As a longtime devotee of Alfred Newman's genius as a composer and conductor, I highly recommend to everyone Rhino's 2-CD album of the complete score to MGM's 1963 film, "How the West Was Won."
In a perfect world, it would not have taken 34 years (from 1963 release date of film to 1997 release date of 2-CD soundtrack) for this music to have been revealed in such awesome, stunning splendor. It's reasonable to reflect, however, that technology has evolved during those three decades to the point where such a recording is not only possible, but affordable.
Perhaps Voltaire's satiric maxim, "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds" (Dr. Pangloss -- "Candide"), can occasionally ring true.
For me, the revelations of the complete score are not the long-coveted magnificent cues (which remain breathtaking and heart-stopping) of the complete "Cheyennes/Indian Attack" and "Finale/Finale Ultimo," but such tracks as "Lincoln," "Zeb Returns" and the "Van Valen Auction" in which Newman develops his thematic underscore with basic simplicity, adding depth and beauty with various counterpoints to create a three-dimensional sound that never fails to engage the mind and the heart. This score is finally complete.
The phrasing in "Cheyennes" is, in a word, "phenomenal." An oft-cited anecdote by Ken Darby concerned Newman's pondering this sequence and wondering how in the world he was going to be able to come up with something fresh for an Indian attack. He then went home, sat down and wrote this series of cues that equalled, and exceeded (IMO), everything previously written in the genre.
There will, of course, be many out there who will fret and worry over which cues are actually original and which are based on folk themes. This album is evidence that it truly doesn't matter in the overall context of the score. Original Newman meshes with traditional themes so seamlessly that they become a new entity, so much so that Newman's work enters that timeless realm from which springs such tunes as "Shenandoah" and "Endless Prairie."
This recording reveals "How the West Was Won" as the filmmusic masterpiece most of us knew it to be upon first hearing it in 1963. Time has not diminished its splendor, and we shall never hear its like again.
Some quibbling notes:
The booklet is rather well-done, although I was amused to read the assertion that Newman was less well-known than Max Steiner or Miklos Rozsa. Steiner's name appeared on hundreds of films, but so did Newman's. Newman had won 9 Oscars when he died .... Steiner had won 3 and Rozsa had won 3. In the 1940s, Newman recorded music from "Song of Bernadette" and "Captain From Castile" -- two enormously popular, best-selling score recordings. I know Rozsa's "Spellbound" and Steiner's "Gone With the Wind" (in many variations) were very popular recordings, too. Few film composers ever had that privilege in the 40s. Newman also enjoyed an active recording life throughout the 50s with several very popular albums of music. Victor Young was probably better known than all three of them, but is virtually unknown today except by film score aficionadoes (and even then, Young is woefully underrepresented).
A mistake in the data is in the background on Darby. Darby won 3 Oscars. His 3rd was for "Camelot" with Newman.
And a slight quibble over choice of words -- in the discussion of the score's cues, the writer comments that "No Goodbye" concludes with an almost inarticulate male chorus singing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." I hope that he meant "barely audible." The chorus is highly articulate...very understandable (i.e., articulate)...but also hushed.