RCA Victor expected the soundtrack album to 1965’s big-screen musical The Sound of Music to be a juggernaut. The label backed the release with a $100,000.00 promotional campaign, and arranged for tie-ins at locales including the New York World’s Fair. The release was joined on the label’s roster by other albums of the already-famous Rodgers and Hammerstein score in styles from jazz (Gary Burton’s The Groovy Sound of Music) to “easy listening” (The Living Strings’ Music from The Sound of Music). RCA’s investments paid off; the album starring Julie Andrews spent a staggering 233 weeks on the U.S. Billboard chart, becoming one of the biggest-selling albums in history (perhaps the biggest, the label claimed, despite the lack of “certified” sales in today’s parlance) even as the film became the highest-grossing movie of its day.
Naturally, The Sound of Music has been well-served in the compact disc era. Following standard reissues, the classic soundtrack has been expanded on CD at five-year intervals marking the film’s 30th, 35th, 40th and 45th anniversaries – with every release offering a unique program. Earlier this year, Legacy Recordings issued the 50th anniversary version with still another new presentation, even as the newest Blu-ray release included a bonus CD filled with tracks culled from various foreign-language releases. Continuing the celebration of timeless film and soundtrack, Razor and Tie’s new audiophile imprint Analog Spark has recently released two Sound of Music titles. The first is a pressing of Legacy’s 50th anniversary soundtrack on heavyweight LP. The second is a back-to-basics reissue of the original 1965 RCA Victor stereo soundtrack album with a twist – it’s in the high resolution Super Audio CD (SACD) format. This hybrid SACD (Analog Spark 7930183654-2) is playable on all CD players but those equipped for SACD will hear The Sound of Music in the best possible fidelity yet.
Revisiting The Sound of Music, at any age, is like revisiting an old friend. Librettists Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II first brought Maria Von Trapp’s uplifting story to the Broadway stage in 1959, where it won five Tony Awards. The cast album of the production starring Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, on Columbia Records, spent 276 (!) weeks on the Billboard chart. Though Rodgers and Hammerstein’s instantly-affecting score (the duo’s last, as Hammerstein died in August 1960) was altered for director Robert Wise’s film version, their songs such as “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” and Hammerstein’s final lyric “Edelweiss” all ingrained themselves in the American pop culture consciousness. So did the two new songs penned by Rodgers for the film version, the ebullient “I Have Confidence” and the romantic “Something Good.” The original RCA Victor album, produced by Neely Plumb, has never been out-of-print since 1965, a testament to the songs, of course, but also to musical director Irwin Kostal’s deft treatment of them. (Kostal had previously worked his magic on another Julie Andrews musical featuring her as a governess: Mary Poppins.)
Analog Spark’s reissue marks the first high-resolution version of The Sound of Music released in America. The soundtrack previously appeared, briefly, in 2003 on SACD from then-RCA parent BMG’s Hong Kong division. It presents the original 16-track soundtrack LP as prepared by Neely Plumb, though the credits indicate that this release has been mixed and mastered by Sean Brennan at Sony’s Battery Studios. Gus Skinas has authored the release for the SACD format. The 16 tracks include all of the film’s core songs, though not the additional material added to subsequent reissues (including orchestral score tracks, various reprises, the End Titles, etc.).
Happily, the sound quality is by and large as one would expect from the high-resolution SACD format. It’s well-defined, clean and present, with clear separation in the 2.0-channel stereo soundstage. Note that crispness does vary from track to track, perhaps due to the condition of the source tapes. Julie Andrews’ vocal on “My Favorite Things” may sound as if it’s shifting in volume and presence, even to a completely untrained ear; this is less noticeable on standard CD versions of the track. Other songs, however, are remarkably resonant. “The Sound of Music (Reprise),” featuring the Von Trapp children and the Captain (Christopher Plummer, dubbed by Bill Lee) and the climactic “So Long, Farewell” are both delights in SACD. High resolution also lends a warmth and richness to the choral singing, even more goosebump-inducing than usual.
The SACD is attractively housed in a Super Jewel Box and the CD label, in a nice touch, is adorned with a black-and-white replica RCA Victor label complete with Nipper. The 8-page booklet replicates contents from the original “Storybook” which accompanied the LP including biographies of the actors, Judith Crist’s “Tribute to a Partnership” essay about Rodgers and Hammerstein, and “Moments from the Motion Picture The Sound of Music – Musical Highlights of the Sound Track” photo spread. Unfortunately, no new liner notes have been included nor any technical notes on the SACD presentation.
A welcome treat for this inaugural Analog Spark SACD would have been a surround mix; the only surround version of The Sound of Music released on an audio format to date has been RCA Victor’s (imperfect but nonetheless interesting) quadraphonic mix. Despite the lack of a surround option, this release of the classic soundtrack should be a welcome addition to a high-resolution collection as well as a good option for anyone who wishes to hear the album on CD as they remembered it on vinyl, sans extra tracks. With any luck, more titles from the musical theatre and movie musical canon will prove to be among Analog Spark’s favorite things for subsequent SACD releases.