Damned if this isn't one of the most gorgeous soundtrack recordings ever released, or that anyone is ever likely to hear -- and it's the first complete edition of Max Steiner's score for A Summer Place, 34 years after the release of the movie. That's downright astonishing when one considers that Steiner's music yielded up that perennial '50s pop instrumental favorite the "Theme From 'A Summer Place'," as arranged and recorded by Percy Faith, which is one of the most profitable copyrights in the Warner Music library. Somehow, the 76 minutes of other music that the aging film music giant authored for the film was never issued until Brigham Young University's Film Music Archives label did it with this CD. So this release has time and importance on its side -- additionally, anyone who has ever seen the movie and knows the aching beauty of the string- and harp-dominated "Sylvia" theme, or the lush "Pine Island" theme (which Steiner originated in the 1940s Bette Davis title A Stolen Life) and how rich the rest of Steiner's score was, will have to own this CD. As with Steiner's classic scores of the 1930s and 1940s, this is film music that is meant to be heard, not merely perceived subliminally -- working in his best late Mahler/Wagner mode, he created an enveloping body of music, richly scored throughout and even including a few surprises in the latter category that are revealed on this CD, such as the presence of a moody clarinet at the core of the "Theme From 'A Summer Place'" in its initial appearance, or an electric guitar on a latter appearance of the theme. The score holds up amazingly well as straight listening, largely due to the sheer diversity of the moods captured and underscored from the script across two hours of screen time -- though some of the shifts can be jarring at times, the whole listening experience is entertaining and fulfilling, Steiner exploring some of the finest melodies of his career in myriad forms and variations. The CD sound is excellent -- the original tapes from the scoring sessions have survived with only minor damage (which has been repaired seamlessly) and were well made to begin with. The fidelity on this CD is, thus, a match for any other body of professionally recorded and properly preserved music from 1959, with lots of depth and presence, and soaring highs -- the ominous piano chords on "Hiding in the Rocks" sound almost like the instrument is in the room. The annotation is extremely thorough, providing a complete pre-production history of the film going back to the birth of original author Sloan Wilson. Indeed, one of the great ironies of this soundtrack is that the music from the film has been treated far better than the movie itself has been treated by Warner Bros., which hasn't released it on DVD as of the start of 2004 and allowed it to be ridiculed in a public screening by American Movie Classics in the late '90s.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder