August 2004 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Gary S. Dalkin
Managing Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Expanded Review

The Adventures of Robin Hood  
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Reconstructions by John Morgan
  The Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg
  Available on: Marco Polo 8.225268
Running Time: 78.27
Crotchet   Amazon UK   Amazon US
  DVD-Audio version with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround version available on Marco Polo 5.220501
DVD-Audio version: 82.43
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robin hood robin hood

Korngold aptly described his film scores as 'operas without singing'. His The Adventures of Robin Hood score is one of his three accepted masterpieces in the genre the others being: The Sea Hawk (1940) and Kings Row (1941); three classic scores from Hollywood's Golden Age. How many film composers of today could muster fifteen separate themes of this quality, I wonder?

Here at last, is the complete score from this brilliant, unsurpassed swashbuckler. The 78 minutes of this album (82 minutes on the DVD-Audio version, which adds the 'Original Theatrical Trailer Music') is a considerable addition to the 43 minute LP recording of the music (produced by George Korngold) released by Varese Sarabande in 1983 with Varujan Kojian conducting the Utah Symphony Orchestra [This record also appeared as TER (That's Entertainment Records) 1066]. Preceding this release were two short suites recorded by the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt in his pioneering Classic Film Score Series (again produced by George Korngold) and released in 1972 (four minutes in the LP version of The Sea Hawk compilation of Korngold film music) and in 1975 (twelve-plus minutes in a further Korngold compilation Captain Blood on RCA Victor CD80912). These polished Gerhardt performances were full of high romance and bravado (especially the 'Tournament' and 'Love Scenes') and are still highly recommended as highlights of the Robin Hood score.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner Bros. 1938) starred, in the title role, Errol Flynn, the supreme screen action hero nobody could swash a buckle with as much panache as Flynn; surely, if anybody does, he deserves a posthumous Oscar despite the bad press he has received over the years. The film also starred Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Basil Rathbone as the dastardly Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Claude Rains as Prince John. A special 2 DVD set of The Adventures of Robin Hood with many extra features is soon to be released in the USA, and in the UK early next year.

Once again John Morgan deserves warm congratulations on his painstaking and meticulous reconstruction work. No detail seems to have escaped his attention. For instance, he has restored those magical flutter-tonguing flute phrasings in the 'Love Scene' that had been missing on previous recordings of this music.

Brendan G. Carroll, President of the International Korngold Society, contributes very erudite notes including a detailed track-by-track analysis. Especially interesting is his account of the Korngolds' flight to Hollywood to score the film, leaving Austria in the nick of time as the Nazi occupation began a hair-raising experience that would make an exciting screenplay in itself.

Korngold's elaborate score was written under extreme pressure and Carroll relates how Korngold despaired of ever delivering the music to time and even tried to opt out of his contract and had to be persuaded by Warner Bros.' Music Department head Leo B. Forbstein personally. The opulent orchestrations were very much the responsibility of Hugo Friedhofer working to Korngold's broad outlines; and teams of copyists worked around the clock to deliver parts in time for the recording sessions. Much of the heroic music was based on Korngold's early orchestral work, Sursum Korda (I recommend the Matthias Bamert recording with the BBC Philharmonic on CHANDOS CHAN 9317 that also has Korngold's Sinfonietta. This work includes strong use of Korngold's beloved motto theme of rising fourths - 'The Motif of the Chearful Heart' and the heraldic fanfares heard in Robin Hood's 'The Tournament' scene is based on this motto theme.)

There is so much in this score to admire: the thrilling 'Tournament', 'Procession' and 'Battle' music, the gorgeously romantic 'Love Scene', the astutely observed comic characterisations of Little John (Alan Hale) and Friar Tuck (Eugene Palette). Then there is the sinister music for the Norman oppression, the noble theme for King Richard the Lionheart, and the heroic trumpet theme for Robin himself and its tender complement for Maid Marian.

One of the very best of Marco Polo's Film Music series. A thrilling, romantic score beautifully restored and performed. Highly recommended.

Ian Lace

***** 5

Gary Dalkin adds: -

In retrospect I have to say that it is astonishing, when so many lesser scores have been committed to disc complete, not least by the very team responsible for this superb album, that it has taken so long for us to finally have a spectacular new recording of the full The Adventures of Robin Hood. It has taken a very long time, but its here at last and is a feast of riches about which one could write pages in a full score analysis, and doubtless before long someone will. But that is not our purpose here, only to note that this is a simply unmissable release vital to any serious film music collection, the action adventure score which together with Max Steiner's King Kong and Gone With the Wind laid the foundations for all blockbuster scoring even to this day.

