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Escape to Paradise - The Hollywood Album
Daniel Hope (violin)
Sting (vocals), Max Raabe (vocals), Jacques Ammon (piano), Maria Todtenhaupt (harp), Quintet of the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Alexander Shelley
rec. 2013 Konserthuset, Stockholm, Sweden; Steerpike Studios, Lake House, Wiltshire UK; Teldex Studio, Berlin Germany.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 2954 [77:04]

First things first; Daniel Hope is a very fine violinist with a proven track record of making recordings of real interest and insight. This is a generously filled and well recorded and played disc. So why does it leave me fundamentally disappointed? I have a strong sense that somewhere between conception and creation the project got into the hands of the marketeers and the stylists. What could have been a disc of considerable interest and value - almost an appendix to Decca's famed Entartete Musik series - became hijacked and has ended up a high quality cross-over album at best.

The disc proudly proclaims itself; "Escape to paradise - the Hollywood album". Which rather begs the question why of the sixteen pieces featured exactly half were not written for Hollywood. Also by no means all of the composers represented had to "escape" to Hollywood. Even a composer such as Miklós Rózsa - who might at first glance appear to be the archetypal central European refugee composer - moved there for primarily professional rather than political or religious reasons. Then there is the question of the versions of the music used. Of the sixteen, seven have been newly arranged for the album in orchestral versions with featured solo violin by Paul Bateman. Bateman is an exceptionally fine musician, conductor and arranger who will be best known to film music buffs for his many contributions as conductor to numerous Silva Screen discs. He is extremely well attuned to the entire genre and musical language of film music but these should not be considered reconstructions in the style of say Christopher Palmer or even latterly John Wilson but new arrangements. This might appear to be a pedantic point but for aficionados this rather rules them out of court - certainly no matter how brilliant Hope's playing the change of emphasis or focus onto the solo violin alters the 'feel' of many of the tracks.

Alongside these orchestral selections we find one piece for violin and piano, one for violin and harp, three 'chamber group' arrangements, one for solo violin and finally three 'originals; the two Korngold contributions and John Williams' haunting theme to Schindler's list. Of the out and out film music selections this last track is the only one which appears in the film as we hear it here. Good as Hope's performance is it certainly does not erase memories of Perlman's soundtrack original or another favourite version of mine from Erich Kunzel in Cincinnati on Telarc.

Mentioning Korngold brings me to the central work on the disc - his achingly beautiful Violin Concerto. Given that it is based on themes he had previously used in film it might seem rather odd to state an obvious fact - this is not film music. This is Korngold, who happened to write in a style that latterly became synonymous with what we clump together under the crude title of 'film music'. The themes that Korngold chose to return to he did so for their enduring musical worth and his belief that he could exploit their potential further. The nostalgia that runs like a heart-beat through the piece is for the lost golden age of Vienna pre- World War I - before the concept of Hollywood was a twinkle in a property speculator's eye. In my opinion, Hope's single biggest misjudgement on this album is to play the Concerto as film music. Listen to his opening phrase - technically stunning; a big full refulgent tone, hyper-romantic fast vibrato, endless bows sustaining a flood of sound. Then check the score; the solo part is marked JUST p with a little hairpin up and down over 4 bars, then JUST mp for a further 8 bars with more frequent dynamic ups and downs — none of which Hope bothers with. We do not reach in the score even forte until rehearsal number 3. Roll back the album to the opening track and all is made clear. Hope plays Rózsa's glorious Love theme from Ben-Hur — OK in the original it should be on cello — in exactly the same manner. He is retro-engineering the Korngold concerto as film music. It would be unfair to imply that Hope is the first or only violinist to be seduced by Korngold's lush writing into playing 'pedal-to-the-metal' from the get-go. However, compare this approach to that of say Ulrike-Anima Mathé with Andrew Litton on Dorian or Chantal Juillet with John Mauceri on Decca (Entartete 452 481-2) or James Ehnes with Bramwell Tovey on Onyx. I particularly like Mathé's almost hesitant veiled approach. Ehnes is not as truly 'piano' as I might like but conversely he is not pushing the tone in the way Hope does. In the 'conversation' between Hope and Michael Haas that replaces a liner-note, Hope describes Heifetz's first recording as controlled to Haas' description of it as austere. Controlled or austere is preferable to Hope's unrelentingly hot-house approach. All the more disappointing since the tone Hope draws from his Guarneri violin is gloriously full and the orchestral accompaniment from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic is equally lush and dramatic. Sadly this remains an interpretation which will provide grist to the mill of any Korngold nay-sayers; overly sentimental and unsubtle. Before leaving Korngold - why include the Serenade from his early ballet-pantomime The Snowman? Yes, it does for once feature a solo violin but it was written years before Korngold - or anyone - had heard of Hollywood and was orchestrated by his teacher Zemlinsky anyway. It's a lovely little piece and is nicely played here but of striking irrelevance to the programme as a whole. Of the other full orchestra arrangements there is a risk of a certain sameness in the choices - passionately lyrical love themes and lush accompaniments become rather unrelenting. As applied to Morricone's love theme from Nuovo Cinema Paradiso this feels wrong; an extravagant style and passionate playing sounds contrary to the essential simplicity of Morricone's theme - another not Hollywood film.

