Charlie Chaplin’s films are classics, not least for their entertaining musical scores, some of which Chaplin composed with professional help. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra celebrated the filmmaker’s birthday, which fell on Saturday, by presenting a Chaplin film accompanied by a live performance of the score.
After a grand success with “City Lights” in 2008, conductor Marin Alsop returned to the format with “The Gold Rush,” heard Friday night at Strathmore.
Chaplin showed an affectionate knowledge of classical music by weaving in memorable melodies. “O du mein holder Abendstern,” from Wagner’s “Tannhauser,” becomes the leitmotif of hunger and suffering as played by wah-wah trombone; Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” illustrates swirling snow; the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” accompanies the dance of Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Georgia, a saloon girl, as he ties his pants with a dog’s leash while it is still attached to the dog.
These are the most effective parts of the score, although Chaplin’s themes, composed with MGM arranger Max Terr, complement the action with verve. The score was restored by composer Timothy Brock, with details taken from the original performance, to go along with a new version of the 1925 film that undid changes Chaplin made to it in 1942. The BSO’s playing was fine, too, with fairly seamless transitions between episodes that were well coordinated by Alsop with what was happening on the screen above the stage.
The percussionists thwacked, gonged and tinkled almost all the off-the-beat sound effects in time with the action, and the string solo group in the dance-hall scene played with intimate warmth. Something about the fluid, malleable sound of live music made even the most famous sequences, such as the Dance of the Rolls, seem fresh and vivid.
Downey is a freelance writer.