Steiner: Adventures of Don Juan (CD review)

Also, Arsenic and Old Lace. William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Tribute Film Classics TFC-1009 (2-disc set).

Austrian Max Steiner (1888-1971) wasn’t always the great movie-score composer he became; it took him a while to become known as the “father of film music.” He worked on Broadway for years as a musical arranger, orchestrator, and conductor before coming to Hollywood in 1929 and registering his first big hit with King Kong (1933), which thanks to Steiner became one of the first films to use an extensive, original, scene-specific musical score. After that, Steiner went on to do practically every big picture Warner Bros. and MGM made in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties--movies like The Informer, Now Voyager, Jezebel, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Casablanca, The Searchers, and Gone with the Wind--finally winding down his career in the early Sixties.

In this 2-disc set Steiner wrote the main selection, Adventures of Don Juan, for Errol Flynn’s 1948 tongue-in-cheek swashbuckler. The album’s producers--Anna Bonn, John Morgan, and William Stromberg--have reassembled the complete score for the film and present it in thirty-three tracks in another meticulous release from Tribute Film Classics. They even provide a bonus trailer track. Movie fans, film-music fans, as well as classical music fans in general will all enjoy the results.

It had been a full decade since star Errol Flynn made “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” and by 1948 due to hard drinking and riotous living the actor’s health and career had fallen into decline. Still, thanks to a cheeky screenplay by George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz from a story by Herbert Dalmas (with uncredited assistance from Robert Florey and William Faulkner of all people) and fairly lively direction by Vincent Sherman, the movie made a welcome throwback to Flynn’s earlier swaggering movie roles.

Appropriate to a film about the legendary Spanish nobleman famous for his uninhibited lifestyle and many seductions, Steiner wrote a score that takes full advantage of situation. The music is dashing, heroic, Romantic, exciting, sentimental, suspenseful, and serene by turns. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Steiner’s godfather was, literally, Richard Strauss, whose Ein Heldenleben, Till Eulenspiegel, Don Quixote, and, especially, Don Juan probably inspired the younger composer.

Co-producer John Morgan reconstructed and orchestrated a number of musical cues that hadn’t survived the sixty-odd years since Steiner first wrote them, so we welcome them. What’s more, the “London Processional” track sounds especially appealing, and audiophiles might want to single it out for demo purposes

When I first heard William Stromberg leading the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in movie music back in the days when they recorded for Marco Polo and Naxos, I was a little suspicious. How would a Russian orchestra do playing Hollywood movie scores? It didn’t take me long to realize they handled the music splendidly, and the conductor and orchestra have only gotten better with time. The Moscow forces play with a style and flair worthy of any Hollywood studio orchestra, but they add further polish, resonance, and richness to the equation.

In addition to Adventures of Don Juan, the set includes Steiner’s complete score for the 1944 Cary Grant black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace (eleven tracks). Here, almost all of the musicians’ prepared parts survived the years. Needless to say, the music is delightful. Then, too, we also get an additional alternate track, “Baseball a la Brooklyn,” a trailer track, and even a trailer for WB’s 1953 horror movie “The House of Wax.”

Recorded in 96kHZ/24-bit audio at Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, Russia, in 2010, the Tribute sound is every bit as good as you would hope for this music. It’s extremely clear, clean, and dynamic, with a strong, audiophile-quality impact. It’s a tad forward, true, but it adds to the midrange clarity. Stereo spread is wide, occasionally seeming to extend beyond the boundaries of the speakers. Miking is fairly close, so orchestral depth suffers a bit, but, again, it helps the overall transparency. Highs are particularly sparkling and sound wonderful. In the last analysis, while the audio is not quite the ultimate in realism, it is quite spectacular, the way we expect movies to sound.

A lavishly illustrated, seventy-page booklet of pictures, text, notes, synopses, biographies, and such caps off a terrific CD presentation. You can find Tribute Film Classic products available at most retail outlets, or you can find out more about them by going directly to their Web site:

To hear a brief excerpt from this set, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa