Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897–1957)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (score restorations by John Morgan)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.573369 [82:43]
It’s often regarded as a tragedy that, having escaped
the Nazis, Korngold had to earn a living writing film music. I wonder
if he didn’t actually do a real service to the cause of classical music
by doing so: how many of us became unconsciously habituated to a symphonic
type of music from hearing the film scores of Korngold, Rózsa and others?
Chandos have shown a consistent appreciation of the film music of several
composers, including two CDs of Korngold. On the first of these, CHAN10336,
mainly devoted to the music for The Sea Wolf, there’s a 16-minute
selection of his music for the 1938 Warner Brothers' film of Robin
Hood. That recording by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Rumon
Gamba is a very useful appetiser: it was also available as one of Chandos’s
collections on a USB stick: Film Music 2 – the contents of 11
CDs in flac or wma for £99.99 (CHUSB0004).
There’s also a slightly longer 25-minute selection from the original
soundtrack on Facet FA8104, with Basil Rathbone – the original Guy of
Gisbourne – and Tony Thomas providing a rather breathless linking narration.
Inevitably the recording sounds somewhat dry but it’s worth at least
streaming from Qobuz.
Non-subscribers will be able to hear extracts. Naxos Music Library
subscribers can also hear it there.
The longer 39-minute selection which used to be available on Varese
Sarabande (VCD-47202) seems to have disappeared from the catalogue but
can be streamed by subscribers to Naxos
What Marco Polo attempted to do with the original of this recording,
now reissued by their partner label Naxos, was to reconstruct the whole
score. It now also includes the trailer music, appended as the closing
track, which was not included on the original CD and which pushes the
playing time well over the magic 80-minute mark. The original release
drew the highest praise from
Rob Barnett and Kevin Lace and from Kevin
Having missed the Marco Polo release, I very much enjoyed catching up
via this reissue. Though the individual tracks are all clearly labelled
with their place in the story, it didn’t quite recreate a visual image
of Errol Flynn in the title role – I was only a child when I saw the
film – but it did serve to remind me, not that I needed to be reminded
too much, of the very high quality of Korngold’s film music.
I enjoyed the Chandos – downloaded in 16-bit lossless sound, with pdf
booklet, from theclassicalshop.net
– and Varese-Sarabande recordings but the Naxos is the real deal. The
Suite which Korngold made and which is recorded on Chandos is attractive
enough but it’s heavily pruned and comes with much reduced orchestration.
That CD is essential for the music from The Sea Wolf, however
Having listened to the streamed version of the reissue from Naxos Music
Library – even in that low-bit format it sounds superior to the Varese
– I purchased the download in lossless sound, with pdf booklet, from
£4.79. You should be able to find the CD for around £6. Now that this
recording comes at a much reduced price it’s even more desirable than
on Marco Polo. If we still had Bargain of the Month category,
this would qualify.
The reissue comes with a detailed booklet – much longer than Naxos usually
give us – including a very useful Listening Guide to the Score
and a valuable note by John Morgan on Restoring the Music in
which he makes exactly my point that the music of classic films, seen
on television in his case, helped form his musical taste.
It speaks for itself that, rather than wait to obtain this free for
review, I’ve bought it myself. If you didn’t obtain this the first
time round, what are you waiting for now?
I should add a word of caution: Dan Morgan has submitted a review of
the eclassical.com 24-bit download for the next Download News and, though
agreeing that the music and performance are very desirable, he finds
the recording quality in that transfer very disappointing. ‘The sound
has a curious ‘tunnelled’ quality, as if one were listening to ersatz
stereo. There’s almost no ambient information, and that results in a
flat, desiccated sound. I’m tempted to think this download is derived
from the surround mix of that DVD-A, sans the rear channels.
Whatever the story this is not a pleasant listen.’ Considering that
the eclassical download, at $22.33, costs considerably more than the
CD and the Qobuz, the moral seems to be to save your money and go for
one of the less expensive options.
There is, however, an eclassical release of music connected with Robin
Hood that you may wish to consider, no longer available on CD: Paul
O’Dette on lute, orpharion and cittern performs a number of Elizabethan
instrumental works connected with the ‘Robin Hood’ ballads (HMU907625
[76:49], mp3 and lossless, NO booklet). Beautiful performances, well
recorded, but Robin Hood, whoever he may have been – and he seems to
have been connected with South Yorkshire rather than Nottingham – features
in only some of these pieces.