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Elmer Bernstein

Far From Heaven [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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Reviewing this CD is one of the most refreshing tasks that this writer has been given in many years -- that's not surprising when one considers that it's been at least 35 years since a movie score like Elmer Bernstein's music for Far From Heaven has come across this reviewer's desk; indeed, the last time it happened, stereo was a relatively new feature in listening pleasure, and this reviewer was in grade school. At its best moments, which is most of its length, Bernstein's music recalls the delicacy of his score for To Kill a Mockingbird -- everything here is so finely nuanced and played with such quiet, understated eloquence, and takes its time getting where it's going without ever seeming indulgent. The music uses an orchestra of 50 pieces, with Cynthia Millar's piano featured in several of the sections. The score offers an achingly beautiful main theme -- best carried by the violins -- that is used sparingly and played with sufficient variation and embellishment so that it's not remotely repetitive; it's all handled with admirable restraint. One result of that understated quality is that the sole part of the soundtrack that does push itself hard, "Crying," is that much more effective in these surroundings. "Turning Point," which follows, is a sweetly melodic idyll with gorgeous parts for the piano, harp, and strings, and is almost worth the price of the CD by itself. "Cathy and Raymond Dance," by contrast, is written in the idiom of the light jazz of the late '50s, offering its own charms and virtues, and "Disapproval" uses the same thematic material in a more dramatic (but still restrained) orchestral approach. One of the nice side benefits of this soundtrack having come out in the CD era is that the music doesn't have to be played terribly loudly to make its full impact on the listener at home -- a score this finely wrought, released on vinyl, would have had all kinds of hiss, not to mention the inevitable ticks and pops inherent in the format. In 2002, it's possible to savor it in ways that home audiences in the 1950s simply couldn't have. It is also fully annotated, both by Bernstein and the movie's director, Todd Haynes, and every member of the orchestra is credited. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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