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A Place in the Sun
  • Composed by Franz Waxman
  • Kritzerland / 2013 / 51m

Often included in people’s lists of the greatest Hollywood films ever made, A Place in the Sun was based on Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy.  It was actually the second film version of the novel (the first was not successful); the great George Stevens was in the director’s chair.  Montgomery Clift stars as a drifter who dates lowly co-worker Shelley Winters, gets her pregnant and then falls for high-society girl Elizabeth Taylor (making her film début in an adult role), leaving him making a terrible decision about what to do with Winters.  It went on to win six Oscars, including one for Franz Waxman for his perfect score (it was his second consecutive Oscar, having won the year before for Sunset Boulevard).

Incredibly, Kritzerland’s 2013 album marks the first time the original recording of Waxman’s classic score has been officially released in any form.  It opens with a wonderfully dramatic Prelude, lush strings leaving no doubt whatsoever that this is a vintage piece of music from the Golden Age of film.  Bustling and fast-paced, infused with a romantic swagger, it serves as a marvellous introduction.  “The First Mile” follows this with an intensely dramatic passage of music, the strings providing great momentum under first a gorgeous violin solo before brass and winds combine to provide an energetic, exciting atmosphere; then in the second half of the cue, romance gently takes over, the exquisite main theme being heard for the first time.

Franz Waxman

Franz Waxman

This theme is then explored at great length by Waxman through his score.  “Love’s Meeting” is arguably the most gorgeous piece of all – the strings providing a sense of romance that simply melts out through the speakers.  There is a brief figure in the middle of the theme that is heart-meltingly, jaw-droppingly exquisite.  The cue is followed immediately by “Dance and Angela”, where the same theme is heard in a completely different guise, here presented like what the BBC would have called “light music” back in the day, subtle percussion accompaniment creating a very easy feel.

Waxman, as ever, conveys a wealth of feeling through his music – the sinister undertone of “Evil Plans” is unmistakable despite the deceptively lush melody being heard (that same theme again, but – his skill as a musical dramatist always marked him out as one of the true greats.  In “Loon Lake”, an ever-growing sense of tragedy envelops the listener before resolving itself gloriously as a fresh theme swoops and swoons upwards.  “To the Lake” is very dark, ominous little phrases darting about the orchestra’s lower registers as Waxman builds a huge amount of tension, taken even further in “Buildup to Murder”, here colourful wind phrases sounding almost like birdsong contrasting against the general darkness.  The six-minute, two-part “The Drowning” sees a profound sadness take over, alternating with the crushing drama.  “Farewell and Frenzy” is one of the most spectacular cues, an ever-more-frantic piece which builds to a breathlessly exciting, spectacular climax, immediately followed by the melodrama of “Angela Collapses” and then the black-as-coal “Witness Montage”, in which the composer creates an almost macabre air as the full extent of the horrors are revealed.  The finale, “The Last Mile”, continues along similar lines before reaching its crushing conclusion, hints of the main theme which was so exquisite earlier on now being heard with great tragedy.

Because Paramount delayed the release of the film for a year, Stevens had ample time to perfect it and re-edited some scenes after Waxman had already recorded his score; he wasn’t available to adapt his music so this was done by Daniele Amfitheatrof and Victor Young, their contributions all being based on Waxman’s material.  The album presents a couple of versions of several of the cues, with a healthy selection of bonus tracks including a few where the sound quality – which is remarkable through the main programme considering the music was recorded 62 years ago – dips slightly.  This is a wonderful album, presenting what many consider to be Waxman’s masterpiece in a stunning light – he was one of the finest film composers and this is certainly one of his very finest scores; anyone who likes Golden Age film music must consider it to be an essential purchase.

Rating: *****

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  1. Craig Richard Lysy (Reply) on Friday 2 August, 2013 at 15:15

    Completely agree James. The release of this gem almost made me cry – it was long over due! Thanks for the review.

    All the best!