Tan Dun: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Tan Dun
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
PERFORMER: Yo-Yo Ma (cello), CoCo Lee (vocals); Shanghai SO, National Orchestra & Percussion Orchestra/Tan Dun
CATALOGUE NO: SK 89347
Aaron Copland was an expert and innovative film composer, able to adapt his language to the demands of the medium without compromising its integrity. The American conductor Jonathan Sheffer, with his lively Eos Orchestra, has resurrected Copland’s unpublished scores for the 1943 pro-Soviet war film The North Star, the 1939 documentary The City about town planning past, present and future, and the 1945 propaganda film The Cummington Story, about the integration of refugees into a New England community – together with his music for a history of pharmacy, enacted at the 1939 World’s Fair by giant puppets. While (to judge from Howard Pollack’s recent biography) some significant episodes are still missing, these suites make good listening, and a fascinating addition to the Copland discography.

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The Hollywood tradition of Romantic pastiche which Copland challenged is still alive today, not least in the film scores of Richard Rodney Bennett – though he reanimates the tradition with his imaginative scoring, and his gift for encapsulating period and mood in a memorable melody. The BBC Philharmonic and the talented Rumon Gamba, together with the engineering, bring a suitable high-gloss finish to this collection of scores from a third of a century of Bennett’s film music – mostly in the form of extended, perhaps sometimes over-extended, continuous suites.

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Tan Dun, Chinese-born but now American-based, was the obvious composer for Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a period martial-arts epic shot with Hollywood production values. His score ingeniously weaves Ma’s soulful cello through Chinese instruments, explosive percussion, and symphony orchestra, without matching the majesty of the film’s landscapes or the magic realism of its fight scenes. This is very much a soundtrack album, made up of short cues and complete with a final pop-style song; the material would surely have more effect condensed into suite form. Anthony Burton