by Frank StrobelFrank Strobel


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This CD by Frank Strobel and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra may be the most important commercial soundtrack release of the last 70 years (which is about as long as soundtrack albums have existed). The music was composed by Gottfried Huppertz (1897-1937) in 1926 for Fritz Lang's fantasy/polemic epic Metropolis, and comprised one of the most ambitious film scores of the silent era; it also influenced a whole generation of composers who followed in Huppertz's footsteps in sound films, even as most of those who were from Germany trudged their way to Hollywood after Hitler's rise. Across the decades that followed, the movie Metropolis -- though heavily edited soon after its original release and later degraded from unauthorized printings and showings -- built a reputation as one of the grandest science fiction/fantasy movies of all time. Huppertz's music was mostly forgotten, except by scholars, and manipulating the movie's musical accompaniment became almost a game by producers -- Giorgio Moroder revived interest in the movie in the '80s among the MTV generation by grafting a rock soundtrack onto the film and issuing it as a first-run movie. But Huppertz's original work survived and played an essential role in the restoration of the movie to full-length, which was issued in 2010. The same method of working -- which, in contrast to the usual method for film composers, had Huppertz present for much of the actual shooting of the movie -- which allowed his notes to guide the film's restorers, also gave him an opportunity to write a magnificently deep, full body of music. He was formulating his work as he watched the shoot, and composing even before the film was edited, so that his score very much plunged inside of the film's action, the meaning, and the underlying content. It's no surprise that it wowed audiences in 1927, who felt they were getting far more than just "accompaniment" as they watched the movie unspool. And it's just as impressive in 2011, especially as presented here, in state-of-the-art audio by Strobel and company. Huppertz's work is very Wagnerian at times, but he also is clearly influenced by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Bruckner, and he incorporates jazz rhythms into appropriate places (mostly depicting the decadent Yoshiwara district). And while there are lush passages intended for 70-plus players, there are also small-scale chamber-like sections as well, and parts for solo organ. This is very much a product of Weimar Germany, as was the movie itself -- experimental and daring, and drawing freely from a multitude of creative streams. And apart from the other virtues of this CD, there is precious little music of that era available, much less with the depth and richness of an opera or a symphony. And one need not even know the movie to love the music, though hearing the music properly for the first time (a version of this score was promised in 2001 and never appeared), it may reintroduce the movie to yet another generation.

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