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Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, July 2011

All recent Naxos releases contain a succinct indication of what you are likely to find inside—pick one up in a browser in one of the few record shops still open or check it out at classicsonline.com, who offer the back cover information and notes ‘about this album’ to all comers, and you know what you are contemplating purchasing. In this case I can’t put it better or more succinctly than the Naxos summary: ‘The…Guerra Manuscript is an anthology of the finest pieces heard in Madrid during the second half of the 17th Century and was probably prepared for a high-ranking noble or member of the Spanish royal family. It contains a hundred vocal pieces by leading composers…as well as others whose authors remain anonymous.’

The manuscript was assembled around 1680 by José Miguel Guerra: all the music is anonymous, though several of the contributions, including around half of those on the CD, can be attributed. The notes in the booklet by Manuel Vilas, the editor of all the music here and the harpist on the recording, are helpful and can be supplemented by an article in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Vol.123/2 (1998) by Álvaro Torrente and Pablo-L Rodriguez, The ‘Guerra Manuscript’ and the Rise of Solo Song in Spain

Spanish music of this period tends to be sung by powerful voices and Isabel Monar is no exception. She is as forceful as you could wish, but doesn’t deliver everything in a monotone—she can sing softly where appropriate.

I’ve praised Manuel Vilas’s notes, but that, plus a brief resumé of the performers, is all that you get in the 3-leaf folder. The Spanish texts are available online, but no translations, so it’s hard luck if your 17th-century Spanish isn’t up to it. Whilst I’m grumbling, too, let me point at that 51 minutes is short value, even at the Naxos price, these days. The only possible reason for the photo of the high altar of Santiago de Compostela on the cover of an album of secular music is that the recording was made at the Via Stellæ Festival. For all my grumbles, this is well worth downloading and I look forward to Volume 2: check it out at Naxos Music Library first, if you can.



John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, January 2010

The disc…is fascinating…and executed in superb sonics.

The Naxos sound…is solid, clean…width and range are excellent. Also, the disc comes with a nice set of notes…



Adrian Edwards
Gramophone, January 2008

Music for monsters—and a remarkable collaboration for two Hollywood greats

Here are four more reissues from the Marco Polo catalogue that began its pioneering association with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conductor William Stromberg and music reconstructionist John Morgan in 1996. The series began with music composed for Universal’s legendary series of horror movies from the 1930s and ’40s.

I feel much the same about this music as I did last month reviewing The House of Frankenstein. Neither Skinner nor Salter were particularly concerned with innovation, nor could they afford to be, for tight schedules and release deadlines were the order of the day. For a bolder and more striking view of monster movie music one must turn to the earliest of the scores represented, Steiner’s The Son of Kong. What fascinates me about this piece isn’t so much the bold gesture but the portrait of this creature trapped in a great city, captured in a warm­hearted theme, redolent of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which wins our affection especially in the glow of the cue “Campfire at Night” (tr 14). Another engaging cue is “The Black Bear” where an alto saxophone brings a welcome touch of humour. The leitmotif of The Most Dangerous Game, a sinister horn motif along the lines of Franck’s Le chasseur maudit, runs through this gripping and colourful score, culminating in a long chase sequence across the final five tracks.

Waxman’s Objective, Burma! is a mighty piece of work starring Errol Flynn that caused a ruckus on its UK release by implying that the campaign by the British 14th Army in Burma had been primarily an American operation. Waxman’s highly charged music opens with the sounds of battle before a swaggering march takes over. However, the abiding impression of this music is far from jingoistic. The thematic material is utterly devoid of cliche and sometimes most moving as in the eloquent string tune on cellos in “Two Came Back”. The scoring too is often innovative, such as the pinched violin squeaks in the “Nocturnal”.

Vying for the headlines in this batch of CDs comes The Egyptian, an extraordinary collaboration between two diverse composers, Herrmann and Newman. Newman composed the themes for this rites-of-passage story of an Egyptian wanderer before handing over to Herrmann, the details of which are revealed in correspondence between him and Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, in the CD booklet. A single approach emerges from this remarkable collaboration with both composers thinking as one, yet true to their individual and readily identifiable trademarks.



Arthur Lintgen
Fanfare, April 2007

The informative program notes for this album present a vigorous case for these scores being as good as King Kong, and therefore ranking with Steiner’s best music. There is no doubt about the resemblance to King Kong. The Most Dangerous Game and The Son of Kong immediately preceded and followed that landmark picture and score. The music is typical of Steiner’s RKO years, but it certainly does not rank with his best scores. To be truthful, there are numerous Steiner scores worthier of being recorded, even to the extent that it is almost a shame that so much effort was devoted to the recording of this music. That said, The Son of Kong and The Most Dangerous Game will still be a feast for Steiner zealots.

This is another Naxos reissue from the “Marco Polo Golden Age Film Classics” series with identical sound but less snazzy program notes. For The Son of Kong, Steiner utilized much of the thematic material from King Kong in a fairly subtle way, but most of the score consists of new music in the same style. If you like King Kong, there is no reason why you won’t enjoy The Son of Kong. The Most Dangerous Game is stylistically similar with just as much rambunctious brass, but it doesn’t have the hook of being the offspring of a bona fide film classic. In both scores, there are plenty of stock Steiner suspense cues and braying brass that don’t quite reach the sense-numbing level of King Kong. The Son of Kong contains some luscious bluesy music that anticipates some of the thematic material for the 1950s Gone with the Wind wannabe that also starred Clark Gable, Band of Angels (which contains a remarkably good Steiner score for a really bad film).

For budgetary reasons, The Son of Kong employed a 28-piece orchestra including the grand total of six violins! In comparison, King Kong used 46 musicians on the original soundtrack, many of them playing multiple instruments. As in many other releases in this extremely valuable series, the importance of the work of John Morgan cannot be overstated. He fully reconstructed and orchestrated the music from Steiner’s original sketches. The result is a perfect reproduction of the well­known, full orchestral Steiner sound that is treasured by so many film music fans. Conducting the music is clearly a labor of love for William Stromberg, and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is magnificent. It never fails to amaze me how this team manages to come so close to reproducing the authentic music of the Golden Age emanating from the legendary studio orchestras of Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, and to a lesser extent, MGM and RKO. The sound is big, fat, juicy, and refulgent. It perfectly suits Steiner’s style with an up-front aural perspective. There is plenty of inner detail, including the many instrumental doublings. Despite the volume of the brass instruments, they always remain focused in the back of the orchestra with a soundstage that doesn’t collapse at the massive climaxes. There is no chance that these scores will ever be better recorded or played. If you are a Steiner fan, nothing more needs to be said. If not, the relentless onslaught of decibels may wear you out despite the high quality of every aspect of the production.



Andy Cooper
Leader-Post, January 2007

While a weak movie sequel to King Kong, The Son of Kong features more great music from Max Steiner.

But of more interest on this fine disc is Steiner’s music for the 1932 horror film The Most Dangerous Game. It was composed in only two weeks by Steiner who was called in to replace another composer whose music was deemed “too light”. Steiner’s spine-tingling music accompanying the tale of a sinister count who hunts humans for sport on his remote island was brilliant, yet the score was lost until arranger John Morgan reorchestrated Steiner’s sketches for this recording. Morgan says he “dreaded” the cryptic 70-year-old notes he discovered from Steiner to his orchestrators saying things like: “Phone me and I’ll explain.” The Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conductor William Stromberg play it all with great style.






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11:10:47 AM, 22 December 2014
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