Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897–1957)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (score restorations by John Morgan) (1938)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, February 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 Music Library.

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 Sutton.

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 – 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 – review and review.

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 Qobuz for £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 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.

Brian Wilson

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