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Max STEINER (1888-1971)
All This And Heaven Too (1940)
A Stolen Life (1946)
Music for Bette Davis films, restorations by John Morgan
Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Choir/William Stromberg
Rec. Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, February-March 2002
MARCO POLO 8.225218 [71.08]

This is a marvellous disc. It’s packed with information and insight and biographical details, with recollection and analysis, added to which there are evocative period photographs and copies of Steiner’s musical sketches complete with the visual cues ("He stops"). And then there’s the music. Steiner, always one of the most accommodating of film composers in that he favoured through-composition, always makes for riveting listening and ensures that the superb restoration by John Morgan makes not only for a colourful and impressive one but also one that stresses the cogency of the scores, especially the main focus of interest here, All This, And Heaven Too, one of Steiner’s best Bette Davis scores.

The 1940 score provides music for three quarters of an hour in this restoration. Previous excerpts have really been no more than snippets (Charles Gerhardt recorded a brief selection nearly thirty years ago). Here we have a brash opening Main Title followed immediately by some noble horns and entwining strings, warm and mellow, in the cue beginning To France. Steiner conveys the Carriage Ride with a degree of pensive expectation before an almost syncopated gentility emerges in the scoring, deliciously evoking mid nineteenth century gallantry. He can even throw in the overture to Gluck’s Armida at one point and has elsewhere a rich command of instrumentation – in A Night to remember for Louise for instance behind the thinned strings one can detect Steiner’s characteristic harp and glockenspiel. To listen to Steiner at his most perspicacious one should perhaps go to All Hallows Eve and the following cues where nobility of utterance is immediately shattered by a jeering, eerie chorus; Steiner’s lyrical arches work on the basis of repetition and assimilation not on static cues and this makes a work like this all the more rewarding.

His romantic gentility in this score is accompanied by grim foreboding and foreshadowing (track 9 et seq) in a kind of trio section before the effulgence of a near Mendelssohnian moment of enchantment breaks over one. Steiner’s use of Tristanesque allusions can be faintly traced in the despairing eloquence of the eleventh track beginning Rushing to a Dying Duke and the general musical ethos that Steiner evokes here becomes explicit when he half quotes the puckish-tearstained end of Rosenkavalier – indeed he goes further throughout the score where elements of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme predominate and wittily so.

A Stolen Life dates from 1946. There’s witty use of hornpipe material – the scene is by the sea in New England - and again superb use of the harp. The cue Karnock features some ominous lower string and bass clarinet writing as well as suitably catchy, "shopping" music full of delighted swagger. The Good and Bad sister motif is reinforced by the music which posits freedom against insinuating sonorities but there’s also some creative recycling going on here. Steiner borrows some of his own music from King Kong for the evocative storm music (the studio had wanted Debussy’s La Mer but the fee asked was much too high).

These forces are fast becoming premier league – indeed have long since become premier league – interpreters of these kind of scores for this series. These are no run-throughs and William Stromberg leads with delightful but controlled insight. Most enthusiastically recommended to Steiner admirers.

Jonathan Woolf


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