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Surveying Rare Concert Works from Hollywood's Golden Age Composers

The Golden Age of Hollywood: Concert Works for Violin and Piano Patrick Savage, violin. Martin Cousin, piano. Quartz QTZ 2156 Total Time:  62:36 Recording:   ****/****

Performance: ****/****

The composers who raised the bar of Hollywood film music in its “Golden Age” brought with them the latest innovative musical ideas of Europe.  On this new Quartz disc, listeners have a chance to hear these more concert-like expressions by seven composers each with their own distinctive musical voices.  In so doing, violinist Patrick Savage, accompanied by Martin Cousin, provide an excellent way to sample these styles.


The album opens with Korngold’s four-movement suite from his stage music for Much Ado About Nothing (Op. 11).  An orchestral suite from the incidental music was performed in 1920 with the violin-piano set following soon after.  In it one can hear Korngold carrying on the post-Romantic style of the time with its chromatic writing.  The gorgeous “Garden Scene” movement is a quite moving piece in the midst of semi-lighter, folkish flair.  Max Reinhardt, who produced this earlier staged version, would later invite Korngold to provide the score for his filmed version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1934) thus launching the composer’s Warner Brothers career. 


Waxman’s Four Scenes of Childhood (1948) was written for the great Jascha Heifetz.  Heifetz’s gorgeous extended register playing is on display in the lyrical opening movement.  Waxman was more able to establish a concert career as a conductor and was instrumental in programming many of the émigré composers through his establishment of the Los Angeles Music Festival.  This rare little work was never recorded by Heifetz.  Savage makes a great case for the piece with beautiful lyrical poise in the slower moments and a fine sense of playfulness in the center.  The finale is also a rather fascinating work paralleling some of Waxman’s other dream music sequences.


Heifetz would premiere the third work on this program, Robert Russell Bennett’s Hexapoda: 5 Studies in Jitteroptera (1940).  Bennett is most remembered for his years as a Broadway orchestrator and adaptor of musicals for Hollywood.  However, he also wrote a variety of concert pieces and this little work exhibits the incorporation of swing music styles popular at the time.  The title references the popular jitterbug swing style which comes across well in the music.


Among the composers here, American-born Heinz Roemheld (1901-1985) is perhaps the least known though his film composing career lasted across three decades (1930s-1950s).  Lovers of B-movies during this period will no doubt have heard some of his work which often went uncredited on screen.  Perhaps his most “heard” score would be for 1933’s The Invisible Man.  He would also share an Oscar with Ray Heindorf for their adaptation of Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943).  His Sonatina (1950) is a rather delightful discovery with its Les Six modernist approach to harmony and its jazz-influenced rhythms that appear prominently in the opening movement.  A beautiful central movement, which has a plaintive quality, then gives way to a moto perpetuo finale and references back to the earlier two movements.


The final works on the release are all single-movement pieces.  First up is Jerome Moross’ Recitative and Aria (1941).  The work fits in with the shifts toward Americana writing that was beginning to appear in music at that time (championed by Copland) but still lands more within a modernist style.  Aspects of the lyrical theme are a foretaste perhaps of what Moross would explore more fully in his music for The Big Country (1958).  The last two pieces are equally interesting discoveries both composed in 1929!  Bernard Herrmann’s Pastorale (Twilight) shows a slight kinship with Impressionist style but already has some Herrmann-esque harmonic ideas.  Miklos Rozsa’s Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song, Op. 4 are a fitting conclusion and here we are in that early 20th-Century exploration of Hungarian music heard in contemporaries Bartok and Kodaly. 


Most importantly, the performances here are stylistically informed for each work.  One can hear the subtle contemporary aesthetic approaches that were distinct for the musical language of each of these composers.  Thus it provides a fascinating glimpse into the musical creativity with some quite engaging chamber music.  The sonic quality of the album is also excellent with a forward presence of the violin and a warm acoustic that help provide just the right touch of ambience.  For film music fans of this era, these are important pieces worth exploring to gain a broader picture of these great composers of the 20th Century.


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