William T. Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Naxos 8.570185.
Every day in every way, they're getting better and better. The budget-priced Naxos label is reissuing many of Marco Polo's full-priced recordings, including many of film scores. The Marco Polo discs were worth the money, and now the Naxos reissues make things even easier on the buyer. For those of you, like me, who love old movies, the reconstructed scores have been godsends; but with the restoration of Max Steiner's music for the 1948 John Huston classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Naxos/Marco Polo have outdone themselves. This may be the best movie music recorded in the past few decades, it's that good, and it's an album I have fallen in love with.
The film, of course, is an adaptation of B. Traven's novel of greedy gold prospectors in Old Mexico, starring Humphrey Bogart in his most startling role as the paranoid Fred C. Dobbs, with Walter Huston (the director's father) and Tim Holt as his partners. The film won Academy Awards for Best Direction and Screenplay, and Walter Huston won for Best Supporting Actor.
Anyone familiar with the story, and that's probably everyone reading this review, knows the plot (although I have the feeling that people younger than twenty tend to think that any film predating themselves is an old-time movie not worthy of their consideration and that anything made in black-and-white is ancient history). Listening to Steiner's score, restored by John Morgan, the man responsible for many other Naxos-Marco Polo efforts, one can picture every detail of the story line and hear it in some of the best sound ever heard in this music (from the seemingly unlikely source of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus). I delighted in every minute of it. But I will not go on at length describing the "Windstorm" or "Bandits, Outnumbered, Federales" or "The Ruins" or the marvelously evocative "Texas Memories." I suggest you just listen for yourself. With over an hour of music, the album also includes three bonus tracks--music for the theatrical trailer, an alternate Main Title, and an alternate Finale.
Trivia notes: If Bogart's fedora in the movie looks familiar, think of Indiana Jones; it was Spielberg's inspiration. And if you are tired of hearing Alfonso Bedoya's famous words misquoted time and again, here they are verbatim: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!"
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to email@example.com.