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Peyton Place CD Review

by James Southall


Peyton Place **** 1/2

Franz Waxman

Varese Sarabande 302 066 070 2

18 tracks - 50:10

Franz Waxman's scores show a great variety from one to another, perhaps more so than those by any other Golden Age composer. The ability to leap between projects that were seemingly miles apart was not a skill unique to Waxman -- but to write scores for them that also seemed miles apart may have been. Waxman's sweeping, beautiful score for Peyton Place is about as far removed from something like Prince Valiant or The Spirit of St. Louis as you can get, even though they were written in roughly the same period.

While the film itself may now seem dated, Waxman's score for Peyton Place is as vital and beautiful today as it ever was. Perhaps it has aged so well because it wasn't necessarily composed with the sensibilities of most scores of the time: Rather than writing music that rigorously reflected the on-screen action, Waxman wrote a score that plays more as a tone poem, reflecting the events in broad, colorful dramatic strokes. This concept is more in keeping with the European film composers who would follow him a decade or so down the line.

Waxman's themes for Peyton Place are instantly attractive; needless to say, many of them are played by violins straining to reach their upper registers, with the subtlest homophonic horns as accompaniment. But despite being lush and beautiful, this music never comes across as even vaguely sentimental or melodramatic -- this is where Waxman exceeds the norm. An extended cue like the seven-minute "Hilltop Scene" doesn't once descend into cheap soppiness, retaining an air of dignity and charm throughout. The more intense parts of the story receive appropriately dramatic cues: "The Rape" and "Chase in the Woods," for example, are heartbreaking despite their brutality; the contrast with "Summer Montage," the cue that falls between them, heightens their impact yet further.

This new recording, with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra led by Edwin Paling and conducted by film composer Frederic Talgorn, is excellent. Producer Robert Townson's preferred concert hall-style recording technique has attracted criticism to his other albums, but it undeniably works beautifully with Peyton Place; the lush, sweeping music flows around the listener just as a score like this one should. As an additional bonus, this recording marks the first time that the entire score has ever been available, including four cues (totaling about ten minutes) that have never before been released.

It is difficult to understate the beauty inherent in pieces like "After School" and "Swimming Scene," and as such, Peyton Place comes highly-recommended. Waxman is not one of the better-represented Golden Age composers, so this album will hopefully generate his work more attention amongst younger film music fans. It's a wonderful score, given full justice by this terrific recording. -- James Southall

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