January 2003 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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EDITOR’s CHOICE January 2003


Sunset Boulevard  
Music composed by Franz Waxman
  Conducted by Joel McNeely
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
  Available on Varèse Sarabande Records (VSD-6316)  
Running Time: 69:43
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sunset boulevard

One of the most celebrated films ever made, with an Academy Award winning score, it is astonishing that until now no album, either soundtrack or re-recording, has ever been issued Franz Waxman's Sunset Boulevard. Other than in the film itself, those of us who know the music at all probably do so from the excellent short suite on Charles Gerdhardt's album Sunset Boulevard-Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman in the 1970's (issued on CD as Gold Seal GD80708). The same album also included a suite from Waxman's Rebecca, and this month as well as Sunset Boulevard Joel McNeely and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra issue on Varèse Sarabande a new recording of that equally celebrated score. It is reviewed on Film Music on the Web by Ian Lace.

Both albums come with an excellent booklet essay and beautifully reproduced black and white photos. Sunset Boulevard also reprints a 1989 tribute to Waxman by director Billy Wilder, and as is now customary with Varèse Sarabande re-recordings of classic scores, there is a striking cover painting by Matthew Joseph Peak. In his introduction to the booklet Robert Townson accurately states that Sunset Boulevard contains "some of the greatest music ever written for film", but whether or not one accepts this assessment, his description of the score could hardly be bettered: "tortured, resplendent, darkly impressionistic, sonorous and poignant music." Which does rather leave the reviewer redundant.

As with the Rebecca disc, this is a fabulous sounding album, and the RSNO are on fine form. There's no need to doubt either the quality or the quantity of this production, offering as it does all but 70 minutes of music. And what music! Waxman constantly dazzles with his invention, offering a darker vision than usual in film music of its time; combining the complexity and terseness of Miklós Rózsa at his most urban and ironic with the shadowy moods and spectral melody of Bernard Herrmann. Imagine Citizen Kane meeting Spellbound, loosing the piano of the latter and adding warped touches of saxophone and symphonic jazz filtered through a half-remembered nightmare. From the furious bite of the opening 'Sunset Boulevard Prelude' to the startling, near hysterical jazz of 'The Old Bathing Beauty', to the film noir meets Debussy atmospherics of 'Norma's Suspicions' this is a score of breathtaking invention and nocturnal beauty. Like Rebecca, it is music inspired by twisted female emotions and the ghosts of the past, and so makes a superb thematic as well as musical companion to Varèse's other Waxman album this month.

Seamlessly sequenced despite the variety of moods and textures, this is an even finer achievement than Rebecca. It also contains one stunning bonus; a nine minute cue written for the original, unused beginning of the film. 'Prelude and Conversing Corpses' opens in the same way as the film as released, but rapidly develops into a dance of the dead. This in turn gives way to atmospheric writing of the most uncanny nature, as the film was to begin with corpses talking in a morgue, explaining to each other how they met their end. The recently rediscovered alternative scene will finally be seen as an extra on the forthcoming special edition DVD of Sunset Boulevard. Meanwhile whet you appetite with this superb evocation of one of the all time great film scores.

Gary Dalkin

***** 5

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