July 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD Captain Blood
Max STEINER The Three Musketeers
Miklos ROZSA The King's Thief
Victor YOUNG Scaramouche
  Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Potsdam conducted by Richard Kaufman. Reconstructions and arrangements by Christopher Palmer, John W. Morgan and William Stromberg
  MARCO POLO 8.223607   [65:10]


Captain Blood

First of all I should explain this is not a new recording. It was one of the first Marco Polo classic film score releases, issued in 1995. So why am I covering it now? Firstly because it is so good and because Film Music on the Web was just a twinkle in the eye when it came out so we missed it -- and because, quite honestly, it shames so many of today's lacklustre swashbuckler scores.

The compilation begins with music by Miklós Rózsa (reconstructed by Christopher Palmer) for The King's Thief a dismal MGM oater from 1955. It starred the insipid Edmund Purdom and David Niven, miscast and utterly unconvincing as the villain of the piece. (The film was set in the time of Charles II of England.) The music, though, is racy enough with plenty of swagger and pomp together with Rózsa's typically broad romantic melodies. The music also demonstrates his penchant for capturing period styles and there is an appealing folk-song element in this score.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold is represented by his score for the film that made Errol Flynn famous Captain Blood. This is music in the grand heroic mould and Korngold's evocations of the cut and thrust of sword duels has hardly been bettered. The seascapes and West Indies sound pictures are also vividly drawn. Noteworthy, too, is the music underscoring the developing relationship between Blood and Arabella (Olivia de Havilland) the headstrong niece of the Jamaican governor as it passes through tentative, then turbulent and finally submissive phases.

Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers has been filmed many times with varying success. The 1935 RKO production was not very successful mainly due to the uncharismatic Walter Abel as D'Artagnan. But one of its strengths was Max Steiner's score. This is gloriously heroic music, trumpets ablaze, tremendously exciting stuff rushing forward at a cracking pace when darker figures full of intrigue do not dominate. Then there are Steiner's unashamedly romantic heart-on-sleeve melodies.

But the real find here and one that I remember even the usually sniffy (as far as film music is concerned) BBC Radio 3 endorsing, is Victor Young's splendid score for Scaramouche filmed in 1952 with Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh, Eleanor Parker and Mel Ferrer. It featured what must have been the longest and most spectacular (and surprisingly ending) sword fight in screen history. The 'Main Title' music reaches right out at you one of the most exciting pieces of swashbuckling film music ever written, I reckon very much in the style of Richard Strauss's Don Juan. The music for the romance between André and Aline captivates too. Added to these attractions, Young's romantic and witty 18th century style pastiches: 'Pavane', 'The Big Apple' and 'The Magic Box' delight the ear.

The booklet credits inform that William Stromberg reconstructed Scaramouche and that John Morgan reconstructed Captain Blood and arranged Steiner's The Three Musketeers. Both Morgan and Stromberg would, of course, go on to helm future releases in the continuing Marco Polo Classic Film Score series.

Kaufman and his Brandenburg players excel in this colourful swashbuckling repertoire. If you can find a copy of this album in the shops don't hesitate, grab it.

Ian Lace


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