GLASGOW SESSIONS; THE RED HOUSE DELIGHTFULLY RECREATED
It sounded exceptionally uncommon: a visit to the remarkable Scottish city of Glasgow to witness a recording of one of Miklós Rózsa’s neglected scores from the ‘forties; but this was the invitation I received, an offer I literally was quite loathe to try and refuse, and so I didn’t. It was made by the ever enterprising Paul Talkington towards the end of 2010 along with rather scant details that an American composer, one Kevin Kaska, was not just a huge fan of Rozsa’s THE RED HOUSE (RH) score from 1947, but had also lovingly reconstructed and orchestrated the complete score in order that a recording of this, plus other Rozsa suites (and some of his own music) might take place. This seemed such a worthy project that my spirits rose in great anticipation as to what could result from such a possibly imaginative musical canvass as this one he had envisaged.
Most listeners - like myself – knew this score from the short suites recorded by both the composer on Capitol and Charles Gerhardt famously as part of his “Classic Film Scores” series from the ‘seventies on RCA (BMG). Interestingly, it was this latter performance that took the fancy of Kaska some years earlier, and he later admitted to me that this was the score by Rozsa that he truly respected the most, the one he knew that someday he wanted to get to know even better and hopefully be able to record. The film is rarely shown on TV here in the UK, but a poor quality DVD is readily available which reveals a melodramatic thriller with passable performances, hard-to-understand dialogue and awful picture quality. However, from what one can deduce from the barely audible music soundtrack, the score belongs in the top drawer of the composer’s film score cabinet: a largely unknown masterwork from the midst of his darkest period of film noir encounters and better known gangster movies. Like those, RH also has many light-touched, pastoral episodes to contrast with the ugliness of much of the action.
The sessions were eventually set for the third week of January 2011, with the famed Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Allan Wilson’s direction, and experienced Phil Rowlands as the recording engineer. Appropriately, Kevin Kaska had flown in to produce and oversee the sessions, and was accompanied by the great Hollywood keyboard player, Mike Lang, who it was also a delight to meet. Mike has played many top film and TV sessions, including many with Jerry Goldsmith scores. He would be featured in some of the scores recorded here, and so his presence was most welcome. The organiser, Paul Talkington and Kevin’s photographer, Michael Agganis made up a splendid team to ensure these important sessions went ahead in a positive and also friendly way. Most of us decided to get together over dinner on the evening before the first day of recording, which we did, and it turned into a lively forum for ideas and plans for the week ahead, liberally spiced with anecdotes mainly from Kevin and Mike; it resulted in a useful as well as a fun introductory meeting.
The venue used by this orchestra for recording mainly is the Henry Wood Hall, a medium sized, converted church hall with a stage for the orchestra and a raised seating auditorium from where one could have a fine vantage setting to watch and listen to the music clearly. Beneath the seating and buried underground was a maze of corridors, some leading to the basement control room, where cameras spied on to the stage with the players and conductor visible and audible by way of mikes and a direct telephone to ensure that producer and conductor could be constantly in touch regarding any note errors, tempi changes or other multiple suggestions to improve or even correct the scores. Kevin turned out to be a confident and caring producer, most keen and particular over what results he required. RH and the other Rozsa scores planned seemed very close to his heart and mind, and he came across as extremely competent for this recording project. He used a hand held metronome which he often compared with tempi from the original scores; these he referred to regularly on his computer screen, as well as frequently conferring with both conductor and Phil Rowlands when needed. Phil had worked on the Lawrence Power/Hyperion disc including Rózsa’s Viola Concerto in Bergen a year or so earlier, and was favourably familiar with his works and style.
So it was that at 10.00hrs on the 18th January a rehearsal began of the RH Prelude, a sturdy and exciting opening to both film as well as proceedings here - swiftly followed by a playback and then the first recording began. Take followed take, track followed track at quick speed; “Morgan Farm”, “Screams in the Night”, “Attack in the Woods”, “The New Hired Hand”, “Teller shoots at Meg”, “Oxhead Wood Mystery”, “The Barn”; all these were in the can before lunch at 1.00 pm! There was a lot of music to be gone through as all of us who have the RH discs can confirm; it is a long score and a quite complex one, but the orchestra immediately picked up on the Rózsa idiom and thereafter pursued its cultivated complexities to perfection. There is superb music here, with subtle use of the theremin (over-dubbed later), and occasional chorus to highlight the horror of what “went on in the woods”. Day 1 afternoon sessions ended after eight more excerpts had been duly recorded successfully, culminating in “Pete’s Death and End Title”.
Mike Lang is the kind of player who is worth hearing whatever the surroundings, as here, as part of the orchestra, in a smaller ensemble, or even just as a solo player. These talents can be fully appreciated for example on Goldsmith’s score to THE EDGE (1997) and many others. Here, his talent was frequently perceivable, tremendous technical assurance much in evidence, not just in terms of sheer facility but in the ability to bring his own voice to enhance the music being recorded. He is a most affable and gifted person, and his presence here, playing both piano and celeste, was to our great advantage. At one point during the cue, “Ellen goes to the Woods”. Kevin had cause to advise him that the celeste was a bit behind, to which Mike said, “I don’t have time to cross over!” …(from the piano to the celeste). Kevin thought for a moment, then quickly told him that he would cut the first two bars of celeste, which he did to solve the problem. This type of thinking fast is invaluable, and was often necessary when I used to witness Chris Palmer assisting other composers out of “tight spots” - maybe caused by copying mistakes on orchestral parts and similar problems, all needing to be quickly solved to avoid wasting costly session time. Many RSNO players were enthusiastic enough to ask if they could redo some small section of their parts as they weren’t too happy on playback with their own performances!
