The best classical film music albums of 2020

The pandemic may have canceled live performances and cinema releases for most of 2020, but for film score lovers it just meant more time at home to listen to their favorite music, including many never-before-heard music releases outside of their original cinematic contexts.

“There’s always been an insatiable thirst for classic sheet music, both previously unreleased and reissued, expanded, remastered, or both,” says Matt Verboys, co-owner of LA La-La Land Records. “As technology continues to advance, many previous releases can now benefit from a sound upgrade that makes the music worth revisiting.”

The commercial stakes remain unchanged, however, he says: “Who owns the rights to a given score and can these rights be obtained? Do the musical elements even exist and if so, can they be rounded off? Once obtained, is the audio good enough to be released, or does massive restoration work need to be done? »

Perennial favorite composers Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith—always sure to generate strong sales—were represented again this year on several different labels.

Here, in alphabetical order, are our picks for the best classical film music releases of 2020:

Agatha (on the Dragon’s Domain label). English composer Howard Blake’s original score for the 1979 film about the 1926 disappearance of Agatha Christie has been rejected at the request of star Vanessa Redgrave. This first outing shows that this is a richly romantic and dramatic work that deserved better.

endless night (Quartet). The music for this 1972 mystery starring Hayley Mills was one of the last scores by the legendary Bernard Herrmann before his untimely death in 1975. The original tapes are considered lost; the enterprising Quartet label has commissioned Fernando Velázquez to conduct the Basque National Orchestra in a comprehensive and welcome re-recording based on Herrmann’s original manuscripts.

Far (La-La Land). It’s the one we’ve been waiting for: John Williams’ full score for Ron Howard’s 1992 epic American West starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, inexplicably passed over for awards yet one of the most colorful works and most exciting of the maestro.

The Gerald Fried Collection (Domain of the Dragon). This first in a series features two late ’70s scores from the 92-year-old composer, perhaps best known for his music for “Roots” and the original “Star Trek.” For “Cruise Into Terror” (1978), he took the old chant of plainchant “Dies Irae” to demonic heights; for To survive! (1976), he uses a classic set for the tragic story of a plane crash in the Andes.

The good the bad and the ugly (Quartet). Ennio Morricone’s 1966 spaghetti western masterpiece, the third of his seven films starring Sergio Leone, has never received such lavish treatment. This three-disc set includes the entire 85-minute film score, the 34-minute soundtrack album, and another 54 minutes of additional material carefully restored from the original recording sessions.

Hoffa (La-La Land). David Newman composed a powerful dramatic score for Danny De Vito’s 1992 biopic about the controversial labor leader (played by Jack Nicholson), who is on the AFI’s All-Time High Scores list. This extended edition adds an additional 35 minutes to the previously available 42 minutes, and in this case, more is better.

How to train your dragon (Varese Sarabande). Composer John Powell’s Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated score for the 2010 animated feature is deservedly his most popular (and his sequel scores are equally touching), which makes this two-disc expansion not only welcome , but unavoidable.

A trilogy by John Addison (Quartet). The Spanish label surprised us with no less than three 1970s scores by the underrated English composer: “The Seven Per-Cent Solution” (the whimsical Sherlock Holmes-meets-Sigmund Freud adventure from 1976), “Swashbuckler” ( the Robert Shaw pirate film, also from 1976) and an expanded edition of his superb ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (Richard Attenborough’s 1977 World War II epic).

John Williams in Vienna (Deutsche Grammophon). The doyen of American film composers, now 88, has conducted a dozen of his greatest hits, from “Star Wars” to “ET” and “Jurassic Park”, with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and the musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s the best-selling orchestral album of 2020, with over 150 million streams, and there’s a companion Blu-Ray to the live concert.

King of Kings (Tadlow). Miklós Rózsa’s epic music for Nicholas Ray’s 1961 Life of Jesus, starring Jeffrey Hunter, has long been recognized as one of the composer’s greatest works. Nic Raine conducted the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in this 140-minute re-recording of the entire score.

The last castle (Intrada). One of composer Jerry Goldsmith’s last projects, this 2001 military prison drama starring Robert Redford features an elegiac score that became the source of his moving tribute to the dead of September 11, 2001. Its brass writing is stellar and the music survived the film it was written for.

Fall Legends (Intrada). James Horner’s music for Edward Zwick’s 1994 historical drama (starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins) has become one of his most beloved scores. This expanded edition, the entirety of Horner’s emotional score, will delight fans of the film.

midnight cowboy (Quartet). The songs and soundtrack for the 1969 Academy Award for Best Picture, starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, are a landmark moment for musical oversight. It’s all brilliantly handled by composer John Barry, as heard in this expanded edition including, for the first time, the New York score recordings. (Full disclosure: I wrote the essay for the booklet, which features rare photos from the sessions.)

River (Intrada). Director Mark Rydell has worked with composer John Williams four times, always searching for an American sound to complement his visions of historic, western or rural America. Three of the four were Oscar nominees for Original Score, including this 1984 film starring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek as Tennessee farmers.

SeaQuest DSV (Varese Sarabande). Steven Spielberg’s expensive sci-fi series starring Roy Scheider may not be well known, but its Emmy-winning music by John Debney remains a highlight of 1990s television music. This two-CD set contains music from the pilot and six other episodes from the first season.

the swarm (La-La Land). Disaster movie kingpin Irwin Allen hired Jerry Goldsmith to write the music for his 1978 bee-killing epic starring Michael Caine and Katharine Ross. The movie is terrible but Goldsmith’s score is still fun and musically inventive.

Two mules for Sister Sara (La-La Land). Ennio Morricone’s original score for Clint Eastwood’s 1970 team with Shirley MacLaine is among his most colorful and evocative (and that’s saying a lot), with a choir of boys intoning liturgical phrases and an orchestra imitating bawling animals . This long-awaited album is his first full release.

Journey to the bottom of the sea (La-La Land). Following the successful releases of ‘Lost in Space’ and ‘Land of the Giants’, this 4-disc set from producer Irwin Allen’s previous series (featuring Richard Basehart and David Hedison) features more sci-fi music from Jerry Goldsmith , Paul Sawtell, Leith Stevens and other composers of the 60s.

wild west wild (Varese Sarabande). Elmer Bernstein had been writing film music for nearly 50 years when he scored the hip Will Smith-Kevin Kline adventure in 1999. While the film is something of a joke, Bernstein’s music is anything but – variously robust , charming, even amusing as requested.

Young Lions (Intrada). The brilliant Hugo Friedhofer, Oscar winner for ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’, earned his ninth and final nomination for this powerful symphonic score of the 1958 World War II classic starring Marlon Brando as a Nazi officer. . This two-disc set marks his first full release.

George L. Hernandez