As much as I appreciate the fact that Max Steiner is one of the most important voices ever in film music, I have never really enjoyed his music - except for the scores he wrote in the veign of The Searchers. I guess it's just a matter of taste, I always preferred Waxman and Tiomkin over Steiner. However, this new double album from Craig Spaulding's Screen Archives Entertainment, a compilation featuring archival recordings of four scores Steiner wrote for United States Pictures in the late 40's, is really, really interesting. The music presented here is filled with passion and drama, and I fell in love immediately with the opening suite from My Girl Tisa, featuring a heartbreakingly bittersweet main theme.
The problem with most of the previous Max Steiner compilations available is that it concentrates so much on his stirringly dramatic music, written for full orchestra with blasting brass and thundering percussion. The four scores on this double CD, however, also brings forward a more gentle side of the composer. Just listen to the orchestrations in MY GIRL TISA, with its evocative use of harps and solo viola. Two cues, 'Fugitive', 'Proposal' and 'Deported' stands out in this respect.
The second suite, from South Of St Louis, is a more typical Steiner western score, including his typical quotation technique, making smart use of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' among others. This one is filled with some truly exciting action music, especially in 'Fight With Cottrell' (incredibly dramatic music for a saloon fight) which features some quite virtuosic parts for the brass players, and the rhytmically interesting 'Matamoras Street Fight'. South Of St Louis also features some typical Steiner comical writing, as in the 'Tote That Bale!'.
Cloak And Dagger, the war movie directed by Fritz Lang and starring Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer, opens the second disc with a brief two minute overture fairly much typical for its composer. But the rest of the music on the second disc, the suite from Distant Drums - an adventure set in 1840 Florida and starring Gary Cooper. This is sort of a Western score with Eastern influences. Featuring almost 50 minutes of music, the suite presents a strong and engaging score with a lot of the kind of writing John Williams' wanted to return to when he scored the Indiana Jones films in the 80's. The heroic theme for Cooper's character, Quincy Wyatt, is very triumphant and distinct, while the atmospheric music is foreboding and ominous. And the action cues, especially 'Escape', features a lot of effective and scherzo-like string writing. While Distant Drums is not an epic score per se, it has a lot of thematic writing and dynamic scoring. It's a very entertaining score.
It's not only the music in itself that makes this double CD such a winner. The 32 page full colour booklet features some of the most comprehensive liner notes I've ever seen. The track-by-track analysis makes the listening experience even more interesting as you can follow the storylines as you listen.
Also, the digital restoration made here by Ray Faiola - who also made a superb job on the recent Tiomkin disc Lost Horizon, is extremely good. Although there are some distortion here and there (which, of course, is on the original tapes and impossible to get rid off), the mono sound here is very, very well balanced.
As you can see, I highly recommend this double CD to anyone interested in film music.