by Alan Hamer

It had been many years since an invitation to attend a recording session for a classic film score had come my way, but come it did last October: to Bratislava in Slovakia no less, with the promise of a major Rózsa project. Of course, I still remember vividly (who wouldn’t?) those wonderful, heady London scoring sessions of the 1970s; it was exactly thirty years since I’d witnessed the BEN-HUR re-creation for Decca; this time the city and the language were different, and the orchestra and conductor were new to me. It had long been a dream of fellow Rózsa enthusiast Paul Talkington, to have another classic score re-recorded in its entirety, and the chance came along when master soundtrack entrepreneur, Douglass Fake of Intrada agreed to join forces with him. He had long hoped to continue his excellent Excalibur series, which had already included two valuable scores by Miklós Rózsa. So, here was his chance; the opportunity was now presented to finally record the disc he had planned as a follow-up to JULIUS CĆSAR, but not achieved at that time: the notable 1945 Oscar-winning score SPELLBOUND.

And so it was that on the 21st November, 2006, Doug, Paul, Roger Feigelson (of Intrada), Rózsa expert Daniel Robbins, conductor Allan Wilson, and this writer assembled at the Slovak Radio headquarters for the first of five four-hour sessions planned for that week. The Orchestra of the Slovak Radio has been used frequently—and highly successfully—for recordings of all sorts, including classical, film soundtracks, and lighter music (of the Robert Farnon variety), especially on the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. Their versatility can be compared favourably with that of the BBC Concert Orchestra, amongst others. The 500-seat Concert Hall within the Radio building, which is used for these recordings, is large and has an imposing array of organ pipes along the back wall. The orchestra were taking their places on stage as we arrived just before nine o’clock. Allan Wilson mounted the podium promptly to rehearse the Main Title, together with a special fanfare that Rózsa had originally composed to precede the titles, but which was ultimately replaced by the familiar Selznick musical signature, composed by Alfred Newman.

Allan Wilson is an experienced conductor and orchestrator; he wasted no time in establishing a very friendly yet firm rapport with his musicians. They in turn seemed to quickly understand the Rózsa idiom and unique style of writing. Two harpists were needed for around a half of the sequences, along with four horns, timpani, and three percussion.

Two sessions were scheduled for that first long day—four hours per session as opposed to three in the U.K. and U.S. By the close of the first session there had been such an evidently positive enthusiasm by the orchestra under Wilson that everyone was confident—even at this early stage—that it was likely to be a very fine disc indeed. Doug had special praise for recording engineer Peter Fuchs, who had been flown in from Germany, and felt he was a huge asset to the sessions for his talent of capturing the close-mike detail beautifully. One problem that did become apparent was the less-than-perfect state of some of the orchestral parts. These were not always legible, resulting in frequent queries from individual players as to what notes were actually written. All these had to be translated into English in order for Allan, Dan, or Doug to answer to the best of their abilities! Dan, a veteran of the previous Excalibur sessions, stayed mostly in the control booth to resolve textual difficulties in his own unarguably effective way. This was in contrast with Christopher Palmer, who in former times used to patrol the stage scouting for just such problems. Nearly fifty years had passed since the last extensive recording of this music (by Ray Heindorf conducting the Warner Brothers Orchestra), but evidence of usage of the parts at that time could sometimes be seen in key sequences like “The Razor” or “Terror on the Ski Run”. Crossouts, deletions, or attempts to adapt the score were occasionally apparent, much to the consternation of the conductor, who was challenged by having to work not from a full score, apparently unavailable, but from a piano reduction.

