Steiner: Virginia City (CD review)

Also, The Beast with Five Fingers; The Lost Patrol. William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Marco Polo 8.223870.

This is not a soundtrack album. Thank goodness. I remember coming out of a big, THX-equipped movie theater recently and finding that my ears were ringing from the overloud, over-bright sound. Later in the week I noticed a newspaper ad for the CD of a particular movie soundtrack, exclaiming that the digitally remastered sound was "just like in a theater!" No thank you. It wasn't that I couldn't have enjoyed the movie's sound if it weren't so loud or bright; I just didn't want it sounding like that in my living-room stereo system. The fact is, movie-theater sonics belong in a movie theater, where their glaring, aggressive noises do the most good, not in my music room.

By contrast, Max Steiner's film music on this Marco Polo CD, played by the Moscow Symphony, sounds like just what it is: movie music played by a real orchestra in a live setting. It's a relief to hear it after going to the movies as much as I do and listening to so much deafening soundtrack music.  End of rant.

Max Steiner (1888-1971), often regarded as the "father of film music," came to Hollywood in 1929 and registered his first big hit with King Kong (1933), which was among the very first films to use an extensive, original musical score specific to the movie. Then Steiner went on to do practically every big picture the Warner Bros. studio made in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, finally slowing down and finishing his career in the early Sixties.

If the opening bars of The Lost Patrol (1934) remind you of Casablanca (1942), you'd be right.  Steiner did the Bogart film just eight years later, and there's much the same flavor here. The music for The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), on the other hand, Peter Lorre's hand to be precise, is lurid and melodramatic; it was one of the only horror films Steiner ever scored. But the real gem is the Errol Flynn movie, Virginia City (1940), filled with melodies that might have made Aaron Copland envious.

The music for all three films, arranged, restored, and reconstructed by John Morgan, fits into suites of twenty or more minutes each, and they provide a good cross section of the scores Steiner produced for almost four decades in Hollywood.

Marco Polo's sound is quite natural, maybe a little distant and a little soft on detail but delivering good depth and imaging. The album makes an attractive deal for movie buffs as well as music lovers, and it provides a welcome antidote for listeners whose heads are throbbing from typical movie soundtracks.


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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