The Sound of Star Trek Part 19: Telarc’s Symphonic Star Trek


This week, we take a listen to some fresh orchestrations of classic Star Trek music: Symphonic Star Trek, a CD release on the Telarc label from 1996.

The album brought together various recordings of the saga’s music into one handy place. They are actually quite highly regarded, so much so that arranger/conductor Erich Kunzel went on tour with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra playing  across the US in ‘Star Trek – The Music’ between 2008 and 2010. The concerts were hosted respectively by John de Lancie and Robert Picardo.

Telarc has a very illustrious history, being one the first record labels to release digitally recorded material and were there at the birth of the compact disc, taking full advantage of the medium. Predominantly a source of recordings of well-known and diverse classical works, they also tapped into the world of television and film music, releasing a huge number of compilation albums of Kunzel arrangements, with the Pops performing his versions.

If you have a few Telarc releases in your collection, specifically of Kunzel’s output, you’ll already be aware of the sheer quality of these recordings, let alone the authentic and lush-sounding versions of familiar (and occasionally unavailable) themes and incidental music from film and TV. If you haven’t, then get yourself online and treat yourself to a few. Personally, you can’t go wrong with ChillerStar Tracks, Round-Up and Vintage Cinema to start with. There are so many others that I’d take up most of this article listing them. So I won’t.

Instead, I’ll take you on a track-by-track journey through Symphonic Star Trek:

Image: Paramount Pictures

1. Into the Final Frontier

In an attempt to emulate William Shatner’s classic opening narration, Telarc hired Leonard Nimoy to kick off the compilation, with an introductory passage that told us we were about to hear some great pieces of music that accompanied the USS Enterprise (and USS Voyager. And DS9). It’s underscored with an edited version of James Horner’s theme for TWOK. How right Nimoy was. (Voice-over recorded for this compilation.)

2. Main Theme from Star Trek: The Next Generation

I’d always felt that the splicing of Alexander Courage’s fanfare and Jerry Goldsmith’s main theme to The Motion Picture for TNG was too synthetic, too tinny-sounding, as if the orchestration had been speeded-up, treble increased and most of the bass removed. Here, Kunzel rectified [my] issue and presents a full-bodied version that could have easily formed the opening credits to a cinematic TNG movie. (Recorded for this compilation.)

3. Warp-One

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Even though the Cincinnati Pops throw out some impressive, bombastic and very exciting music, Michael Bishop who does their bespoke sound effects should simply and diplomatically get a pat on the back for doing the best he can. And as try as he might, it’s a bit hit and miss. Now I’m not saying that this interpretation of a Federation Starship going to warp 1 isn’t bad, it just doesn’t sound like it’s a Federation Starship going to warp 1. (Recorded for this compilation.)

4. End Title from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Cliff Eidelman’s Wagnerian take on Star Trek‘s sound was already a formidable entry into the canon. With Kunzel in the center seat, it’s even more brooding and deep, taking everything Eidelman achieved and ramping it up to 10. (Recorded for this compilation.)

5. The Destruction of Praxis and Its Aftermath

Now this sound effects suite is a bit better. But let us not forget that the sound design for TUC was fantastic (even down to the viewscreen switching on and off). This try here is just a try. (Recorded for this compilation.)

6. Main Theme from Star Trek: Voyager

Jerry Goldsmith composed this very lovely theme to announce the weekly adventures of Captain Janeway and, as expected, Kunzel brings warmth and deep vistas to this arrangement. From its low brass to lengthy strings, like this compilation’s version of the TNG theme, it surpasses the original with ease. (Recorded for this compilation.)

7. Starship Flyby

Hmm. Another brave attempt from sound effects master Bishop. But let’s just hope this particular starship flies by and doesn’t come back. (Recorded for this compilation.)

Image: Paramount Pictures

8. Main Theme from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Majestic and thoughtful, reflecting the spiritual and philosophical nature of the show, Dennis McCarthy got this theme spot on. Here, Kunzel approaches the more up-tempo version that accompanied Season 4 onwards and it’s a delight, outdoing the TV version. (Recorded for this compilation.)

9. Alien Probe

Okay, so this isn’t Leonard Nimoy’s voice severely and radically treated to give sound to the unnamed, mysterious probe that needed humpback whales in its life (and, hey, let’s face it, we all need humpback whales in our lives and so do the oceans) but it’s a very close match to the movie original. (Recorded for this compilation.)

10. Humpback Whale Song

Recorded in 1970 by oceanographer Dr Roger Payne, these recordings of humpbacks in their natural environment sound beautiful and haunting when given the surround sound treatment. Stunning. (Originally featured on Star Tracks II [1987].)

Star Trek 4: The voyage Home

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11. Main Title from Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home

You might recall from my article about Leonard Rosenman’s score, that I’m not a fan of it. This version, as admirable as it is, doesn’t change that at all. For all of Kunzel’s additional bass, I struggle to like it. (Originally featured on Star Tracks II [1987].)

