May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Franz WAXMAN Rebecca    1990 re-recording with Adriano conducting The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra    Marco Polo 8.223399 *[72:25]

Franz WAXMAN Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman (Featuring music from Rebecca plus Prince Valiant, A Place in the Sun, The Bride of Frankenstein, Sunset Boulevard, Old Acquaintance, The Philadelphia Story and Taras Bulba  Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra    Dolby surround    RCA Victor (BMG Classics) GD80708  [53:36]

Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier was both Alfred Hitchcock's first Hollywood film and producer David O Selznick's follow-up to Gone With the Wind. Staring Lawrence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, it won the Best Picture Oscar for 1940, and gained a nomination for composer Franz Waxman, who always declared it his favourite among his 144 films. Waxman would score three further films for Hitchcock, Suspicion (1941, again staring Joan Fontaine), The Paradine Case (1947) and Rear Window (1954). One of Alfred Hitchcock's most successful films, it barely needs adding that Rebecca is a first class thriller, though it is of a more psychological character than most of his work, the central theme of a dead love haunting the present prefiguring his finest film, Vertigo (1958).

The Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra recording of Franz Waxman's score for Rebecca was made 50 years and a month after the original soundtrack was recorded in 1940. The film runs 132 minutes, of which 124 have music, 72 of which are recorded here. Not all the music in the film was by Franz Waxman, and some of the music that was by the composer came from previous scores. The music by other hands has to be omitted; for instance Rebecca as released featured a short cue 'Beatrice', using music by Max Steiner. Adriano restores Waxman's original, unused cue. Some of the music adapted from previous Waxman scores is recorded, most notably in the key sequence 'Mrs Danvers'. This scene featured music from no less than 6 previous scores, but as reconstructed here, plays as if freshly minted. Unlike most scores from this era, the original parts still existed for the re-recording, so it was only for sequences such as 'Mrs Danvers' that any reconstruction was needed. The music is scored for conventional symphony orchestra, with, besides Waxman's trademark saxophone, one important addition. Waxman had used three ondes martenot, an early electronic instrument in The Bride of Frankenstein (1936), and for Rebecca, just as Miklós Rózsa would introduce the theromin in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), Waxman used the novachord, an instrument similar to the Hammond organ, to intimate the supernatural presence of the first Mrs de Winter. The device has been so copied over the years, and later parodied, that today there is the danger of it sounding quaint, or worse, comical, such that the shivering strings that hover around the keyboard add a needed chill.

It should be said that this is unquestionably a great score, but for anyone grumbling that at 72 minutes it is not complete, let me just say that 72 minutes is quite sufficient. Even Mahler rarely lasted much longer! Rebecca is a very rich, complex and lavish score, and over 15 generally quite lengthy tracks, this 1990 extended-condensation does Waxman proud. This is romantic music, music that balances waltzes against shimmering impressionism and uncanny evocations of the world beyond the veil. 'At Dawn' contains a pulsing echo of the famous creation scene from The Bride of Frankenstein, and the final scenes ache with the same yearning desire that make Bernard Herrmann's The Ghost and Mrs Muir and Vertigo so wonderful, all building to a thoroughly thrilling inferno of a finale. The playing is very good, if just lacking that last ounce of sheer Hollywood romanticism. Even so, this is a most accomplished album, with the only real flaw in the sound being, if you turn the volume up far enough, some occasional but quite noticeable electronic line hum.

Franz Waxman himself prepared many concert suites from his film scores. Indeed, his suite from Rebecca was played on American radio as part of the original promotion of the film, and the suite gained considerable popularity over the years. We are not told, but presumably for Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman conductor Charles Gerhardt and producer George Korngold used Waxman's own suite. The Classic Film Scores Series spanned the 70's with a series of first class recordings of suites from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and at a time when few could imagine it might one day be possible to make complete albums of individual classic scores, did a wonderful job of resurrecting lost treasures and introducing a new generation to the glories of orchestral film music. The Waxman edition in the series was recorded, in quadraphonic sound in 1974, and remastered and remixed into Dolby surround sound for CD release in 1989. The Rebecca suite features the cues: 'Prelude', 'After the Ball', 'Mrs Danvers', 'Confession Scene' and 'Manderley in Flames'. The sound is more lushly, decadently romantic than on the Adriano recording, and has a greater, filmic intensity more closely reproducing the sound of classic Hollywood. There also seems to be great dynamic range, and rather more tape hiss. Inevitably the National Philharmonic give the superior performances. It would certainly have been nice to have heard Gerhardt record the complete score, as what we have of his interpretation surpasses the Marco Polo release. That should not stop you buying Adriano's much more complete album and still most commendable album, indeed, it should be considered more or less essential to any good film music collection. Then again, so such Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman, for this disc additionally contains excellent suites from not only the title film, but from, among others Prince Valiant, A Place in the Sun and The Bride of Frankenstein.


Gary S. Dalkin


Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman 


Gary S. Dalkin


Sunset Boulevard

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