Murder and Mayhem (CD review)

Great Scores from Hollywood's Golden Age. Steiner: The Beast With Five Fingers; Friedhofer: The Lodger; Young: The Uninvited. William T. Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Marco Polo 8.225132.

You've got to admire that title. Who can resist "Murder and Mayhem"? The program consists of suites from three thrillers of the mid Forties, the music reconstructed by John W. Morgan: from 1946 The Beast With Five Fingers (a favorite gothic chiller of mine growing up); from 1944 The Lodger (a Jack the Ripper yarn); and also from 1944 The Uninvited (an eerie ghost story). A famous writer of film music composed the score for each movie, the first by Max Steiner, the second by Hugo Friedhofer, and the last by Victor Young. Of the three works, though, it is by far Young's music for The Uninvited that is most memorable.

British director Lewis Allen made The Uninvited in 1944 from a novel by Dorothy Macardle. It stars Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as a brother and sister who begin seeing and hearing strange things in the night when they unwittingly move into a haunted house on the coast of Cornwall. The movie ranks among the two or three best ghost stories ever filmed, no small thanks to its musical soundtrack. Fortunately, it's the longest suite on the disc, a little over twenty-four minutes, and it contains the most evocative tunes. Chief among them is one called "Stella By Starlight," a pseudo-Rachmaninov affair for piano and orchestra, later in the film heard on violin and orchestra, and a few years afterward recorded by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Harry James.

The Uninvited features mysterious-sounding mood music, descriptive scene accentuation, and good, old-fashioned Romanticism, all of it brought to life brilliantly by William Stromberg and his Moscow Symphony players, who have done this kind of thing so often it must be second-nature to them by now.

The sound, recorded by Marco Polo in 1999, is an improvement over their previous work. This album is from the same team I have reviewed before in film music, but the sonics this time are less disproportionately warm and round, more detailed, and more immediate. There is a small degree of hardness to the upper midrange, to be sure, but otherwise it is solid and clean. A lengthy and highly informative booklet insert completes the package.

Although I have to deem the whole project a success, I recommend The Uninvited in particular for repeat listening.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

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.

Mission Statement

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa