There is no mistaking his master's voice. With Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang
Korngold all but invented the sound of Hollywood film music, and his influence
persists today whenever a symphony orchestra is assembled to perform the
music of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and countless others.
All the more remarkable then, that Korngold considered himself primarily
a concert composer, and only wrote a total of 19 film scores. Consequently,
more than most, Korngold's film writing forms a continuum with his 'serious'
work, his writing for whatever venue always thoroughly through-composed,
his film work usually able to stand alone away from the silver screen.
Three films are featured. The album opens with a 27-minute suite, divided
into 16 parts, from Juarez (1939). This is fiery and exciting music,
full of action and swashbuckling adventure, and with characteristically fine
main and love themes. The Spanish flavour is not as strong as might be expected,
for essentially Korngold wrote Korngold, no matter the subject. One oddity
is that, although the disc is lavishly packaged, with stills and extensive
booklet notes, including full documentation of the orchestral players, there
is no credit for the soprano voice which appears on the interpolation of
the song 'La Paloma' into track 8: 'Farewell'. Further, although the notes
on Korngold and Tony Thomas are informative, the memoir on the latter appears
with no explanation of any direct connection between the man and the CD.
Presumably Thomas arranged the suites recorded here.
Next is a comparatively short suite from The Private Lives of
Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and if one wanted to be really pernickety,
it could be argued that in these days of 75 minute plus albums, we could
have been offered a little more than 6 minutes. This suite, offering the
opening and closing music, a fanfare and march, is very much in the mould
of The Sea Hawk, and is a delight while it lasts. However, given that
many Korngold aficionados will already have a recording of the complete score,
of rather more interest is a 27-minute suite from The Sea Wolf (1941).
Yet again we are given maritime adventure, but this time of a darker hue
for this wartime tale of desperate peril. Suffice to say, it is hard to imagine
anyone with a love of Korngold's film work being disappointed by this suite,
while it has many qualities which may appeal to those who find his music
sometimes overblown or sentimental. If you thought the composer specialised
only in rousing heroics and sweeping romantic melodies you may be surprised
to find the almost Herrmannesque atmospherics of 'The Fog' and 'The Shipwreck',
while even the 'Love Scene's is far more lyrically understated and pastoral
than comparable themes from Devotion or King's Row.
The criticism that has sometimes been levelled against James Sedares and
the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, particularly for their superb disc of
Miklos Rozsas El Cid, is here utterly confounded. This is simply a
magnificent recreation representation of Korngold's music, presented not
on thin 'authentic' distorted mono sound, but as the composer can only ever
have dreamed of, with rich and dynamic stereo sound, with utterly committed
and finely accomplished performances. There are still too few recordings
of 'Golden Age' film music, and a recording of this calibre is to be warmly
welcomed by anyone seriously interested in cinema as a musical art form.
Gary S. Dalkin