12. Main Theme from Star Trek

I recommended Star Tracks earlier as this was where Telarc’s relationship with the sound of Star Trek started. It was 1984 and Alexander Courage’s theme was nestled between two John Williams compositions: ‘The Raiders March’ from Raiders of the Lost Ark and the main theme to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In fact, the whole album was borne from covers of John Williams’ music bar the Star Trek theme, but Kunzel’s symphonic and surprisingly dramatic approach to Courage’s original made it fit perfectly within the collection. It could quite possibly be one of the best versions. Ever. Michael Giacchino take note: this is how to do a movie version of Courage’s theme. (Originally featured on Star Tracks [1984].)

13. Tribble Trouble

Squeaks and disturbing pops do not Tribbles make. These little guys must be some Borg-style drones. Now there’s a genius plot line. What other creatures multiply seemingly at will? The Borg Queen must be blowing at gasket at the thought of how easily they do it. Imagine: Borg Tribbles… Anyway, this is another sound effects suite from Michael Bishop. (Recorded for this compilation.)

14. Suite from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: Main Title

15. Suite from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: Epilogue

16. Suite from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: End Credits

Segued as one continuous piece across three tracks, even the worst arranger couldn’t screw up performing James Horner’s iconic music. It’s all here: all the main melodies and emotional drama in every note given the necessary bravado by Kunzel. (Originally featured on Star Tracks II [1987].)

HMS Bounty Star Trek IV The Voyage Home Copyright Paramount

17. Bird-of-Prey Decloaking

Yeah. Not spot on, this. Move along. Nothing to hear here. (Recorded for this compilation.)

18. ‘The Klingon Battle’ from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I’m not sure what my problem is with Telarc’s recreation of sound effects. Here Michael Bishop has valiantly attempted to emulate the Blaster Beam. It doesn’t work and all but ruins an otherwise near-perfect arrangement of Goldsmith’s classic melody. (Originally featured on Star Tracks II [1987].)

19. Main Theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

But we’re saved when the core theme kicks in. It’s gorgeous and sweeping and gets everything right. This one is best served loud. Just don’t blow your speakers with Telarc’s impressively high production values! We take no responsibility! (Originally featured on Time Warp [1984].)

20. Warp-Eight

Just like Warp-One but longer. Eight times longer, in fact. Sigh. (Recorded for this compilation.)

21. ‘A Busy Man’ from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Why oh why didn’t they choose to adapt ‘The Mountain’? It’s a gorgeous romantic piece. But to be fair, most of Goldsmith’s music for TFF is sublime so I’m happy for anything from it to be given the Kunzel flourish. (Originally featured on Fantastic Journey [1990].)

22. Genesis Project – The Creation And Evolution Of TINSIS

A reinterpretation of the Genesis Device from TWOK. Again, a bold attempt at a sound effects suite but it’s just lacking…something. And I’d love to know what TINSIS means (I mean, I’ve scoured the sleeve notes and unless it’s hiding from me in there, I simply don’t know). (Recorded for this compilation.)

Star Trek Pilot The Cage – Captain Pike and his bridge crew

23. Suite from ‘The Menagerie’

This is actually a suite from ‘The Cage’, but the misnomer is carried over from the album Time Warp where this track originally appeared. Even the sleeve notes emphasized it was music from Star Trek‘s original pilot. Nevertheless, it’s an amazing arrangement and sits easily with the best of Goldsmith and Horner. It’s a familiar stuff but this track was made available before the original soundtrack album from GNP. It stands tall and uses energetic vibes and authentic instruments to bring to life once more the early adventures of this season’s favorite: Captain Christopher Pike. What a guy. (Originally featured on Time Warp [1984].)

24. Transporter

Beam me out of here. (Recorded for this compilation.)

25. Main Theme from Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

A softer approach to James Horner’s theme and rightly so. (Recorded for this compilation.)

26. Nexus Energy Ribbon

Perhaps we should call it a day with these sound effects because I’m just not feeling it. (Recorded for this compilation.)

27. End Title from Star Trek: Generations

Ah, what a tune! I love this soundtrack and was disappointed that the GNP release was recorded at a slightly lower sound volume than was expected. Ramped up here by Telarc, McCarthy’s militaristic melody is worth waiting for. Loud and proud. (Recorded for this compilation.)

Star Trek The Next Generation iBorg

28. The Borg

If the Borg sounded like this on the original shows, they’d be laughingstock. Resistance is futile? Yeah, sure it is. You just keep convincing yourselves of that, guys. (Recorded for this compilation.)

dark. Next. Everything you need to know about Star Trek Discovery Season 3

Next time: Jerry Goldmith’s Star Trek: First Contact