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July 2001 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings /July01/

The Film Music of Bronislaw KAPER  
  performed on piano by the composer
  DELOS (Facet label) 8101   [38:07]

Film Music of B Kaper

This is not new music, nor is it a new release of old music. But it's a CD you should have, and there should be more like it. More precisely, there should be more recordings of Bronislaw Kaper's works in full score form.

Like other Golden Age Hollywood composers, Kaper fled Hitler's Europe in the 1930s, ending up in Hollywood where MGM quickly pigeonholed him as a songwriter. His reputation as a tunesmith flowered with one of his first efforts - 'San Francisco' - still an American standard today. But Kaper (whose given name is alternately spelled Bronislau) was capable of much more, and eventually he convinced producers to let him write complete scores. Over the next four decades he would prove adept at nearly every film genre - horror ("Them!") drama ("Home from the Hill,") sophisticated comedy ("Auntie Mame") and farce ("A Flea in Her Ear,") as well as romantic fantasy ("The Swan") and quasi-musical (his Oscar-winning "Lili"). Late in his career, Kaper even tackled spectacles, turning out two unqualified masterpieces - "Mutiny on the Bounty" (the '62 Brando version) and "Lord Jim" three years later.

For all that, Kaper is but minimally represented on CD today. About a year ago I lamented the lack of Dimitri Tiomkin recordings - but if that was a shortage, then this is a virtual crisis. (Yes, we Americans do tend to apply that word to every problem - but hey, this is serious!)

Regarding this Delos release, what strikes the listener most keenly is the depth of emotion that comes through so strikingly, even in these solo piano versions. The gentle naiveté of 'Lili,' the wistful optimism of 'Invitation,' and the romantic yearning of 'On Green Dolphin Street' are practically palpable. These contrast with the sense of fatalism

heard in 'The Brothers Karamazov' and the bold, brash optimism of 'San Francisco.' All of which, in turn, is counterpoint to the romantic lushness of 'The Swan' and 'The Glass Slipper.'

The 12 film themes on this Delos release are weighted toward Kaper's lighter side. Among the very best of these is 'Auntie Mame,' a marvelous Rosalind Russell film for which Kaper supplied just the proper leavening touch. Also included, however, are "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Lord Jim." The first score's main theme was not written for solo piano, but it quickly segues into the seductive 'Follow Me' theme. From the second score is heard Kaper's melancholy 'The Color of Love.'

(As a side note, this may be the only recording of Kaper's music that includes a performance of any kind by the composer himself. Like a handful of others, Kaper preferred to leave the conducting of his music strictly to others.)

That this recording exists at all is tribute to Tony Thomas, the author-music producer who played such a vital role in popularizing film music back in the 1970s. While interviewing Kaper for his 1973 book, "Music for the Movies," Thomas learned of the composer's expertise at the piano. This recording is the result. Apart from it, I know of only two other Kaper scores on CD - "The Way West" (his only Western score, conducted by Andre Previn, no less) and "Auntie Mame," the latter a special-order recording. And "The Lion's Roar," a '99 Rhino double-CD collection, contains an 8-minute suite from Kaper's "Home from the Hill" as well as short excerpts from his "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Invitation." Not even Chapter III, which has been busily issuing CD versions of previous LP soundtracks from numerous MGM films, has hinted at a Kaper offering.

While I found this CD in a Seattle area used-book shop, your best bet probably would be to order it directly from Delos. I've called their Hollywood office and yes, it's still available. Their web site address is

John Huether


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