Young: The Uninvited (CD review)

Also, The Greatest Show on Earth; Gulliver's Travels; Bright Leaf. William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Naxos 8.573368.

During the 1990's Naxos recorded a number of film scores with William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, packaging them under their full-price Marco Polo label. More recently, now that they discontinued the Marco Polo line, the folks at Naxos have been re-releasing the material under their own lower-price label. In the case of the present disc, Naxos originally coupled Victor Young's score for the 1944 ghost movie The Uninvited with several other horror-movie scores by different composers under the title "Murder and Mayhem." Now, they have repackaged The Uninvited with three other pieces of music by Victor Young--The Greatest Show on EarthGulliver's Travels and Bright Leaf--making it all-Young album. Whatever, then as now, it's the score to The Uninvited that steals the show.

The Uninvited holds the distinction of being one of the first, maybe the first, serious ghost story the movies ever saw. Up until 1944 movies about ghosts were usually relegated to the area of comedy; so The Uninvited was something of a novelty at the time. More important, it continues to hold up as one of the best ghost stories ever made. Starring Ray Milland as a music composer, Ruth Hussey as his sister, and Gail Russell as a young woman the composer falls in love with, the movie relates the story of the brother and sister buying an old house on the coast of Cornwall, England, that comes complete with a nightly wailing ghost. No monsters, no blood, no gore, just tension and suspense as things unseen become more terrifying for the parties involved. Adding to the film's creepy, gothic atmosphere is Victor Young's equally forbidding yet hauntingly beautiful film score, here reconstructed by John Morgan (who has since gone on to form his own company, Tribute Film Classics).

Victory Young (1900-1956) was one of a handful of early film composers who helped shape the Hollywood music scene. Among his other credits you might recognize are Artists and Models, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Paleface, Samson and Delilah, The Quiet Man, Shane, The Country Girl, and The Conqueror. In all, the Academy nominated Young for twenty-two Oscars, winning for Around the World in Eighty Days. Of all of them, The Uninvited remains my favorite.

William Stromberg
Of course, Young's score for The Uninvited is vividly expressive and picturesque, and the suite Morgan prepared gives you an idea of the program: "Prelude," "Squirrel Chase," "The Village," "The Sobbing Ghost," "Sunday Morning--Stella's Emotions," "The Cliff," "Grandfather and the Cliff," and "End of Ghost--Finale." However, the real star of the show is the serenade theme music "Stella by Starlight." Although it appears several times in the movie (and here in the suite) in a purely orchestral arrangement, it acquired lyrics (by Ned Washington) after the release of the film and became a hit tune (the Web site jazzstandards.com ranking it as the tenth most-popular ballad of all time, with recordings of it by everyone from Harry James and Frank Sinatra to Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole).

"The Prelude" sets the tone of the film and introduces us to the main theme. "The Squirrel Chase" is lively; "The Village" depicts the sleepy little town not far from the house; "The Sobbing Ghost" effectively introduces a dose of melodrama into the proceedings; "Sunday Morning" is aptly romantic and again provides the "Stella" theme; "The Cliff" is where the composer fully fleshes out the "Stella" music; "Grandfather and the Cliff" continues the story's plot and action; and the "End of Ghost" sequence is the most overtly "ghostly" music of the score, although the mood doesn't last long.

So, how does the score to The Uninvited hold up in Morgan's arrangement and under Stromberg's guidance? Very well, indeed. For those listeners worried that perhaps a Russian orchestra would not capture the spirit and idioms of movie music, I can assure you the opposite is true. They play with a delicacy and feel for the intricacies of the score as well as one could want. And the ensemble sound wonderfully smooth and accomplished, lush and luxuriant, with Stromberg keeping the action moving at a healthy clip.

The three accompanying scores aren't bad, either. Things begin with the Prelude (March) to what was probably the most undeserved Best-Picture winner in the history of the Academy Awards, The Greatest Show on Earth. The music sounds appropriately gaudy and garish. After that is the centerpiece reviewed above, followed by a five-movement suite from Gulliver's Travels (1939), reconstructed by John Morgan. Under Stromberg's direction, it's cheerful and animated. The program concludes with an eight-movement suite from Bright Leaf (1950), with orchestration by Leo Shuken and Sidney Cutner, the music measured and thoughtful. Stromberg brings all of this off about as well as one could expect, although, to be honest, the music is not particularly great and not nearly as memorable, colorful, or melodic as that from The Uninvited.

The current disc joins several others in the Naxos line of movie music from Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony, all of them including extensive booklet notes (although in a rather tiny type font that may strain some eyes; I know it did mine).

Producer Betta International and engineers Edvard Shakhnazarian and Vitaly Ivano recorded the music at the Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, in April 1997. Previously issued on the Marco Polo label, Naxos reissued the material in 2016. The sound is typical of this source, big and robust, if a little close. The stereo spread is notably wide, with dynamics consistent with an orchestra maybe a bit farther away. Instruments appear well defined without being bright or forward. The piano sections sound well integrated with the orchestra. In all, it's a warm, moderately resonant, and reasonably well detailed recording that is quite pleasing.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


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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.

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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