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INTERVIEW ON THE CHANDOS FILM MUSIC SERIES WITH CONDUCTOR, RUMON GAMBA.

 

This month (September 2007) Chandos are releasing "The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold - Volume II": The Sea Hawk performed by the BBC Philharmonic in a special editing by the recording’s conductor Rumon Gamba. This release coincides with renewed interest in Korngold as the 50th anniversary of his death approaches on 29 November 2007. [Volume I of Korngold’s film Music, conducted by Gamba, released in 2005, comprised a suite from The Adventures of Robin Hood and the complete score for The Sea Wolf.]

This new album is another in a continuing series of Chandos recordings of Korngold’s orchestral, vocal, instrumental and chamber music that commenced in the early 1990s, the majority recorded by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Matthias Bamert and Sir Edward Downes.

Rumon Gamba, currently Music director of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, works with most of the major UK orchestras and many in Europe and further afield. Gamba studied at Durham University; and later with Colin Metters, Sir Colin Davis and George Hurst at the Royal Academy of Music where he was the first conducting student to receive the Dip. RAM. As a result of winning the ‘Lloyds Bank BBC Young Musician 1998 Conductors’ Workshop’, he was appointed Assistant Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic.

Gamba has recorded much British film and TV music for Chandos. Recordings include: three volumes of film music by Vaughan Williams (including Scott of the Antarctic, 49th Parallel and The Story of a Flemish Farm), Sir Arthur Bliss (including Things To Come and Caesar and Cleopatra), Sir Arnold Bax (Oliver Twist and Malta, G.C.) and one volume of film music by Sir Malcolm Arnold (including The Belles of St Trinians and Trapeze); plus the film music of John Addison (including A Bridge Too Far, The Charge of the Light Brigade and Reach for the Sky), Richard Addinsell (including Scrooge, Blithe Spirit and Goodbye Mr Chips), Francis Chagrin (including The Colditz Story and Last Holiday), Richard Rodney Bennett (including Far From the Madding Crowd, and Murder on the Orient Express), Ron Goodwin (including 633 Squadron and Battle of Britain) and Alan Rawsthorne (including The Cruel Sea and The Captive Heart).

The Questions

What was the first film score that really impressed you and what inspired you to embark on recording such music?

RG I remember watching Scott of the Antarctic with my Mum one afternoon when I was a young boy – I don’t know how old I was but I do remember the film having an effect on me for the atmosphere it created, both cinematically and aurally, not least the wonderful score by Vaughan Williams. As I grew older, my interest in film grew and, being a musician my love of film music also – people can be very sniffy about film music but I didn’t have any second thoughts when I started talking to Chandos about recording some for CD.

One commentator has written about Korngold: "His early fame peaked at twenty with his world-acclaimed opera Die tote Stadt…The downhill course after that led to Hollywood where he composed scores, albeit Oscar-winning ones for ’Robin Hood and Anthony Adverse." Would you like to comment on this assertion please?

RG His fame may have peaked but certainly not his talent – it is so easy to fall into that ‘unfulfilled promise of a wunderkind’ stereotype without listening to his music. Just because he went to America and didn’t compose music in a hut in Austrian countryside seems to be a negative thing for some people. Although I believe he died thinking his music was out of touch with his contemporaries, you only need to look at (let alone listen to!) the score of the late Symphony in F# to realise that this man was by no means on a downhill course. And let’s not forget that he didn’t abandon his own musical style to fit in with Hollywood – he kept his voice and musical beliefs consistent through to the end.

Some Korngold film scores e.g. The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood, seem to be overly preferred by record companies at the expense of others - Kings Row, for instance, recorded superbly by Charles Gerhardt in 1979 in an extended suite occupying one LP/CD, but now surely in need of a reassessment and re-recording in today’s digital sound?

RG I suppose both The Sea Hawk and Robin Hood are better known films and the music is very forthright and reminiscent of Errol Flynn doing his stuff. Of course we need to do the other films as well – performing material is often the issue, some music just comes off the shelf while others need a lot of work to make them performable.

You've made a point - and I think it's a good one - that The Sea Hawk is best represented by a single suite presenting the music in a coherent sweep without the distraction of every mote and sliver of music. Do you see yourself applying this to any other scores?

RG There are record companies out there that provide every note and those discs (whilst valuable and interesting) somehow don’t do it for me as a listening experience. If we want the widest audience possible to come into contact with this great music, I feel it needs to be presented in a compelling format. We have always tried to offer suites from film scores in the Chandos series - if that means a score only has three interesting cues, then that is what will be recorded and we will try and mould them into their most appealing guise.

Following on from the above question, do you routinely look out for inclusion in your film music suites, composed material that, for one reason or another, was unable to be used in a completed production?

RG Many of the Chandos discs have music that was either cut or cues that were faded out (sometimes incredibly early!). Occasionally we have original material and it is amazing to see the craftsmanship and care that has gone into producing a musical gem only for the final cut to include just a small chip of that gem in it.

How did the BBC Philharmonic players react to The Sea Hawk music and how enthusiastic are the players and those of the BBC Concert Orchestra, generally, about the Chandos film music recordings. What is your/their attitude towards the often snooty view of film music held by academia, particularly British music academia – or do you/they think attitudes are beginning to change?

RG Players want something to play and in The Sea Hawk, they certainly had enough to get their teeth into! Korngold’s music is very difficult to play and there are so many layers of detail and a vast range of colours to bring out. Luckily the BBC Philharmonic know Korngold’s style well having recorded much of his concert music over the years and these players always give everything which is another important key to getting his music right – you really have to go for it to bring it off!

I never hear any complaints about the music itself – it is always well written and generally either beautiful or exciting or has something else to capture musical imaginations … perhaps we just leave the boring stuff out!

