM release is forced to leave a handful of thematic gaps in the fabric of the score, most of it pertaining to Herrmann's stunning work for the first third of the picture (though they do present more of Newman's source-style work for this section). The Marco Polo rerecording has no such handicaps, and cues such as the plaintively pretty "Red Sea & Childhood" and "The Nile & Temple" create an emotional backbone that the rest of the score hangs off of.
Newman begins making himself known with the sweetly romantic "Her Name Was Merit" but doesn't get much airplay until the subdued setpiece, "Valley Of The Kings". It's more than worth the wait, though. And it's not exactly punishment to have to listen to Herrmann's awesome work in the meantime. With a little time on your hands, you could get lost in this kind of wonderfully escapist music. Easily.
In general, the composers have seemingly divided their chores not so much on a thematic level, but rather an emotional one. Herrmann tackles the darker, more morose elements of the story, from the hero's doomed relationship (heard in both "Taia" and in the knockout seven-minute love theme "Nefer-Nefer-Nefer") to the aggressive combat passages (your basic brassy Herrmann, from "Homecoming" to "Holy War" and the startlingly Elfman-esque "Dance Macabre"). The powerful "Prelude" is credited to him as well. Newman, on the other hand, sticks chiefly with the more wholesome and spiritual dealings. His "Akhnaton – One Deity", is a sparkling ode to all things mystical, later developing into the "Hymn To Aton", a fabulously ethereal choral standout.
The tempi of the re-recording compare very favorably with the original tracks, Stromberg giving a few stretches a tad more breathing room to help flesh out some of the more delicate details of the writing. Sound quality is also fabulous, meticulously duplicating the timbre of the original sessions but discarding all the inherent thinness and warble of the aging OST. The packaging is first-rate as well, as is the highly appreciated norm from Marco Polo, with lovingly detailed and insightful liner notes by Jack Smith as well as notes from Morgan on the fascinating history and recreation of the score.
True fans with the cash to spare should really buy both versions, plain and simple. For you completists, both CDs have several cues the other does not. All told, The Egyptian is a landmark score, a one-time-only experience of two of our most talented maestros joining forces to create an epic and cohesive whole that still bears unmistakable signs of their indelible individual styles. More than that, it is actually thrilling and gorgeous music no matter who wrote what or how you hear it. But for those who are either low on cash-flow or unwilling to stick their necks out for two CDs, there are some distinct differences here that make me prefer the rerecording as a listening experience, and may serve to tip your own scales one way or the other.
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