As previously mentioned, the album splits into orchestral and 'chamber' arrangements. Whereas the former are allotted to the Stockholm sessions the latter are played by a quintet of players from the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin together with a piano and harp as required. Putting to one side whether these very German songs are at all "Hollywood", I enjoyed these arrangements the most of those on the disc. This is in no small part because they are superbly stylish both in arrangement and execution. Hope either takes a violin 1 role or his solo part is more integrated. Also, he very wisely balances the sound he is making to blend with the smaller group. It's a subtler more refined approach and it pays dividends. Arnold Freed's arrangement for piano and string quintet of the Waxman's "come Back, Little Sheba" is the best of the bunch - the 'feel' of the performance is just right; gently swinging but indulgently lush. Two other arrangements, nearly as good, are contributed by the album's executive producer Christian Badzura. The transcription of a Heifetz arrangement of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Sea Murmurs for solo violin and harp is a gem too - both instruments glowingly recorded. Zeisl's Menuchim's Lied is very effective also as played by just the violin and piano. The album finishes with a strange arrangement for solo violin of As time goes by - famous for its use in the film Casablanca. Hope plays this with a consciously etiolated tone which ends the disc in a rather downbeat manner.

There are two other tracks I have deliberately left mentioning until last. Another weapon in the marketeer's armoury is the 'guest artist' - beware of albums bearing stickers. Here, and rather pointlessly, unless in the expectation of additional sales, we have two sung songs. One performed by Sting; Eisler's The Secret Marriage from his Hollywood Songbook and the other by Max Raabe, Weill's Speak Low from One touch of Venus. Sting's contribution both as performance and arrangement I find of no value whatsoever. Hope's violin noodles away in the background while Sting 'sings' in a studiedly self-conscious serious way. Not that the two were in the same studio at the same time - Sting's vocal was recorded separately at a different location. Such a minimal contribution still merits six names from his management company being listed in the "special thanks to..." section of the liner. Raabe sings in a more stylish and 'period' way that suits the song but again I am at a loss to justify the track's inclusion since it was written for a Broadway show. The last contribution from the A&R department comes in the form of the toe-curling photographs of Hope that are used throughout. Just in case we have not yet quite latched onto the 'concept' we are given pictures of Hope + violin + cinematic setting. The low point of these is Hope as Indiana Jones (including violin case) - more Indiana Hope and the Album of Doom than anything else.

Recently Decca released an album with Nicola Bennedetti that had a very similar remit - Korngold Concerto plus film themes called The Silver Violin. Korngold Concerto and Schindler's List apart there is no overlap but not having heard the album I cannot compare or contrast. Any compilation album such as the one under consideration here will always lay itself open to charges about that which has been included and that omitted. It does strike me as odd however, to put together a playlist ostensibly of "The Hollywood Sound" and not include any music by Max Steiner, Dmitri Tiomkin, Bernard Herrmann or Alfred Newman yet include three very similar Rózsa themes. This smacks of commercial rather than musical imperatives once more. Given that the remit is not simply authentic excerpts Paul Bateman could have had a ball producing any number of high quality symphonic syntheses from their films. This is not an album that benefits from being listened to in a single sitting - which rather reinforces the impression that it has been deliberately put together to provide a selection of three minute sweet-meats aimed at the commercial classical radio market.

A depressing marketing exercise that I am sure will do very well.

Nick Barnard

Track listing
Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Love Theme - Ben Hur (1959) [3:03]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.35 (1945) [24:16]
Mario CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO (1895-1968)
Arise - from 33 Shakespeare Songs Op.24 Vol.6 No.2 (1921-25) [2:19]
Hanns EISLER (1898-1962)
The Secret Marriage from the Hollywooder Liederbuch (1942-43) [2:45]
Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Love Theme - El Cid (1961) [4:25]
Eric ZEISL (1905-1959)
Menuchim's Lied - from the opera Hiob (1939) [4:16]
Franz WAXMAN (1906-1967)
Reminiscences from "Come Back, Little Sheba" (1952) [4:16]
Walter JURMANN (1903-1971) / Bronisław KAPER (1902-1983)
Tränen in der geige - Ich will dich Liebe lehren (1932/33) [2:48]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
Speak Low - One Touch of Venus (1943) [3:14]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Vorspiel und Serenade - Der Schneemann (1908) [2:35]
Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Prelude and Love Theme - Spellbound (1945) [6:38]
Ennio MORRICONE (b.1928)
Love Theme - Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988) [3:27]
John WILLIAMS (b.1932)
Theme - Schindler's List (1993) [3:44]
Thomas NEWMAN (b.1955)
Theme - American Beauty (1999) [3:04]
Werner Richard HEYMANN (1896-1961)
Irgendwo auf der welt - Ein blonder Traum (1932) [3:23]
Herman HUPFELD (1894-1951)
As time goes by (1931) [2:51]