A Woody Allen soundtrack always presents a tasteful selection of mood music suited to the comedy or drama in question. Allen sometimes enlists pianist-arranger-composer Dick Hyman to produce new-old tracks (The Purple Rose of Cairo, Bullets Over Broadway, Everyone Says I Love You, Sweet & Lowdown), but listeners can more reliably expect vintage pop (Radio Days), jazz standards (Celebrity), a parcel of classical tracks (Match Point, or as collected on the disc Woody Allen Classics), or a melange of all of the above (Melinda and Melinda).
The Scoop Original Motion Picture Soundtrack falls into the latter category, with an emphasis on classical selections leavened by a handful of Latin-themed jazz tracks. As ever, Allen bequeaths us with another winning and quirky compilation that's both a worthy collection of fine music and an evocation of his film's experience. Since the latest film, Scoop, is a screwball comedy, the classical cues often take on the tenor of a Warner Brothers cartoon score, and the Latin tracks make a sly or even campy counterpoint.
1-6. "Swan Lake Ballet Suite" (25:14) Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake Ballet Suite" achieves both insinuating and imposing effects, and the Berlin Philharmonic's reading is appropriately delicate and robust, in turns. Listeners will recognize the spritely Track 3 ("Danse des cygnes") as the cut selected by Allen to accompany his trademark black-and-white title sequence, and screen comedy fans will be forgiven for drifting off to thoughts of Harpo during Track 4 ("Scene").
7. "Annen-Polka" (3:05)/8. "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka" (2:39) Johann Strauss, Jr. was famous for his waltzes, but Allen chooses two Strauss polkas. The Vienna Strauss Orchestra's "Annen-Polka" makes a fine example of how judiciously chosen classical music—in a comedic context—becomes unexpectedly funny. After diversions, the return to the walking main theme plays like comic repetition, made yet more amusing by the juxtaposition of coy and strident rhythms. The clamorous "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka," performed here by The Vienna State Opera Orchestra, has a delightfully neurotic energy eminently suitable to screwball comedy.
9. "Miami Beach Rhumba" (2:39) Allen mixes things up with a bit of old-school dance music: "Miami Beach Rhumba," as performed by Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra in 1946. The Spanish-Cuban bandleader guides his crack musicians through their shimmying, shaking paces, as a female vocalist croons frothy lyrics ("I started out to go to Cuba/Soon I was at Miami Beach...I'll save Havana for mañana/Meanwhile I've heaven in my reach"). Why resist? (It goes without saying that "Miami Beach Rhumba"'s source is analog, so the track's sound quality doesn't match the rest of the disc.)
10. "Sabre Dance" (2:29) Aram Khachaturian's thrillingly percussive "Sabre Dance," taken from the 1942 Russian ballet Gayaneh, has the odd distinction of being one of the classical pieces most commonly quoted in cartoons or by novelty acts (Spike Jones, the plate spinners on Ed Sullivan); "Sabre Dance" also graces Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three, Tim Burton's Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, and the Coen Brothers' The Hudsucker Proxy, to name but a few. A virtuoso piece about virtoso swordsmanship, "Sabre Dance" dazzles with speed and versatility remarkable for a two-and-a-half minute composition; certainly it trumps "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka" for neurotic energy. The fiesty version here comes courtesy of The London Symphony Orchestra.
11-14. "Peer Gynt Suite No. 1" (14:05) Interpreted here by the Berlin Philharmonic, "The Peer Gynt Suite No. 1" is Edvard Grieg's cobbling of selections he composed for countryman Henrik Ibsen's idiosyncratic play Peer Gynt. Classical and cartoon buffs are equally likely to recognize Track 11—"Morning Mood"—the lovely, lilting pastoral that has become synonymous with daybreak, almost comically so. There's nothing funny about Track 12, the hauntingly beautiful "Aase's Death"; "Anitra's Dance" (Track 13) adds precocity to beauty. The accompaniment to a cheeky stage depiction of Norwegian folklore, "In the Hall of the Mountain King" (Track 14) walks a line of self-parody even as it suggests a fearsome setting (film buffs may recall its use in pictures as diverse as M and Needful Things).
15. "The Nutcracker Ballet No. 7 Scene" (3:37) For a bit of unironic drama—when Scoop briefly darkens—Allen appropriates the urgent strings and flaring brass of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Ballet No. 7 Scene," here rendered by The Berlin Symphphony Orchestra.
16. "Adios Muchachos" (1:57)/17. "Recado" (2:12)/18. "Dengozo" (1:49) In a career spanning decades, bandleader Lester Lanin commanded many a high-society dance floor. The spry, Spanish-flavored "Adios Muchachos" includes a spry violin call responded to by a variety of instruments. Space-age jazz meets Astor Piazzolla in the swanky "Recado" and the Latin pep of "Dengozo." Try not to move while listening to these numbers—I dare you.
The no-frills foldout offers nothing more than a selection of photos and a track listing that notes most of the respective conductors and source record labels (nowhere on the packaging is track length indicated). But it's the music that matters: no self-respecting Woody Allen fanatic will want to live without the Scoop Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, and anyone looking for a classical music sampler with a smattering of dance-hall pop would be hard-pressed to find a better compilation.