Miklós Rózsa

The Film Music of Miklos Rozsa

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This is a true collectors' item, assembling the Selznick production company's 13-minute edition of Rozsa's original 1945 music tracks for Hitchcock's Spellbound, and the recording of Rozsa's Jungle Book score, as it was cut for RCA-Victor by the composer in 1943, with Sabu narrating a la Peter and the Wolf. That album, a set of 78 rpm platters in a photo-album-type package, was the first full-length re-recording of a piece of film music for commercial release. The idea was a good one at the time -- Sabu was an immensely popular actor, and The Jungle Book had been a very successful film.

Unfortunately, the recording itself, by modern standards, leaves something to be desired; the orchestral passages conducted by Rozsa are fine, beautifully played and very well recorded; and Sabu's readings are a little stiff and forced at times (he was not a trained actor) but honest. His major mistake was that, as a non-actor, he relied on shouting rather than on any vocal nuances to evoke rage and fury at a key part of the narration, and that just doesn't work on a record. The real problem, however, is that the narrative and orchestral passages don't mesh sonically, at least not in modern terms; the balances are way off between the speaker and the orchestra, and the differences are jarring. The CD producers have done a barely adequate job of compensating for these problems (audiences in the 1940s would not have noticed because they were changing platters every three minutes or so). The track one selection of music from Spellbound is derived from the recordings done for the film itself and are state-of-the-art film recordings for 1945, a little tinny in the upper registers and somewhat more boomy and bass-heavy in the lowest sonic regions, but cleanly transferred; all of the key material from the score is featured, with perhaps a little too much emphasis on the theremin sections and the most melodramatic components of the score. As a bonus, the producers have also included a much larger selection of music from Spellbound conducted by the composer and released on the ARA label in 1945. Those sides, as described in the notes, suffered from an incredible array of mastering and pressing problems, which makes their appearance on CD in any listenable form a minor engineering miracle -- these were among Rozsa's early efforts at cutting re-recording one of his scores for commercial release, and they're of intrinsic historical interest on that basis. The noise is still a problem on these sides, although it has been cleaned up to an astonishing degree. Unfixable is the occasional creakiness and wrong notes hit by the orchestra (one can just imagine how little Rozsa himself thought of these recordings, since they're not mentioned anywhere in his otherwise highly detailed autobiography), or the demands made of the 78 rpm format to break this material into three-minute segments. There are better recordings of this score available of more recent vintage, but this is the best incarnation ever heard of the first commercial release.

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