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Korngold - The Sea Hawk / Deception

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Genre: Classical - Orchestral / Audio CD released 2007-05-28 at Naxos

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      16.09.2007 12:19
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      My swashes are buckling like Macgyver driving a Volvo!

      During the early 1930’s, film scoring was still in its infancy since the advent of sound was still making a mark as the new definitive way of doing films. To this end, music was one of the most potent new aspects discovered to help make a film more dramatically potent, best exemplified by Max Steiner’s historical score for King Kong back in 1933, a symphonic score underlining the boundaries of a jungle setting. When music in films was recognised as an important element in telling a story, there arose a need for new film composers, and many of the early Hollywood composers indeed migrated from Europe to fill in this need. One of the most illustrious was undoubtedly Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a child prodigy who had already impressed Richard Stauss with the depth of his first piano sonata he had written at age 12, and whose opera Die tote Stadt was a basic staple in the opera repertoire in Germany ever since having its premiere in 1920. Korngold’s first film scores came in 1935 and he made a particularly big impression when he scored the Errol Flynn swashbuckler Captain Blood, and indeed it was his work with subsequent flamboyant films of the kind that became a sort of calling card for the composer. Now Korngold stands in a unique position among many other Hollywood composers working for the Golden Age studio system like Max Steiner or Alfred Newman, that he managed to negotiate a unique contract with Warner Bros. to be able to choose which films he would score and also retain rights to his own music instead of the studio owning it. Therefore, this prestigious agreement gave him the luxury to be able to spend more time than usual on any given film project unlike what was afforded to full-time studio composers who’d have to supervise and compose even over 10 film scores a year.

      Korngold was also, thanks to his background as a concert composer, more concerned to write film music that could still be considered as a high form of art as any other form of composition. He always regarded film scores as an extension of opera, the only difference being there was no singing. Therefore many of his scores also stand as perfectly good listens separated from the accompanying films, and indeed, when he left scoring films in the late 1940’s to pursue his career as a concert composer, he still borrowed several ideas and melodies for futher use in his many subsequent compositions such as the Violin Concerto and Symphonic Serenade. In the end he only wrote 22 film scores as opposed to the tens of scores coming out from every other Hollywood composer, but his mark as the defining sound of film scoring made this sparse output larger than for many others put together, acting for many as the blueprint of the “Hollywood sound” for years to come. Korngold’s film scores basically consist of two different genres: the huge swashbuckling epics and the small-scale, intimate dramas. It is by far the former that is best remembered as representative of his scores, despite he didn’t actually compose that many of them, and it is arguably his last such score, the 1940 Errol Flynn pirate vehicle The Sea Hawk that is his defining masterpiece, eclipsed perhaps only by his Oscar-winning The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938.

      The Sea Hawk was a huge undertaking in 1940, requiring a large in-door tank to be built (at the time the largest ever), huge sets including a jungle and full-scale ships built inside the new maritime studio, a huge battle scene to be staged near the beginning of the film, and even had Flynn playing a more deep character than in his previous hero roles. For Korngold, the epic canvas of the film afforded him the opportunity to write his most elaborate and complex score ever. The score for The Sea Hawk is his longest swashbuckler at almost two hours and is strewn with themes and motifs throughout as if in an opera, creating a network of thematic relationships that more than shows his chops as a composer. The most important, and easily identifiable, theme comes for Flynn’s Thorpe character and can be heard opening the “Main Title” cue, a brassy fanfare that is very hard to perform well. It is often referenced as a four note signature for easy identifiability, but gets several high-blown performances throughout as in the big “Battle” cue near the beginning, and most interestingly as a choral song in “Happy Sailing”. This theme is further transformed into a fertively romantic theme for Thorpe and his growing love for the Spanish Doña Maria, first heard in the cue “Slaves Release”. The actual theme for Doña Maria is a close relation to the main love theme, but decidedly more shy around the edges. The actual love theme, also introduced in the “Main title”, is sweepingly romantic, maybe just slightly cheesy for today’s audiences, but works finely as a symbol of old style romance, while also acting as a representation of rolling waves on the bow of a ship. Thirdly the main titles also introduce the Spanish theme, a much more rolling, minor-keyed theme that is turbulent and insidious, replete with tambourine and xylophone elaborations to add that Spanish element. In true leitmotiv fashion, not only people and emotions get a theme, but Thorpe’s ship the Albatross also receives a fanfare of its own, this one being more broad and more like a call sing to the ship than an action motif.

