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:  http://www.tributefilmclassics.com/

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


JJP

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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