Carl Davis’ Intolerance Score Returns To CD

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

In 1916 D.W. Griffith introduced Intolerance, an ambitious film presenting four separate stories that address the topic of man’s inhumanity to man: a contemporary American melodrama; the Crucifixion of Christ; the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; and the fall of the Babylonian Empire ca. 539 B.C. To sustain interest and momentum over the epic film’s three-and-a-half-hour span, Griffith intercut between stories, expanding and contracting the narrative flow in almost fugue-like fashion.

Several versions of the film circulate, including a 1989 edition largely based on surviving 35 mm source material that restored Griffith’s original tints and featured a newly composed orchestral score by Carl Davis. Davis’ vivid and varied cues (expertly orchestrated by composers David and Colin Matthews) manage to both complement and enhance Griffith’s conception.

The 76 minutes of music included on this disc essentially represents an extended and substantial Intolerance “suite” that stands on its own terms apart from its cinematic context. Choosing favorite movements is difficult, but I’ll try. I like the rocking gestures in the opening Out of the Cradle as they subtly veer from gentle to disquieting; the tasteful evocations of Renaissance dance in the Old Paris courtroom scene; and the Dies Irae-inspired Last Sacrament. The underscoring of the galloping Fall of Babylon musically mirrors the massive crowds onscreen, yet with more than a few dissonant touches. And in the Apotheosis, when the trumpet takes up the thematic strands accompanied by the harp, the effect proves touching and dignified rather than maudlin.

With Davis on the podium it is safe to presume “authentic performance practice” on the part of the excellent Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra. Needless to say, film score mavens will welcome the return of this 1990 recording to circulation. And the aforementioned 1989 restoration with Davis’ score looks wonderful in Cohen Media’s Blu-Ray edition.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

    Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra, Carl Davis

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