      For the scenes involving Elizabeth I, Korngold wrote a triumphal march that is filled with the pomp and circumstance of the British court and is an engaging and rousing addition to the film’s sound world. And as always, this theme also receives its more romantic variation when dealing head-on with the Queen as heard in “Elizabeth and Thorpe”, at times sounding almost something Wagner could have written. In the cue “Map of Panama” yet another theme is presented, that for the jungle where a Spanish gold transport will be passing, the music here being hot and steamy (in the junglish sense), and even Thorpe’s mischievous monkey gets a comical xylophone theme that is, according to Flora Robson (Elizabeth I), the result of Korngold’s keen study of the animal’s movements. All of this thematic material plays out in the same way as if it would in an opera, each leitmotif clearly keyed to each character and situation, making it easy to follow the actual plot of the film without actually seeing the film. There are a lot of individual scenes as well that create a colourful canvas for some scenic painting as in the rolling waves in the beginning of “Love Scene on the Boat,” which transforms into an intimate love scene between Doña Maria and Thorpe; in “Maria’s Song” where we are presented with a simplified version of an early song Korngold wrote and published later, telling of a girl pining after her far-away lover, and based on the love material; in the absolutely thrilling symphonic battle scene between Thorpe’s Albatross and the Spanish ship, stretching a full 17 minutes from “The Albatross” to “Slaves Release” in the beginning of the score, creating an intricate web of different thematic cross-references; in the final “Duel” scene that again presents unique, tumbling material for this specific scene; and finally in the cue “Finale” we get another wonderful choral burst on Thorpe’s theme, ending the score with a triumphant sense of finality.

      After The Sea Hawk, Korngold never again wrote another score of such flamboyance, and concentrated on providing high quality scores for a number of dramas such as King’s Row, Devotion, The Constant Nymph and finally Deception that came out in 1946. Outside of one last foray into films as a supervisor for the arrangements of Richard Wagner’s music for the German film Magic Fire, the Bette Davis vehicle Deception was in essence his last film score. Deception is remarkable in a few ways for Korngold, in that it is one of his very rare forays into films that are not period films and it also deals heavily with music as the main characters are all musicians. Likewise it is the shortest score Korngold ever wrote, much because he chose to insert a lot of classical pieces into the film as well. The film itself deals with how the pianist Christine Radcliffe (Davis) falls for the famous composer Hollenius (played by Claude Rains), until her old love, the cellist Karel Novak (Paul Heinreid) re-enters her life, and over the course of the film finally leaves Davis murdering Hollenius for the jealousy he displays... or something like that. Korngold’s score is decidedly more introspective and low-key, anchored by the more flowing romantic main theme that gets a rollingly sweeping performance in the “Main Title” and appears at regular intervals throughout. A secondary theme for the jealousy aspects is given a darker, moody nature that maintains a distinctly tense tamosphere through the whole score. The score finally culminates in the finale performance of the seven-minute Cello Concerto that Korngold later revised and published as the Cello Concerto in C major Opus 37. Lasting only 30 minutes, Deception may not leave you humming any melodies afterwards, but is still finely crafted as always.

      The album at hand presents complete re-recordings of both these scores for the first time ever. Music from The Sea Hawk has in the interening 66 years been recorded several times in various forms of suites, most notably by Lionel Newman in 1962 and later by Charles Gerhardt in 1972. The most expanded re-recording this score received came in 1987 when Varujan Kojian conducted 44 minutes of the music with the Utah Symphony Orchestra that, for the longest time was the most fully represented version of the score. But it wasn’t until now that the difficult task of making a full re-recording of the complete score has been made, and no-one is better equipped to carry out such a daunting project than the duo of restorer John Morgan and conductor William T. Stromberg, who have already done a vast amount of high-quality re-recordings of such classic scores as Steiner’s King Kong, Korngold’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, Herrmann/Newman’s The Egyptian, among many, many others. The score of 115 minutes is a vast undertaking and features the score in its most detailed form since the original recorded for the film. I was particularly impressed with the brass performances of Thorpe’s theme that are taken at the hair-raising speeds Korngold himself specified and which in many re-recordings simply does not even reach the level of virtuosity required (even though I must say the “Main Title” is still ever so slightly on the slow side). Deception on the other hand has never been recorded outside of the “Main Title” and the re-vamped Cello Concerto. Therefore its inclusion as a make-weight is truly a welcome addition.

