SITTING through a near three-hour showing of the 1925 film Ben-Hur, one could feel at least a pang of sympathy for the pianist who would have improvised the background music to this epic.
The film veers through such a range of emotions – pity for the downtrodden Jews, the glory of the Roman conquerors, the story of the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ, false imprisonment, women outcast as lepers, not to mention the famed chariot race. Try improvising the background music to all that. . .
On this occasion, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra provided the background score and quite an event it was, too. Conducted by the score’s composer, Carl Davis, the orchestra brought the film to life.
Most notable were the two climaxes either side of the intermission – the battle scene and the chariot race – where the full force of the Philharmonic brass added a chilling aura to the overall effect.
In the race, the stereo timpani added mightily.
Davis’s score, now 23 years old, sounded fresh and having the composer in charge meant that, for the most part, the special effects actually coincided with the action on screen. Just occasionally, they were out, but that is a minor niggle.
The opening, depicting the incarnation of the Messiah, felt highly influenced by Wagner – the Holy Grail leitmotif from Parsifal, or at least something highly similar, is there and is developed at length.
No bad thing on the whole, but Davis’s score, is highly original and clever, though the cowbells which sounded every time a camel or a donkey crossed the screen became a little comic at times.
Glyn Mon Hughes