Music Webmaster Len Mullenger


Max STEINER The Treasure of The Sierra Madre Suite; The Charge of the Light Brigade Suite Barry Kolman conducts the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra  CENTAUR CRC 2367 [66:01]  


More and more I thank Charles Gerhardt, George Korngold, RCA and the superb playing of the National Philharmonic Orchestra for their Classic Film Score Series of the 1970s, which really pioneered the appreciation of film music as music - especially when I hear performances like this reading of The Treasure of The Sierra Madre. Judging by the loose ensemble and slack pacing, prevalent in this performance - particularly in the opening "Pardners" section, I again raise the point whether performers actually see the films before they make these recordings - i.e. the conductor, orchestra leader (or concert master) and, surely, when there are only two films, could not arrangements be made for a screening for all the orchestra? Listen to this performance which admittedly has 31 minutes of music and compare it to the Gerhardt recording which had just under eight minutes but they were the best eight minutes of the best of the score (which raises yet another question whether it is worthwhile resurrecting every musical moment and nuance of every score). Gerhardt breathes life and zest into this vibrant score. Notice how well he captures the glitter and dangerous allure of the gold, how he wrings just the right amount of pathos out of the music for the scene where Bogart reads the letter he has found in the dead Texan’s jacket, revel in the gutsy Mexican bandit music treatment and, finally, savour the irony and visualise the desert winds blowing away the treasure at the close of the film. On the credit side, Kolman does give us the chance to hear more of Steiner’s psychologically penetrating and dramatic score. Don’t misunderstand me, Kolman captures Steiner’s sound world well enough but a tighter control of the music would have been better.

The Charge of the Light Brigade fares better. The excitement of the score is very well captured. The playing is more impressive with splendid brass choruses, soaring strings and solid tympani ostinati - this is the real Steiner sound. How vividly Steiner writes for historic action movies putting many modern composers to shame and, of course he does not have to rely on a synthesiser. His music captures all the smoke and pillage and the devastation of the aftermath of "The Massacre" very graphically. As for "The Charge" itself, Steiner handles it in masterly fashion beginning with a display of British military confidence and swagger caught in the preliminary slow march to the battleground then the tempi gradually increases as the cavalry breaks into a trot before the full charge into the valley of death. This battle scene is exceptionally thrilling with vivid evocations of thundering canon, galloping hooves and flashing sabres. Little quotations from 1812 remind us of the Russian foe; and the Russian’s Indian allies’ sinister Sarat Khan motif (the Brigade had encountered Khan in India previously), round out the Crimean battle music. The players of the Slovak State orchestra, especially the brass section must be congratulated on their skill and stamina and they do outplay their Brandenburg rivals on Marco Polo in this sequence. Many may feel that this new 35 minute suite contains too much blood and thunder. Of its total playing time of 35 minutes, 11:50 are devoted to "Massacre" and 15:42 to "The Charge" itself - which is rather a lot. I suppose it is meant to complement and round out the 1995 Marco Polo recording with the Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Kaufman, in a more varied 29 minute suite of music which included more romantic interest and the Waltz. It is worth remembering the Gerhardt recording of the March only (complete with its very attractive middle section which is only hinted at on this CD) on the Now Voyager - Classic Film Scores of Max Steiner CD in the RCA series (GD80136), this 2½ minute piece is one of the highlights on that disc.

Treasure:Light Brigade:

Ian Lace

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