A film of Shakespeare's telling of the demise of Julius Caesar starring Marlon Brando, John Gielgud and sporting a Miklos Rozsa score is certainly going to be an above average adaptation and indeed it is. Director Joseph Mankiewicz turned the play into something of a political thriller, with much more emphasis on the back stabbing machinations. Unlike the later historical epics Rozsa scored, this was really more intimate in nature, as befits what is of course originally a stage play. Having said that, the grand scale sections are huge, portentous, but still fairly melancholy. The Overture, which was apparently replaced by Tchaikovsky (odd to be replaced at the best of times, but in this case almost totally inappropriate) for the final print of the film introduces the main themes for Brutus and Octavian which form the back bone of the score. Rozsa makes good use of his patented parallel fourths and fifths, which give his historical scores their very distinct sound. Rozsa, always the musical scholar, went to great lengths to be historically accurate, but it certainly seems likely that the Romans would have had natural trumpet type instruments with no valves. The sounds would certainly have been close to what Rozsa imagined and certainly have become the musical bench mark for ancient Rome.
Of course much of the music underscores dialogue and so is considerably quieter in tone, although Rozsa keeps things moving along, albeit in a low and grumbling kind of way. The upbeat pageantry of something like Ben-Hur is rarely evident, even in cues such as Caesar's Procession. More typical is the swirling, but still fairly low end strings of The Scolding Winds and the fairly morbid, but gorgeous Brutus' Soliloquy. The choir doesn't appear until Black Sentence, although the plain song settings give it a slightly medieval feeling which doesn't sound quite right alongside the broad intervals of the Roman music and Rozsa's more sullen romantic instincts. The medieval sound is once more apparent in Heavy Eyes which is performed by Jane Emanuel who, by singing with fairly bland intonation makes the song sound just a little flat and drab, which is not helped by the close miking of the vocalist. The singing is only the first half and the orchestral second half is considerably more pleasing. Rozsa gets to flex his considerable might as a composer of music for epic battles with the short, but thrilling Battle at Philippi which certainly stirs the listener into life after the previously low key, but intense music.
The album closes with Caesar Now Be Still which is perhaps the most well known cue from the score that is both martial, reverential and respectful. A fitting conclusion, even if the brief Finale is yet to appear to bring complete closure. This new recording by ever superb Sinfonia of London, conducted by Bruce Broughton is top notch in every respect. The sound is expansive, but still crisp and the playing truly superb both technically and idiomatically. It is somewhat heavy going on occasion, especially in the second half. The opening few tracks are large and dramatic which carry the listener ever forward, but once the quieter underscore start, the fairly oppressive mood can become a little hard to take and despite its brilliance, Caesar Now Be Still is still a fairly sobering way to end. However, a fine performance of a fine score and as such, highly recommended.