July 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Hans J. SALTER and Frank SKINNER
Mystery and Horror
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by William T. Stromberg
MARCO POLO 8.225124 [67:33]
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I understand the reasoning behind releasing an album of suspense scores by Hans J. Salter and others. The composers are unfairly underrepresented in record stores. "Universal's Classic Scores of Mystery and Horror" is a step toward remedying that. There are some wonderful orchestral scores presented, and the cheerful exclamation of "John Morgan and Bill Stromberg, keep it going!" is perpetually appropriate.

Following Jimmy McHugh's classic Universal fanfare, the heart of the album begins with the second re-recording of Hans Salter's "The Ghost of Frankenstein," expanded to a very exciting 45 minutes. "The Ghost of Frankenstein" is unexpectedly passionate, and through the considerable forward momentum and mettlesome bombast there are no regrets about Hollywood romanticism. The story of Frankenstein's creation is slick melodrama, aimed at exposing social biases, assisting the suicide of terminally ill political agendas, and serving a catalyst for religious thought. Salter mirrors these ideas with great music. Where the score may raise eyebrows is with its derivativeness, including what is quite possibly the first filmusic nods to Gustav Holst's 'Mars, Bringer of War' and Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring." The music leans to repetition, too, but of the evolving, involving sort that rarely grows tiresome.

My favorite track, the "Son of Dracula" 'Main Title,' is also the briefest film score portrayal on this disc. In one minute, Salter has me shouting (figuratively, of course) for more as he again moves from horror-filled dissonance to gothic mystery to tragic melody.

Regrettably, the score proper mostly borrowed from Universal's music library.

The unmemorable 'Hypnosis' from "Black Friday" by Salter, Charles Henderson, and Charles Previn falls on a similarly short side. After an intro that clearly foreshadows the transitional music Herrmann would later use in "Psycho," the weakest selection of "Mystery and Horror" spends the bulk of its tiny time emptily moiling, growling, and blasting dreary chords.

If the talk in various filmusic discussion groups is any indication, the two cues from Hans J. Salter's "Man Made Monster" are the recording's surefire pleasures. These are quite grand (and are exceptional treats following a 'Hypnosis'), sparkling bright with volant orchestrations and musical humor... 'Corky' introduces a frolicking motif in full scherzo form; it took me awhile to get this tune out of my head, and courtesy of writing this critique I must recall it again. Corky's theme gets a few more variations in "Electo-Biology" before the music develops a secluded, then demented taste, reaching an apex in a delightful counterpoint for... xylophone!

A premiere recording of Frank Skinner's "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror" is the closing suite. The ponderous moments thrown in with classical turmoil are initially disappointing, but disinterest fades away as Skinner unwinds a solid British verve. The score is sinister and suspenseful, giving away to the occasional tourbillion of crazed excitement. The suite notably includes a musical cameo from one Hans J. Salter (does the name seem vaguely familiar?) as 'The Spider,' a cue tracked from the later "Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman."

The liner notes by Bill Whitaker are magnificent -- well written, meticulously researched, insightful, entertaining, and directly relevant to the current state of filmusic use & appreciation. Conductor Stromberg summons brisk, energetic performances from the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (subbing for the Moscow Symphony, and doing a lovely job of it). This album's technical production is extraordinary and rates alongside the team's most 'authentic' re-recordings.


Jeffrey Wheeler

Ian Lace adds:-

Again, as with the companion Marco Polo 'horror' film music' by Roy Webb also reviewed on this site this month, I find myself in complete agreement with the reviewer - although I cannot be as enthusiastic about the quality of the music. Nevertheless the nostalgia this disc creates for my youthful visits to the local cinema\theatre to see these films is worth my Editor's Recommendation. Stromberg draws first class performances from the Slovak players reminding us of how brilliantly this music really 'made' these creaking old films, creating the essential edge-of-seat atmosphere, yet at the same time with tongue planted firmly in cheek, also reassuring us of the risibility of the plots. The shorter suites impressed me the most, particularly Salter's Man Made Monster which in the 'Electro-Biology' cue creates something of a concerto for xylophone. This suite is worth the price of the CD alone.

Ian Lace


Jeffrey Wheeler

Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

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