, October 2004
"The problems involved in arranging Steiner's score for Naxos's 'Film Music Classics' series are adroitly laid out by John Morgan in the booklet notes. Morgan cut the overture – comprising main themes heard later – and then reduced the hundred minute score to the seventy we hear on the disc, principally by getting rid of repetitions. Steiner's first choice orchestrator, Hugo Friedhofer, was unavailable so the job fell to the experienced Bernhard Kaun, who had to cope with some colourful piquancies that add much to the score – an extended bassoon solo, and a role for steel guitar amongst others.
The score may not be as well known as others by Steiner but much of the reason must surely lie in the fact that the film is not as well known. Steiner eloquently welds Americana with established post-Wagnerian material and the results are consistently exciting and uplifting, as well as humorous and warm-hearted. After the main title - big spectrum response, always captivating to hear – we hear the serio-comic lower winds that herald the arrival of the Pirates (cue 2) accompanied by the banjo plunk that consistently undercuts them. There's a sense of bigness, of vistas, and of grandeur, in The River Pilot (cue 4) whilst in cue 6, The Mule – Digging – Cave In we hear how attuned Steiner had become to a lazy jazzy swing; the muted trumpet and wa-wa that announces the cave in is particularly impressive. It's in the frog scene that the bassoon comes very much to the fore – Morgan's amusing note relates how the player in the Moscow Symphony asked for a deferment and took the score home overnight to practise it. Elsewhere Steiner indulges in some pertinent quotations (Clementine for the Gold Rush, The Battle Hymn of the Republic for General Grant, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot for the cue marked Sorrow) or else mines a prankish Til Eulenspiegel spirit in track 11, The Squirrel. For the World Tour (track 23) we have some exotic locations, hence the steel guitar. The Bells of Oxford certainly have an Imperial swagger and the Rule Britannia theme rings out defiantly. With the reprise (track 29) we get a real chorus to send us on our way.
In fact all the vicissitudes of river life, of theatrical charm, of chase, sly wit, affection and humour are evoked in this splendidly realised disc. The Moscow Symphony and Stromberg are getting to be old hands at this repertoire and it shows. My review copy is a Surround Sound SACD/CD hybrid, which was played on an ordinary CD set up, sounding spacious and warm."