Notes and Editorial Reviews
Adventures of Don Juan. Arsenic and Old Lace
William Stromberg, cond; Moscow SO
TRIBUTE FILM CLASSICS 1009 (2 CDs: 112:14)
Adventures of Don Juan
(1948) was designed to reproduce the success of Errol Flynn’s previous Warner Brothers swashbuckling spectacles (
The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
). Not surprisingly, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who
essentially established the style and the state of the art for scoring those and other Warner Brothers films, was the first choice to be the composer for the
Adventures of Don Juan,
but by the time the film was ready, Korngold had already left Warner Brothers and was unavailable. Max Steiner was the logical second choice. He was instructed by the moguls to write virtually wall-to-wall music from beginning to end. Given the type of film and Korngold’s towering presence, it is not surprising that his influence is clearly evident throughout the score. Steiner’s greatest accomplishment is that he succeeded in writing such nimble and flamboyant music in the style of Korngold and still managed to preserve his own musical identity. The Steiner sound is all-pervasive, but at a faster tempo with more transparent orchestration than usual.
Adventures of Don Juan
contains an unusually large number of impressive melodies (many of them Spanish-flavored), even for Steiner. Instead of the usual Warner Brothers logo music (also composed by Steiner), the Main Title opens with a spectacular Korngoldian fanfare. This is followed by the well-known theme for Don Juan, a distinctive six-note motif that lends itself to a seemingly infinite number of variations that Steiner skillfully weaves into his hyperactive orchestral fabric rather than simply repeating it over and over again. There is also a charming serenade that accompanies the protagonist’s amorous adventures, and a more solemn and serious love theme for Don Juan and the Queen. The “London Processional” (called the “Parade into London” in the Charles Gerhardt-conducted suite from his Classic Film Score Series) is the highlight of the score. The spectacular orchestration, undoubtedly modeled after Korngold’s “Coronation Procession” from
The Adventures of Robin Hood,
includes a huge brass section and an amazing display of colorful percussion instruments including six side drums, chimes, tubular bells, and cymbals. The orchestration is lighter than the fusillades of brass in scores like
The Charge of the Light Brigade.
In contrast to the distinctive
Adventures of Don Juan, Arsenic and Old Lace,
which occupies a little over half of the second CD, is not a good vehicle for a dramatic score. It demonstrates Steiner on autopilot with his annoying habit of employing any popular tune that comes to mind. Steiner’s music for the trailer for
House of Wax
is added as a “surprise” bonus track.
Needless to say, this is an orchestral showpiece that requires demonstration sound to make its maximum effect. Tribute’s engineers deliver the goods. Conductor William Stromberg states that the musicians and engineers strove primarily to reproduce the Steiner sound, and they have completely succeeded. The orchestra is miked closely, yielding an up-front aural perspective, but there is reasonable depth of field with a sense that this is an orchestra playing in a concert or recording hall despite the closely miked instruments. It is pertinent to contrast the sound in this recording of the “London Processional” with Gerhardt’s version from his Classic Film Score Series. Gerhardt’s recording places a greater emphasis on fine inner detail in a natural concert-hall setting. Stromberg is more up front and in your face, giving a more dense orchestral sound and larger-than-life instrumental images. Both approaches, no matter how different, work well with this flamboyant music. My one complaint is that Stromberg’s “London Processional” continues without interruption from the final bars of the previous track. This is probably done to enhance the continuity of music that can be episodic on a lengthy complete recording, but in this case, it is distracting to play the individual cue because of the awkward transition. There is also a valuable two-and-a-half-minute track presenting Steiner’s original music for the film’s trailer that demonstrates a long-lost art rarely heard in modern films, even when they have good scores.
Stromberg’s performances once again show that he knows Steiner’s sound cold, this time with a superior score, as was the case with
The Adventures of Mark Twain.
I can give no higher compliment than to say that Stromberg rivals Gerhardt, despite their conceptual and engineering differences. As is usually the case with Tribute Film Classics, there is a wonderful 68-page booklet packed with fascinating information on the films and their music.
This is a critically important release for Steiner fans, which means that it should be equally appealing to film-music fans everywhere, and audiophiles engaged in their perpetual search for a new orchestral showpiece.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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