The next three sessions took place over the rest of the week and progressed at times slowly but surely with such previously unknown sections as “The Impostor,” “The Penn Station,” “Honeymoon at Brulov’s,” “Train to Gabriel Valley,” and “The Revolver,” which will be highlights of the disc. Some forty sequences in all were recorded. The theremin was to be recorded later (January) in the U.K. and overdubbed onto the edited tracks. Doug was pleased to admit later that he felt much had been achieved at these sessions and spoke of Wilson as a sensitive and persuasive conductor who communicates so well with the players. I am sure he is right. This recording will surely make for a very apt and fitting tribute in time for the Rózsa Centenary in April. It will also mark sixty years since the score won its well-deserved Academy Award. So, a most worthy addition to Mr. Fake’s growing Intrada discography, and especially the famed Excalibur series. Long may it prosper! SPELLBOUND, complete at last.
View Spellbound sessions photos
1 Allan Wilson (conductor) with Douglas Fake & Roger Fiegelson.
2 The Slovak Radio building
3 Day 1, The Orchestra on the recording stage
4 Alan Hamer and Allan Wilson
5 End of Day 1 sessions
6 Peter Fuchs (recording engineer)
7 Daniel Robbins and Douglas Fake
8 Group photo: Roger Feigelson, Doug Fake,Andrew Knowles, Peter Fuchs, Paul Talkington,Allan Wilson, Alan Hamer and Daniel Robbins

Available from Intrada. Also available as an MP3 download.

Spellbound in Slovakia

by Daniel Robbins

As the sole prodigy of the late Hungarian/American composer Miklos Rozsa, I was approached by Intrada CDs to restore and reconstruct his score to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic motion picture Spellbound. This new rendition is a definitive representation of the entire seventy minutes of music, including portions deleted from the film and heard now for the first time. The first order of business in the restorative process was to fly to Intrada’s office in Oakland, California, where a roomful of Spellbound music had been sent from the David O. Selznick Archive at the University of Texas, Austin. My initial task was to sort through boxes of loose pages, separating previous record album and concerto versions of the music from the specific soundtrack material to be recorded. Then with the aid of only a short piano/conductor score, thorough familiarity with Rozsa’s Spellbound music, and a keen musical ear, I was to determine which instrumental parts were missing. It was also necessary to decide where the missing instruments played and what their exact notes were before new orchestra parts could be made for the Intrada recording. For example, if listening to the actual movie soundtrack revealed the sound of a xylophone and no music survived, I referred to the piano/conductor score to decipher what the original xylophonist played. However, the music tracks of the film were recorded in 1940s monophonic low fidelity obscured by sound effects and dialogue. Also, although the piano/conductor score represented complete orchestrations, it did not consistently indicate which notes were allotted to specific instruments. One scene entitled “The Picnic” had no surviving orchestral parts whatsoever. Arduously cross-referencing the movie audio tracks with instrumental indications in the piano/conductor score enabled me to authentically rebuild the original orchestration in its entirety. At this point, invaluable assistance came from esteemed conductor William Stromberg, valiantly stepping forward to generate a full conductor's score and complete set of parts for the entire piece within 2 days. Most of the reconstruction had to be finished in two weeks to meet the recording deadline in mid-November. The sessions were at the Slovak Radio Concert Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia and featured the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by the excellent British film and television conductor Allan Wilson. The theremin, an electronic instrument first used cinematically in Spellbound, was recorded separately in England to be dubbed at a later date. Intrada considered my presence at the Bratislava recording sessions essential for overseeing interpretive aspects of the music and for providing any remaining reconstructive orchestration. The entire week’s venture was the essence of creative exhilaration for everyone involved. Mr. Wilson, Intrada’s executive producer Douglass Fake, and I worked with the orchestra on expressive details of the music; my restoring additional orchestration often meant ambitiously copying out parts both at the sessions and in my hotel room into early morning hours; most importantly, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra performed in a style marvelously reminiscent of the studio orchestras of Hollywood’s Golden Era, while maestro Wilson elicited from the players the dramatic verve and emotional fervor of Rozsa’s original soundtrack recording of Spellbound. My other collaborations with Intrada focusing on the music of Miklos Rozsa include: orchestral reconstructions of the complete scores to MGM’s Ivanhoe and Julius Caesar, both recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bruce Broughton; and Film Music for Piano, a multi-disc compendium of my performances of orginal piano transcriptions of select Rozsa film scores. In 2005 Telarc issued my symphonic suites from Miklos Rozsa’s Ben-Hur and King of Kings performed by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The current Spellbound recording was released by Intrada in late April.