As befits the puissant Count of the Undead, Dracula periodically rises to haunt theaters, as well as the dark Transylvanian chambers of the mind that are his true home. His nocturnal visitations acquire an even greater power when combined with evocative music. Sergei Kvitko, recruited by actor/director Ken Beachler to write music for a production of the vampire epic, rose to the challenge, bringing us and the play’s audience a well conceived, executed, and imaginative score. I have to say I loved it. Kvitko’s music is entertaining, powerful, witty, even a bit cheesy (in his own words), or tongue-in-cheek, while dramatically illustrating the familiar story. This is an electronically realized score and benefits from the extended effects that medium can provide, including thunder claps, pouring rain or dripping water, eerie creaks and groans, shovel scrapings in the graveyard scene, and last but assuredly not least, a most musical song by canis lupis. Emulations of familiar instruments comprise the orchestra (performed and conducted by Kvitko) and are more than satisfactory in their timbre, attack, and idiomatic use. In those few cases where the illusion is not complete, it’s possible to consider the deviations from the model as extending the otherworldly ambience. For example, the “voices” are obviously synthesized, but suitably mysterious. The music ranges over an array of styles, touching on everything from Russian symphonic, contrapuntal Baroque, James Bond guitar riffs and textures, rock, pop, jazz, and funk. Kvitko’s a chameleon, his adaptive musicality donning the coloration of whatever environment he inhabits. Some favorite tracks: the Overture, a complex piece that begins with natural sounds, adds a distant violin that comes gradually closer, shimmers with delicate electronic traceries, and erupts in a Franco/Russian waltz; the mini-symphony of “Storm, Passacaglia, and Damn Fugue,” with its terrific verve, sweeping orchestration, and intriguing blend of Russian and Baroque modalities; “Tears on the Keys,” notable for its tender piano part (Kvitko’s a prize-winning pianist, and it shows); and of course, “Winter Wolf,” with its lupine soloist blending seamlessly with the Gypsy-inflected “End Credits.” This last title honors Paul Winter’s attempts to mix human and animal music, and displays Kvitko’s whimsical touch in choosing names for his tracks: “Bolero of the Bats” is another.
Since Royal Brown’s departure, Fanfare no longer has a film-music column, and no doubt that would be the most appropriate place for this review. But the lack of a perfect venue shouldn’t prevent readers from learning about excellent music of any kind. I think it’s especially interesting to note that Kvitko has never composed before, although as a devoted pianist from the age of six, and a product of the Russian system, he’s been steeped in music and its techniques throughout his life. He’s learned his lessons well, as you’ll hear if you take my recommendation to listen to Dracula. While perhaps not intended as “art” in its “serious” vein, there’s considerable art on display, not least in the care lavished on assembling these well-edited tracks. Kvitko’s experience as record producer, editor, and founder of Blue Griffin records surely comes into play. I recommend Dracula for its atmospheric additions to the old tale, for its sense of fun, and its many musical virtues. I remember reading a remark by a jazzman, perhaps Louis Armstrong, who said, speaking of jazz, “If you don’t like it, maybe you’re dead.” In this case, you don’t have to be one of the undead to enjoy this CD. (Read Peter Burwasser’s current interview that contains a review of Kvitko’s solo CD titled “Of Lands and People Far Away”; read James Reel’s interview with him in Fanfare 29:2; and visit bluegriffin.com to discover some unusual recordings.) Robert Schulslaper