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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Juarez - The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex - The Sea Wolf James Sedares conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra   Koch International Classics 3-7302-2H1 [60:35]

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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


Gary S. Dalkin

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