As an aside, its noticeable that this release, unlike many previous Marco Polo discs, does not feature a single image from the film itself, and thus would appear to have had no official co-operation from Warner. The cover itself is rather uninspiring. I wonder if this lack of stills or poster art from the movie has anything to do with the all but simultaneous release of the US DVD set, which gives us with an isolated score track the option to hear Korngold's original soundtrack recording complete without dialogue and sound effects for the first time. Rather as in the summer of 1991 (when Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves went head to head with Patrick Bergin's Robin Hood), you wait a very long time then two versions come along at once! For Marc Bridle's very enthusiastic review of The Adventures of Robin Hood DVD set click here. Even in a month with such remarkable issues as Night and the City with both Frankel and Waxman scores, and the 25th Anniversary album of the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this is without doubt a very well deserved Editor's Choice.

Gary Dalkin

*****5

Post Script in the early summer of 2004 the DVD-Audio version of this album arrived, the original CD disc having been reviewed for the FMOTW of October 2003. I don't have the technology to playback the DVD-A track, but the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks play perfectly well on any suitably equipped DVD machine, and can report that this both sound very good. I do however have to admit to a preference for the more focused, somewhat sharper sound of the original CD version. Though this may be in part due to the superior sound quality of my stand alone CD player over the musical qualities of my DVD unit.

In addition to the CD version the DVD-A release contains a small photo gallery of Korngold conducting the original soundtrack and Morgan and Stromberg recording the new album. Also included is a bonus track which wouldn't fit on the CD. This is the 'Original Trailer Music', which plays rather like an overture, featuring a fanfare, a setting of the love theme, some suspense music and ending with some of the bold action music for which the score is justly famous. There's no fresh material but the selection does end the album in rather more rousing fashion than the 'End Cast' music.

So, is this new version worth the extra money? Not if you already have last year's CD issue, and perhaps not even then if you prefer pure stereo. But if surround sound appeals then this disc won't disappoint. Perhaps a hybrid disc which would play on all machines would be the solution, including CD and SACD though doubtless there are labyrinthine technical and commercial reasons against such a release.

Jeffrey Wheeler has this to say:-

Marco Polo, the label responsible for some of the finest re-recordings of movie music from the Hollywood Golden Age, no doubt knows that its release of The Adventures of Robin Hood faces intense scrutiny. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's classic score has been released before, with the Utah Symphony Orchestra performance under Varujan Kojian's baton being popular among both film and classical music devotees. William Stromberg conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in this the first complete album of the score, which I am pleased to say edges out Kojian's reading.

Korngold rivalled Max Steiner in mastery of the leitmotif, and his memorable themes (even those he welcomed on more than one project) sound fresh with virtually every variation. He decorated his music with the operatic finesse of his Viennese origins, including subtle (and less-subtle) flourishes at every turn. He set the standard for swashbuckling music, and was a major inspiration for John Williams' Star Wars. As mentioned in the impressively detailed liner notes, there are 15 major themes and several more motifs in "Robin Hood", all orchestrated to suggest that at any moment they could break out of their cinematic restraints and into the reaches of the music hall. Soundtrack reviewers tend to strain credibility with clichés, but sometime it isn't such hyperbole after all. And what words cannot describe, John Morgan's expert reconstruction makes sure we understand.

The conducting educates as well. Stromberg's interpretation is closer to Korngold's: warm, yet a bit rough around the edges, where the musician's technique is secondary to the music's temperament. That Stromberg tackled the entire score is also cause for celebration. With over half an hour of material making its CD premiere, the music is no longer a symphony of highlights but rather a fully developed orchestral poem.

One of the pleasures of the Marco Polo releases is that they try to capture the ambiance of the original recordings. They almost succeed here, but I daresay it sounds more muffled than it should. Although tolerable in this instance, one could say that if the option for an authentic sound means making it seem as though the microphones recorded from behind soft cushions, some in-authenticity may be appropriate.

Erich Korngold's The Adventures of Robin Hood remains one of the peaks of film music history. Not only does it provide an example of a craft transformed into an art, it does a terrifically entertaining job of it. Listening to a complete re-recording that understands and largely reflects that touchstone is an experience for lovers of classic film music to share.

Jeffrey Wheeler

5

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