The whole of the Tuesday and much of Wednesday were spent on RH, and then around 3.10 – after 188 RH takes – our attention turned to THE MAN IN HALF MOON STREET which was the next score planned. A fairly long suite had been assembled from this dark, horror-filled film from Paramount (1944), in which a scientist hopes to prolong the aging process in a similar fashion as in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (MGM, 1945); again the cues had been orchestrated by Kevin. The first cue recorded was the Prelude, followed by “Ghostly Prologue”, and after recording the next sequence, “The Laboratory” Allan asked whether it had been a bit too slow, to which Kevin quickly responded, “We can speed it up on Pro Tools …..let us move on.” So there was something else new I learned about the modern processes of such recordings in the 21st century digital age! Seven cues altogether were chosen, and in the “Love Theme” Mike had a chance to improvise quite delightfully in a solo arrangement of this charming theme d’amour, contrasting starkly with the rest of the brooding score. Only the Waltz cue Rózsa had written was as delightfully simple; maybe less memorable than the waltz from LYDIA, written two years earlier, this was another early example of a long line of effective film waltzes that were to come from his pen along the way.
Conductor Allan Wilson had long admired the score for JACARE (1942) and had orchestrated a three minute “Prelude” from this colourful score, which was recorded next. Four takes were necessary before he and Kevin were happy; the result is a most worthy addition from a long lost film and score, a sort of “Son of Jungle Book” in terms of musical animal mimicry; an exotic and cleverly written recreation of the sounds of the (in this case) Amazonian jungle life. Allan’s vignette is really well done and a most rewarding effort. It would be marvellous if Allan continues to work on more from this neglected movie score as he hopes to. The second day finished with a run through of a suite from THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, the next on the play list which had to be taken up on the Thursday for final recording. This ten minute suite consisted of a Prelude, “Love” part 1, and “Love” part 2; in any event, it sounded exactly right to me, put together from the score as orchestrated by Eugene Zador, his long term collaborator for thirty years. Also completed on the third day was Christopher Palmer’s suite as arranged from SAHARA, by a coincidence having also appeared recently on a later-recorded disc from Chandos Records, with another UK orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic. In Allan’s hands it had the enormous potential attraction of being more grandly played, adding a degree of war-time “stiff upper lip” which I feel will appeal to many.
The other selection which will appear on the CD was a four minute "Overture” from the 1955 score to MGM’s VALLEY OF THE KINGS, a bright and breezy adventure set in Egypt, for which Rózsa wrote a suitably Arabic sounding score, plus a passionate love theme for Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker, and this arrangement was orchestrated by Daniel Robbins who has helped considerably in other recreations of Rózsa’s scores. Having studied with him for some time, he had also worked on earlier Intrada recordings in the Excalibur Collection and can be considered an expert on the composer’s music. His arrangement here was effectively crafted to include most of the main themes of the score; and thus, after take 277, the Rózsa sessions were completed by lunchtime on the third day. In the afternoon Kevin’s own brilliant scores took centre stage, and although there was much to enjoy and comment about them, this must wait for further discussion on another occasion.
Like most UK orchestras there is a strong
union element always present to look after their interests and ensure sessions
do not over-run, etc. This was well in evidence here and there were one or two
occasions when the union representative had to flex his muscles to ensure the
session ended on time. It is a sad fact that such people do not understand the
phrase common sense flexibility, but there you are. Overall, however, there was
a great feeling of congeniality and mutual respect of all involved with this
project, from the conductor, producer and engineer to all the musicians and technicians. It had
been a wonderful experience to just be there to witness such a joyous few days
of recording some of Rózsa’s seldom heard, yet remarkable film scores, in the
company of really talented musicians. Bonnie Scotland seldom seemed as bonnie as
on this occasion ...but sadly I had to take my leave and return to England by train that night, therefore some quick photos and then final
farewells had to be completed.
The choral backings (with the Winchester Cathedral chamber choir no less), plus theremin and novachord over-dubbing were added subsequently back in the UK, and now happily all this glorious music has been released on Intrada CDs which undeniably are some of the most successful that have been produced, played and packaged in the ever-lengthening Rófzsa discography.
My thanks as always must go to all who made
me so welcome, especially ever ebullient Paul Talkington, without whose
enthusiasms such projects might never get off the ground; as well as
the uniquely-talented Allan Wilson and Kevin Kaska. It
was a real privilege to be there. And,
as President Thomas Jefferson once said, “Music furnishes a delightful
recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us
through life….” Well, this marvellously
recreated music by Miklós Rózsa, which we now have to enjoy, will provide the
perfect “delightful recreation”.
……….by Alan Hamer – April 2014……….