SUMMER AND SMOKE: Composer: ELMER BERNSTEIN Orchestrations: Leo Shuken, Jack Hayes – BMG reissue of RCA VICTOR

LP, 12 tracks (stereo) - Highest Rating Producer: Dick Peirce Performed: Paramount Studio Orchestra , Conductor: Elmer Bernstein by Ross Care As a film composer the prolific Elmer Bernstein went through more “periods” than Picasso. He may be best known for his jazz and western scores, so it’s sometimes overlooked that during the 1950s and ‘60s Bernstein scored some of the most prestigious projects in Hollywood. Among these were scores for a number of literary and Broadway adaptations, including the 1961 film of Tennessee Williams’ Broadway drama, Summer and Smoke. The American playwright’s works inspired a number of film scores during this era, notably Alex North’s landmark A Streetcar Named Desire in 1951. While in a different musical mode Bernstein’s Summer and Smoke emphatically ranks with North’s Streetcar as a definitive musical evocation of the unique Williams mythos. Summer is Williams’ only period play, set in a small delta town in WWI era Mississippi, and deals with the conflicted relationship between Alma, a repressed minister’s daughter, and Johnny, the bad boy next door. Thus Bernstein is dealing with both the period background and the sacred/profane conflict that is the core of script and screenplay. The period (and emotional) setting precludes the use of jazz techniques, resulting in (aside from solo guitar interludes) a purely orchestral mode, primarily for strings, varied woodwinds, and harp. The period mode does not, however, limit Bernstein, and the modern sensibility of the play is suggested in the score’s sometimes Bartokian embellishments (“Summer Thoughts”, suggestive of parts of the Elegia movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra), and the quirky treatment of traditional waltz rhythms. (“Two Lonely Women,” “Alma’s Dilemma”) The spiritual/sensual dichotomy is immediately announced (as in Bernstein’s Desire Under the Elms) in the Main Title’s severe chordal introduction to the swirlingly romantic main theme, the latter also providing material for much of the score. On a broader scale the same idea is contrasted by the Alma/John orchestral cues vs. the subtly erotic guitar tracks for John’s dalliance with a seductive Latina (“Rosa,” “Rosa’s Dance”). The 1999 BMG release is an exact reissue of the original RCA Victor LP. It features much, though not all of the music in the film, but is a beautifully recorded Living Stereo representation of the score as a whole. (One of the most attractive cues is a full version of the lilting, yet bittersweet “Glorious Hill Waltz” which is only heard as background source music in the film). The subtle delicacy and detail of the orchestrations were made for CD, though my copy is plagued by an annoying hum on some of the quieter passages. In the original LP notes Bernstein himself describes his score: “… we hear the music of loneliness, the sounds of our secret thoughts, whispers of our hidden desires and unspoken hopes, in a musical mystique suggesting at times foreverness and eternity.” I personally consider this Bernstein’s masterpiece, and the film, directed by Peter Glenville who directed the London stage production, is certainly one of the composer’s best. Note: Since this RCA reissue a complete CD of the score has been issued in a limited edition on Bruce Kimmel’s Kritzerland. It includes all the film cues, bonus tracks of the band music, and several of the RCA tracks, a total of 26 tracks, and is one of the greatest and most welcome of a recent spate of complete film score restoration.

For a more detailed discussion of Summer and Smoke please see my tribute to Bernstein’s classic scores in Film Score Monthly, Volume 9, Issue 9: “By Film Possessed - From mere table scraps to the top films of the era, Bernstein saw it all in his first decade of composing music for film” http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/backissues/issue_detail.cfm?issID=105

Ross Care

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful