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BY LOVE POSSESSED
Beautiful drama score shows off Bernstein near his best
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2007 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2008 James Southall
It's not that rare that Intrada or Varese releases a score by a very famous film composer for a film I've never heard of, let alone seen, and By Love Possessed is another obscure gem rescued by the Varese Sarabande CD Club. I'm pretty surprised the film is so obscure, given it's directed by John Sturges (in between The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape) and stars Lana Turner. The liner notes for this album inform me that it centres "on the interlocked romantic, familial and ethical problems swirling around the three partners of a small New England law firm." It sounds like just the kind of talky film Bernstein was so good at - he and Alex North dominated quality film music for this type of film for a very long time.
The score survived only in the composer's personal archive, from which this album is drawn. At times lush and romantic, at others jazzy and occasionally downright steamy, it's one which was well worth saving. The opening title piece falls firmly into the first of those categories - sweeping, swooning and swirling as only Golden Age film music can, it's a romantic gem from the composer, and were it associated with a more famous film I'm sure it would be considered along with all his popular pieces. It would be a little hard to take if the whole score were so lush, but it isn't.
I have always thought that despite the brilliance of his more outlandish pieces, Bernstein was at his best when writing emotionally-direct music for a chamber ensemble, and one listen to the delicate, wafer-thin theme passed between winds which dominates much of this score shows just why. Heartbreakingly beautiful, vintage Bernstein, it's an absolute treat to hear it for the first time. There's an occasional piece of jazz too, and like much of Bernstein's music it is completely timeless - remarkably similar, in fact, to pieces he was still writing for films right up to the end of his life - and they worked just as well in 2001 as they had in 1961. By Love Possessed is like a precious gem uncovered for the first time, and comes highly recommended (though of course, it has sold out - after all, why should record companies make these things available for longer than a 12-hour window when they've been unreleased for the past 46 years? Bad luck if you got caught in traffic on your way home from work and missed it!)