Charles Gerhardt / National Philharmonic Orchestra

Gone with the Wind: Max Steiner's Classic film Score

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Charles Gerhardt's Classic Film Scores series was a major revelation at the time of its formal beginning, at RCA in the early '70s -- true, none of the music was represented in its entirety, but unlike other, similar efforts to re-record classic film music in something resembling optimum form, at least the orchestrations were close (if not identical) to the originals, and the technology was state of the art for the early '70s, which was (and is) fine. As to the CD at hand, it's a reminder of the level of esteem with which Gone with the Wind and its score by Max Steiner were held in the early '70s that this volume was the only one in the series devoted to the music of a single film -- all of the others had excerpts (some major, some as short as three minutes) from various scores by specific composers, or were hooked around the films of major stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis. The entire Gone with the Wind score, which totaled 156 minutes, isn't represented here, but all of the sections that Steiner (who died in 1971, but consulted extensively with Gerhardt) felt were essential are. Up to the time of the original LP release in 1974, the only ways to get the music at hand were in Steiner's own 1954 recording of a shorter suite for a reduced orchestra; Gerhardt's earlier, shorter version of the same material, done for Reader's Digest in England in the mid-'60s; and the MGM Records release of the original soundtrack, which only included highlights and was marred by the inherent limitations in the recording technology of 1939. Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra seldom failed to please audiences, at least in their efforts of the 1970s, but this release -- the first commercially available recording of the Gone with the Wind music to use the same size orchestra utilized for the film itself -- shows them near their peak, playing the music for all it is worth and more, with a good balance between virtuosity and dramatic nuance. This is program music at its most romantic, and with no loss of opportunity to exploit its best elements in terms of melody and timbre. The early-'70s tapes have held up well in the CD transfer as well (which offers Dolby Surround), and if there is a complaint to be registered, it's only that Steiner and Gerhardt didn‘t prepare a slightly longer body of music -- one does finish listening to this 43-minute disc wishing there were a bit more.

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