I think attitudes are changing in general and I can only assume that with more concert performances and CDs that the ‘what isn’t known can’t be any good’ attitude will disappear. I was once told (by a well known conductor no less) not to bother learning any of Sibelius’ symphonies other than the 2nd or 5th as no one wants to hear the unknown ones anyway…..

Before we leave Korngold, have you and/or Chandos any plans to record any of the composer’s operas? Would you be interested in such a project?

RG No plans that involve me unfortunately!

Will the Chandos series cover the music of other Hollywood composers eg. Max Steiner, and neglected writers such as Frederick Hollander. There is so much of Max Steiner’s music that is crying out for modern recordings such as: She, Distant Drums and The Fountainhead; and what about the lighter music of the neglected Frederick Hollander - his delightful music for It Should Happen To You, for instance.

RG We aren’t exactly stuck for music to record! But we’ve made the leap across the Atlantic now so I think we will follow up with some other worthy composers!

What is the Hollywood classic film score you would most like to record complete, or as a symphonic suite

RG I’ve just done it actually – The Sea Hawk! Steiner’s King Kong is a close second.

Hollywood film scores from the golden age are often proclaimed as more successful - than much of the music of British cinema of the 1940s-60s? Your comments, please.

RG I really feel it is a matter of familiarity – look how widely distributed those Hollywood films were. The Brits never had that much exposure in the states.

A number of British film score have successfully been arranged by their composers for concert performance – e.g. Scott of the Antarctic, Things To Come, Henry V and Our Man in Havana. From all of the British film music you have thus far recorded please select three scores, not yet arranged for the concert hall, that you think would most suitable as concert suites – say for performance at the Proms? Please give reasons for your choices.

RG I very much enjoyed Arnold’s film music and think that there could be more suites of his scores which would be very appealing to the public. Trapeze would work very well – I think a lot of people know the film and of course it has some very ‘visual’ music within it.

Rawsthorne was perhaps the greatest discovery for me – I knew the film The Cruel Sea well and slightly regretted that we only did two pieces from that score on our disc of his music.

My other regret (sorry Chandos) is that we only squeezed reel 2 of Malta GC onto our Bax disc and I think playing both reels in the concert hall would have people wondering why it isn’t played more. (OK I know that one was a bit of a cheat – I think it used to pop up now and then in the old days….!)

I think a suite from Alwyn’s Geordie would work well in the concert hall – perhaps a film music version of Arnold’s Scottish Dances!

Of the British film music arrangers working on the Chandos series, Philip Lane appears to have been the busiest. Could you describe your working relationship with him.

RG As well as being a mine of information, and as well as shaping film music into suites for our use, he has been known to take down film scores by ear – not a task for the impatient! Philip just wants this music to be heard and unlike many composers/arrangers, he isn’t at all proprietary with any of it – he hands it to me and he sits back and enjoys listening to whatever I do with it (or perhaps cursing himself for a wrong note in the horns…!)

Much of the British Film Music you have recorded was for war films. Which three scores of this genre did you find the most inspiring and why?

RG I liked 49th Parallel very much – a very wide range of musical ideas and absolutely not your stereotypical war marches! This is the Vaughan Williams of the 5th symphony, not of the 4th.

I’ve already mentioned Malta GC – I find Bax’s idiom very interesting. On the face of it you might be getting a March but with his harmonic language, you get so much more.

I really got into Rawsthorne’s Burma Victory. Perhaps along similar lines to the Bax, I find a lot ‘behind the notes’ in Rawsthorne – perhaps it is a moment of astringency that will highlight a particular shot or a specifically coloured chord. These composers were turning out stuff this good for propaganda documentaries!!

Of all the scores you have conducted which were the most challenging technically and interpretatively? Which three proved to be the most satisfying for yourself?

RG The Sea Wolf was a challenge – a massive orchestra with many layers of detail, but still trying to make an overall sweep without getting bogged down in micro-managing the music. Also, the music is much less swashbuckling than others we have mentioned by Korngold – you have to dig a little deeper and adopt a sense of drama and atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place in Wagner.

I loved doing Things to Come – what imagination and how daring to write a film score like that in 1936. Then again, the film is in a class of its own as well. I’ve since performed a suite of my own (thanks to Philip Lane) on a few occasions – including at the Proms, and it goes down so well, I think it is more exciting than Bliss’s own suite!

Perhaps the pinnacle was to record Scott of the Antarctic – I really didn’t want to get it wrong! In terms of performing, it felt like playing something so well known, so familiar but also exploring something for the first time. How remarkable that this piece in particular should have felt like that. The orchestra showed great reverence for it as well – a smashing atmosphere and a splendid disc even if I say so myself!!

Just two specific British composer questions: Many people admire Ron Goodwin’s film music. Goodwin got a rather raw deal standing in for Walton in the context of The Battle of Britain considering the quality of Goodwin’s music, especially his ‘Aces High’ Luftwaffe march. Would you like to comment please?

 

RG Once Ron has been away for as long as Walton has, then we will be able to look back and really appreciate what he did for that film.

The other: You have completed the Chandos series of Malcolm Arnold symphonies tackling two of the most recalcitrant – nos. 7 and 9. When you were getting to know and record them, did you pick up any echoes of Arnold’s film music - perhaps the more psychologically torturous material?

 

RG I’ll be honest and say no to this question. I tried to enter each symphony’s own world on its own terms (definitely the only way to approach the 9th!). Undoubtedly my knowledge of Arnold’s music (particularly the other symphonies) would have informed certain aspects of my interpretations, but only subconsciously.

What British film scores would you most cherish for future recording projects? 

RG Everyone seems to be waiting for The Red Shoes, including me…


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