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Steiner: King Kong.

Steiner: King Kong. William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557799.

When some of us think of the original 1933 movie "King Kong," it's of the gigantic gates that lead into the big ape's domain or the titanic struggle between the two giant dinosaurs or, heck, even Kong himself standing in chains on a Broadway stage. But I wonder how many of us remember the music, without which the whole affair would have been a mere shadow of itself.

Max Steiner is generally credited with having invented film music. He always shrugged it off, saying it was an idea originated with Richard Wagner. Well, Wagner may have championed the idea of musical motifs, but in the early 30s, film music was in its infancy. Sound had only just been added to movies a few years earlier, and filmmakers were anxious to find as much music as they could. Steiner's score for "Kong" was among the first (often cited as THE first) full-length scores with musical cues to underline specific segments of the story.

Steiner would go on to write many more classic film scores for things like "Gone With the Wind," "Now Voyager," "The Charge of the Light Brigade," "The Fountainhead," "The Big Sleep," The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," and "The Searchers." But it all started with "Kong."

Marco Polo gave us Steiner's complete film score for the movie in their 1996 recording, with the music reconstructed and restored by John Morgan, at which time I duly noted it in our pages. Now, movie buffs, monster-movie fans, and fanciers of film scores in general should be pleased that the same recording is offered at a bargain price on the parent Naxos budget label. If the higher price put you off before, here's your second chance.

In the accompanying booklet notes, John Morgan tells us that this recording "is not a recreation of the 1933 music tracks, but a musical performance of the complete score as Steiner's original sketches dictated. When we noted differences in the soundtrack as compared to the original sketches (whether added or subtracted bars, repeated phrases, or instrumentation additions or deletions), we first tried to determine why these changes were made." The results are more than welcome.

The newly reconstructed musical score is a little over seventy-two minutes long. Considering that the entire film is only about 103 minutes, this means we are getting practically everything musical composed for the picture and more. Not that all of the music is exceptional, but it is thoroughly entertaining, whether or not one remembers the specific cues in the film. And it's one of those film scores that gets better as it goes along, with "Hey, Look Out! It's Kong. Kong's Coming" and the "King Kong March" among the better items near the end. Steiner does a terrific job evoking atmosphere and even imitating real-life sounds with his orchestra. "The Sea at Night," for instance, and "Cryptic Shadows" create wonderfully flavorful moods, and "Aeroplanes" sounds for all the world like real planes. OK, some of it also gets a bit repetitious and maybe even redundant, but that's film music for you.

The sonics are about the same as on the older disc, not entirely transparent but natural. The whole affair sounds like a genuine orchestra playing, not a multi-megabuck hi-fi system. I was especially impressed by the miking distance, which was just close enough for moderate detail yet not distant enough to sound muffled. Depth perception is also good, along with left-to-right orchestral balance (although to my ears the sound field favors the left side too much). The sonics also have a nice, ambient bloom to them, a quality that will delight those who attend live music regularly and will annoy those who expect absolute audio purity. However, I have to admit I enjoy the sound of this same orchestra, the Moscow Symphony, recorded a tad closer, as they are on the Marco Polo disc of music from Steiner's "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," one of the best film recordings ever. And the overall sound level on "Kong" is slightly lower than it is on later recordings from this same source, so crank it up and enjoy.
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jul 1, 2005
Words:698
Previous Article:Johann Strauss I, vol. 5.
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