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Album running time

1: Prelude (3:51)
2: Paramount Studio (:55)
3: Chase and Masion (3:42)
4: Norma Desmond (2:18)
5: An Aging Actress (:54)
6: Reading the Script (2:34)
7: The Strange Garden (1:56)
8: Norma's Gallery (1:24)
9: The Waxworks and the Bridge Game (1:44)
10: Afternoon Outings (1:00)
11: Sacrifice of Self-Respect (4:07)
12: The Old Bathing Beauty (2:29)
13: Parading to Paramount (:55)
14: Old Friends (1:27)
15: DeMille's Compassion (:42)
16: Norma's Suspicions (3:55)
17: A New Interest and the Studio Stroll (5:08)
18: Her First Husband (2:56)
19: The Showdown (4:14)
20: Farewell (1:56)
21: Joe Walks Out (5:22)
22: The Corpse (1:11)
23: The Comeback (4:24)
24: Sunset Boulevard Cast (:31)
25: Prelude and Conversing Corpses (9:01)

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Artwork copyright (c) 2002 Masters Film Music; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall

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Great new reading of Waxman classic

Unlike his contemporaries Alfred Newman, Bernard Herrmann, Miklós Rózsa and to an extent Alex North, there is an enormous amount of Franz Waxman's film music yet to be released on compact disc. By my reckoning less than 10% of the films he scored have generated an album compared with around two-thirds for say Herrmann. It seems incredible, but until this release, neither of his two Oscar-winning efforts (which are Sunset Boulevard and A Place in the Sun, won back-to-back in 1950 and 1951) were available on CD. Given his talent and his ongoing popularity among older listeners as being very much part of the film music elite from the Golden Age, it seems all the more surprising.

Two labels are attempting to redress the balance, and it's hardly surprising that they are Film Score Monthly and Varèse Sarabande. Varèse's Robert Townson's passion for Waxman's music is well-known, and he has re-recorded several of his scores in the recent past, with such fine recordings as Peyton Place and Rebecca now joined by Sunset Boulevard. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Waxman's son John is so keen for his father's music to be preserved, and is onhand to provide manuscripts where necessary to enable re-recording.

The score is an object of some mystery to just about anyone who hasn't seen Billy Wilder's classic film (turned into a Broadway musical almost half a century later by Andrew Lloyd-Webber) despite the film's legendary status and the score having won an Oscar. It's light at times and very dramatic at others, but never with a heavy hand. In fact it's Waxman's deftness of touch that most shines through: the beauty of a cue like "A New Interest and the Studio Stroll" shows that Waxman had an urge for subtlety in film music far before it became de rigeur (which I suppose is somewhat ironic, considering he was among the pioneers of the larger-than-life music used in film in its earliest days, with The Bride of Frankenstein).

Of particular interest is the unearthing of Waxman's music for the film's unused prologue, which hadn't been heard since it was first recorded in 1949. As Townson notes in his introduction to the album's booklet, ironically it is arguably the standout cue of the entire score, blending classic Golden Age drama with truly beautiful romance and a gorgeous piano theme.

This recording was made in early 2002 in Glasgow, with Joel McNeely conducting the RSNO. The now-customary recording aesthetic of concert-hall acoustics will likely generate the usual split reaction, but as usual I think it's a good thing and makes the score a very pleasant listen. The booklet features the previously-mentioned introduction by Townson plus a tribute from Billy Wilder to the composer (originally written over a decade ago, and now used as a replacement for an original note to have been written by the director before his death last year) along with an essay by Christopher Husted, which is a beautifully-written account of Waxman's career around the late 40s and early 50sbut reveals little about the actual process of scoring the film.

All in all, this is a great recording of a great Golden Age score and comes highly recommended.

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