      The scores are also augmented by the special recordings of the original trailer music as specially composed by Korngold, both featuring major differences to the music as heard in the actual films and make for interesting little overtures to the actual scores. The short vocal sections in The Sea Hawk are perhaps not the best to be found, with soprano Irina Romishevskaya sounding quite uncomfortable in singing in English and the choral version of the main theme in “Happy Sailing” sounds quite muddled. However, the recorded sound of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is clear and crisp, highlighting many little details not heard properly in many other recordings, including the original, and a big plus is also that music edited out of the film has also been included to get a complete picture of the score as composed for the film. Deception was an even harder task as the original full orchestrations were missing, therefore John Morgan had to re-score the music from practically scratch by inspecting the conductor books and listening to the original recordings, even adding the original film version of the Cello Concerto never heard before. The booklet on this release is absolutely fantastic with 24 pages of notes provided by Rudy Behlmer discussing the two films and their origins, John Morgan telling of the restoration difficulties, and Brendan G. Carroll telling of the history behind the music, while also providing a listening guide for The Sea Hawk. All in all, this is a recording that has been desired for the longest time by film score fans and it is good to note how those expectations have been answered with such attention to detail. And add to that Naxos’ budget pricing of £8.99 on Amazon.uk, there is absolutely no reason for any film score fan not to get this album. The Sea Hawk is one of the most historical film scores ever written and in my opinion the best in Korngold’s career, and when presented in clear digital sound and superlative performance along with Deception, it is simply a must-have.


      Disc 1:
      The Sea Hawk:
      1. Main Title (2:07)
      2. Spain: King and Alvarez – Doña Maria – Alvarez-Lopez – The Slaves (2:02)
      3. The Big Drum (4:29)
      4. The Albatross – Battle – Duel – Thanks for Convincing the Trumpeter (8:59)
      5. Slaves Release (7:06)
      6. Night Banquet (2:13)
      7. Love Scene on the Boat – The Throne Room (7:57)
      8. The Sea Hawks – The Monkey – Captain Thorpe’s Entrance – Exit – Elizabeth and Thorpe (6:25)
      9. Map of Panama (2:03)
      10. Rose Garden (4:34)
      11. Albatross-Kroner – Chart Maker – Astronomer (3:20)
      12. The Chess Game – Farewell – Panama Montage – The Orchid (7:00)
      13. Thrope’s Men Hiding – Gold Caravan (2:30)
      14. Attack – You Know My Name – March – The Fight – In the Jungle – Relax – Thorpe cuts through Jungle – Ocean – The Hanging Man – The Trial – The Galley (13:29)
      15. Maria’s Song – After Maria’s Song – Maria Faints – Elizabeth Against Philip (3:49)

      Disc 2:
      1. After the Council – Maria’s Bedroom – Spanish Boat – I am Abbott – Rebellion – Cadiz (9:22)
      2. The Slaves Liberate Themselves – The Murder (3:01)
      3. The Fight with the Guard (2:37)
      4. Knife Fight (0:42)
      5. Happy Sailing (1:26)
      6. The Arrival (1:18)
      7. Reunion – New Difficulties (5:18)
      8. Thorpe enters into Castle – Duel (5:04)
      9. Finale – End Cast (3:38)
      10. Original Theatrical Trailer (4:01)

      Deception:
      11. Main Title (1:38)
      12. Mysterioso (1:54)
      13. Jealousy – Tenderness (2:40)
      14. After the Party (2:52)
      15. A Pity (0:51)
      16. Preparation (1:06)
      17. Paraphrase (0:46)
      18. Newspaper (0:43)
      19. Mirror (1:33)
      20. Murder (1:50)
      21. Alibi (1:15)
      22. If (1:09)
      23. The End – The Cast (1:09)
      24. Original Theatrical Trailer (3:36)
      25. Cello Concerto (Original Version) (7:23)


      The Sea Hawk
      Music Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
      Original Orchestrations: Hugo Friedhofer, Milan Roder, Simon Bucharoff & Ray Heindorf
      Soprano: Irina Romishevskaya

      Deception
      Music Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
      Original Orchestrations: Murray Cutter & Simon Bucharoff
      Cello: Alexander Zagorinsky

      All Music Performed by The Moscow Symphony Orchestra & Chrous
      Conducted by William Stromberg
      Score Restorations by John Morgan

      1940, 1946 / Naxos, 2007 (8.570110-11)

      © berlioz, 2007

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