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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
The Adventures of Robin Hood - film score (1938)
score restorations by John MORGAN
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, Russia, Feb 2003. DDD
MARCO POLO 8.225268 [78.27]

If you are looking for a CD of this classic cinema score then there truly is no contest. Genadiy Papin of the Mosfilm Studios has produced a gripping sound-image with tactful emphasis given to solos and colour-points such as the celesta, saxophone and piano. As for the tumultuous music, written despite doubts and under the pressure of the sickening situation in his native Austria, this is a confident, voluptuously plumped-up score, drawing in part on ideas from his symphonic study Sursum Corda (recorded on ASV) and on the contemporaneous opera Die Kathrin (recorded on CPO). The latter was moving towards production with Jarmila Novotná and Richard Tauber in Vienna as the film score was being written. While there is much 'echt Wien' here (tr.11, 3.10, Gold where the plumply smiling face of the composer seems to beam down in knowing mastery) there are some affectingly English pastoral touches as in The Jail (tr.15, 2.11). The Love Scene (tr.17 - the longest continuous episode) melts between Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn's Hebrides and Ravel's Daphnis. It is a score that, from one point of view, is disorientating. Its unresolved contrasts include some intensely dark music juxtaposed with Chocolate Soldier Vienna, super-Elgarian triumph (tr.23, 5.10), a jackanapes march and child's play battles where seemingly no-one comes in harm's way.

The only substantial competition is by no means an exact match. The closest, and that pretty distant, is That's Entertainment Digital's CD TER 1066 (also on Varese-Sarabande). This had the advantage of George Korngold as producer and Maurice Abravanel's one-time band, the Utah Symphony conducted by Varujan Kojian. This was made in Salt Lake City in May and June 1983. It was issued the same year - the very dawn of the CD but the timing is sheer LP mindset as you will see. That TER disc played for only 43 minutes across sixteen tracks. The Marco Polo disc is the most complete recording so far running to almost eighty minutes across 25 tracks. Even this is misleading because with a handful of exceptions the TER tracks are not an exact match for the Marco Polo's. Parts of the Morgan tracks appear in isolation in the TER and vice versa. More practically, as far as I can tell, the TER disc has long ago been deleted.

As for documentation the Marco Polo obliterates the TER. TER offered a single fold of stiff card, albeit by George Korngold, but reflected with basic factual material the need to counter the slight level of knowledge of Korngold. This was all of twenty years ago long before the efforts of CPO, Chandos, Carroll and Jessica Duchen (I am sorry that she is not mentioned more often). Marco Polo has a 28 page booklet printed with gratifying legibility and making optimum use of space. It is no longer necessary to set out the main incidents of Korngold's life so the booklet is given over to an account of the making of the film and the score with recording sessions (stills from which grace the centre pages, courtesy of the authoritative Mr Carroll). I am delighted that the role of Hugo Friedhofer as principal orchestrator is mentioned. This he did under Korngold's direction and with assistance from Milan Roder and copyists Art Grier and Albert Glasser. There is also a pretty full synopsis with tracks keyed into incidents as well as an account by the redoubtable John Morgan of the trials and tribulations ... and victories ... of restoring the score. This is, by the way, John Morgan's and William Stromberg's thirtieth CD in the Marco Polo series.

This is the most thorough restoration of the score. It is performed with 'great-hearted' elan and is thumpingly well recorded. An extremely compelling disc. It deserves to do well alongside the Robin Hood 2 DVD package being issued by Warner Bros on the 65th anniversary of the picture. There is no competition.

Rob Barnett

Ian Lace has also listened to this disc

Korngold aptly described his film scores as ‘operas without singing’. His The Adventures of Robin Hood score is one of his three accepted masterpieces in the genre – the others being: The Sea Hawk (1940) and Kings Row (1941); three classic scores from Hollywood’s Golden Age. How many film composers of today could muster fifteen separate themes of this quality, I wonder?

Here at last, is the complete score from this brilliant, unsurpassed swashbuckler. The 78 minutes of this album is a considerable addition to the 43 minute LP recording of the music (produced by George Korngold) released by Varese Sarabande in 1983 with Varujan Kojian conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra [This record also appeared as TER (That’s Entertainment Records) 1066]. Preceding this release were two short suites recorded by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt in his pioneering Classic Film Score Series (again produced by George Korngold) and released in 1972 (four minutes in the LP version of The Sea Hawk compilation of Korngold film music) and in 1975 (twelve-plus minutes in a further Korngold compilation – Captain Blood on RCA Victor CD80912). These polished Gerhardt performances were full of high romance and bravado (especially the ‘Tournament’ and ‘Love Scenes’) and are still highly recommended as highlights of the Robin Hood score.

[The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner Bros. 1938) starred, in the title role, Erroll Flynn, the supreme screen action hero – nobody could swash a buckle with as much panache as Flynn; surely, if anybody does, he deserves a posthumous Oscar despite the bad press he has received over the years. The film also starred Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Basil Rathbone as the dastardly Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Claude Rains as Prince John. A special 2 DVD set of The Adventures of Robin Hood with many extra features is soon to be released in the USA and in the UK early next year]

Once again John Morgan deserves warm congratulations on his painstaking and meticulous reconstruction work. No detail seems to have escaped his attention. For instance, he has restored those magical flutter-tonguing flute phrasings in the ‘Love Scene’ that had been missing on previous recordings of this music.

Brendan G. Carroll, President of the International Korngold Society, contributes very erudite notes including a detailed track-by-track analysis. Especially interesting is his account of the Korngolds’ flight to Hollywood to score the film, leaving Austria in the nick of time as the Nazi occupation began – a hair-raising experience that would have made an exciting screenplay in itself.

Korngold’s elaborate score was written under extreme pressure and Carroll relates how Korngold despaired of ever delivering the music to time and even tried to opt out of his contract and had to be persuaded by Warner Bros.’ Music Department head Leo B. Forbstein personally. The opulent orchestrations were very much the responsibility of Hugo Friedhofer working to Korngold’s broad outlines; and teams of copyists worked around the clock to deliver parts in time for the recording sessions. Much of the heroic music was based on Korngold’s early orchestral work, Sursum Corda (I recommend the Matthias Bamert recording with the BBC Philharmonic on CHANDOS CHAN 9317 that also has Korngold’s Sinfonietta). This work includes strong use of Korngold’s beloved motto theme of rising fourths - ‘The Motif of the Cheerful Heart’. The heraldic fanfares heard in Robin Hood’s ‘The Tournament’ scene are based on this motto theme.

There is so much in this score to admire: the thrilling ‘Tournament’ and ‘Procession’ and ‘Battle’ music, the gorgeously romantic ‘Love Scene’, the astutely observed comic characterisations of Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Palette). Then there is the sinister music for the Norman oppression, the noble theme for King Richard the Lionheart, and the heroic trumpet theme for Robin himself and its tender complement for Maid Marian.

One of the very best of Marco Polo’s Film Music series. A thrilling, romantic score beautifully restored and performed. Highly recommended

Ian Lace



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