Basil Poledouris has never been happy with both the original performance and the recording in Rome. The composer has always been very disappointed that the Rome orchestra could not provide every desired instrument he wanted in the score. This is now corrected for this new complete recording featuring 96 musicians and a choir of 100 voices.
- Varese Sarabande release – 1982
- Milan Records – ????
- Conan The Barbarian (Prometheus Edition) – 2010
Conan The Barbarian (Prometheus Edition) – 2010
Few fantasy adventure scores are as renown among soundtrack fans as Basil Poledouris’s Conan the Barbarian. And though the 1982 Varese Sarabande release of the original recording holds up extremely well to this day (as does to a lesser extent the shorter Milan Records one), it has become increasingly hard to find and Poledouris himself was reportedly never completely satisfied with the results within. Thus Prometheus Records have undertaken the task of creating a more fully realized new recording, spanning two discs and enlisting the talents of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, the 100-voice CPPO Chorus and conductor Nic Raine (the same orchestra-conductor combo behind the soundtracks to Kameo and Viva Pinata).
The first of two major selling points for the album, its new orchestral and choral performances and modern recording, are billed to more accurately fulfill Poledouris’s original vision for the score. Now the original version was no slouch when it came to its performances, so to even hint at improvement is quite a boast. And in many ways I’d say the promise holds true. Right at the outset of the score, “Anvil of Crom” flaunts the strength of the City of Prague orchestra, adding an extra layer to the opening anthem’s climactic notes and bringing an even more epic sound. And the chorus in “Riddle of Steel / Riders of Doom” makes a strong case for being even more powerful than in the original version, something I would never have considered a possibility until this new release came along. In “The Gift of Fury” and “The Tree of Woe / Recovery”, a more nuanced choral arrangement and fuller-sounding recording make the Prometheus versions even more emotive.
In the quiet instrumental tracks, however, I’m inclined to say I prefer the original recording. Though the Prometheus edition includes two versions of the endearing town theme “Theology / Civilization” – a wispy new arrangement with more distinctly medieval instrumentation and an “alternate version” closer to the original – the instruments sound nearer the listener and the solo performances even more beautiful in the earlier Varese Sarabande recording. In “Conan Leaves Valeria / The Search”, the orchestra at full sounds more even and immersive in the Prometheus edition, but again I find the solo performances more moving in the original. There’s also a question of whether the more diversified instrumentation – particularly in the percussion section – always constitutes an improvement. It certainly makes the soundtrack more faithful to its medieval setting, but in “Column Of Sadness / Wheel Of Pain” and briefly in “The Search” I find the atypical accompanying percussion a slight distraction from the more important lead themes.
The second major selling point of the Prometheus edition is the extra material exclusive to this release. There’s almost 50 more minutes of music over the Varese Sarabande edition, and its effect on the score varies. “Prologue (Film Version) / Anvil of Crom” and “Battle Preparations / Battle of the Mounds (Part I)” have new minute-long intro segments, but as both bits consists of sparse, mostly meaningless percussion they really should have been split into separate tracks. “Wolf Witch” and “In the Court of King Osric” are similarly simple percussive pieces, though as individual tracks they can be easily skipped. “Orgy Fight” and “Epilogue / End Titles” are both simple rehashes of “Anvil of Crom” and “Riders of Doom”, melded not entirely cohesively together.
The extra effort put into this Prometheus edition certainly wasn’t all for naught though. “Pit Fight” adds to the gritty mood that often pervades the score, the choral piece “The Street of Deviants / Hopefuls at the Tower of Set” has an extremely dark fantasy sound faithful to the old Conan comics, “The Tower of Set / Snake Attack” enchants with its combination of light percussion and female chorus, and “The Tavern” is perhaps the most medieval sounding piece of the whole soundtrack. Each of these contribute to their respective aspects of the score, though as they don’t add anything essential theme-wise I’d say they’re more for film buffs and completists.
Along with the various alternate takes included at the end of this double-disc Prometheus edition comes one very special extra – a new seven-minute performance of the sequel Conan the Destroyer’s “Crystal Palace”, retitled “Chamber of Mirrors”. This piece is brilliant – moving from quiet mysticism to raw danger to a main theme similar to “Anvil of Crom” but more proudly heroic, it captures the medieval fantasy feel of the property as perfectly as any piece from its esteemed predecessor, and makes me wish more material from Conan the Destroyer could have been included.
- Basil Poledouris (composer)
- City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (performance)
- CPPO Chorus (performance)
- Nic Raine (conducting)
- Greig McRitchie (orchestration)
Disc 1 Tracks (60 minutes total)
- Prologue – Film Version / Anvil of Crom [3:38] MP3 sample
- Riddle of Steel / Riders of Doom [5:23] MP3 sample
- The Gift of Fury [3:25]
- Column of Sadness / Wheel of Pain [4:09]
- Pit Fights* [2:45]
- Prologue – Original Version [1:03]
- Atlantean Sword [4:00]
- Wolf Witch* [3:21]
- Theology / Civilization [3:04] MP3 sample
- The Street of Deviants* / Hopefuls at the Tower of Set* [1:28]
- The Tower of Set* / Snake Attack* (Las Cantigas de Santa Maria) [5:21] MP3 sample
- Infidels* [1:03]
- The Tavern* [1:51] MP3 sample
- The Wifeing [2:20]
- In the Court of King Osric* [1:13]
- Conan Leaves Valeria / The Search [6:03]
- The Mountain of Power / Capture* [4:00]
- The Tree of Woe / Recovery [6:04]
Disc 2 Tracks (62 minutes total)
- The Kitchen / The Orgy [6:23]
- Orgy Fight* [2:53]
- Funeral Pyre [5:15]
- Battle Preparations / Battle of the Mounds (Part 1) [5:59]
- Battle of the Mounds (Part 2)* [2:11] MP3 sample
- Battle of the Mounds (Part 3) / Night of Doom [5:56]
- Head Chop* [0:53]
- Orphans of Doom / The Awakening [6:30]
- Epilogue / End Titles* [5:13]
- Theology / Civilization – Alternate Version [3:27]
- The Tower of Set – Alternate Cues* [3:37]
- Battle of the Mounds (Part 2) – Original Version* [2:11]
- Chamber of Mirrors (from Conan the Destroyer) [7:16] MP3 sample
- Riders of Doom – Orchestral Version [4:05]
- Released Nov 2, 2010 by Prometheus Records (catalog no. B004H1YH66, retail 18.95 GBP).
- Asterisks denote previously unrecorded material.
- Original theatrical recording available on a 1992 Varese Sarabande release and a shorter 1984 Milan Records one (re-released in 2003).