True GritCapitol Records (CDP 7243 8 32163 2 1)
Format: CD (27 min)
True Grit: Elmer Bernstein Conducts his Classic Scores for the Films of John WayneVarese Sarabande (302 066 726 2)
Format: CD (78 min)
The Wild West - The Essential Western Film Music CollectionSilva America (SSD-1099)
Released: September 21, 1999
Formats: CD, Digital (141 min)
Review: True Grit (re-recording)
5 / 5 Stars
Much time and effort was spent in creating this new recording of the Elmer Bernstein classic score to the John Wayne 1969 western True Grit. The film, in which Wayne portrays U.S. Marshall "Rooster" Cogburn helping a woman pursue her father\'s killer, can boast of including some of Bernstein\'s best and most robust music for the genre. The original album release, however, could make no such boast as it contained only diluted arrangements of the score, in the "pop" style of the time. I myself am familiar mostly with the abbreviated suites and themes, sometimes conducted by Bernstein himself, available on various labels such as Varese Sarabande and Silva Screen. Now, Tadlow Music and James Fitzpatrick have retrieved and transcribed anew the original score in order that the City of Prague Philharmonic can provide a pristine and enthusiastic performance of the highly regarded work.
This limited edition release opens with the main "True Grit" theme, featuring both solo trumpet, set at an unhurried, ambling pace, augmented by those soaring string sonorities. "A Dastardly Deed / A Stiff Job" starts with urgent strings and low end piano, but soon from a brief, trotting version of the main theme to more uncertain woodwind and mid range string lines. Confident brass stride first into "Businesslike Mattie / Papa\'s Things" before the tone turns reflective, with the main theme on high range solo violin, set against dreamy harp, chimes and vibes textures. The pace picks up in "Pony Ride / Rooster & Le Boeuf / Runaway Race Away" where the theme is taken through a bright, propulsive reading in brass and snares and then into further rhythmic variations. When the strings soar with this melody, it gives the score such a warm, romantic quality and I find that in the film this aspect binds the characters of Rooster and Mattie, both stubborn and determined, in a genuine context yet without making them an actual romantic couple. A similar presentation musically can be found in the following track, "Chase / On Their Way".
The search brings the film through Native American territory and the cue "The Big Trail" brings brief yet winning new thematic material, in a mid-tempo, trotting pace. The main theme bursts forth again in the brass in "Where There Is Smoke / The Dying Moon" yet the tone shifts to more ominous, swirling textures before two brass hits move the track into melancholy string and woodwind territory. The main theme is presented both on solo oboe and trumpet at the start of "Preparation Dugout / Dugout Stakeout / Shots Galore!" before threatening, pounding timpani and muted brass, in a staccato, descending motif, change the direction. Further, varied percussion and the staccato motif in the strings bring the track into full on action mode.
"Ruffled Rooster" lightens the mood in a strident fashion, with the main theme charging forth, followed by winsome winds and slurring strings. The charming gestures continue into "Bouncing into Danger / Over Bald Mountain" but pounding timpani leads to a reverent interlude for strings and horn, briefly interrupted by an appearance of the threatening, descending motif from earlier. The action returns in "Meadow Fight / A Long Shot", initially driven by the confident, bright main theme before taking a sinister turn. The lengthiest track for this section is "The Snake Pit / The Lift Out / Sad Departure", which moves through rising tension and dramatic crescendos, then closes with some touching parts for oboe, bassoon and clarinet, buoyed by strings.
"The Pace That Kills / A Ride For Life" does indeed gallop forward at a fierce tempo while the main theme rides atop choppy, determined ostinatos. In "A Warm Wrap-Up" dreamy chimes and solo violin recall the earlier "Papa\'s Things" but soon the theme returns in the brass for a powerful flourish and crescendo. "End Credits" contains a mellow rendition, opening on solo trumpet, joined by the soaring strings, similar to the first track, while a vocal rendition by Keith Ferreira actually closes the True Grit portion of the album.
What follows are bonus suites and themes from various other Western films scored by Bernstein, such as The Sons of Katie Elder, Big Jake, The Shootist, The Comancheros, and Cahill U.S. Marshall. The performances are solid throughout, just as True Grit showed real passion and precision in its presentation. The lengthiest of these tracks is Big Jake, at almost seven minutes, giving a good summation of both the kinetic action music and indelible themes.