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Film Music Review (Volumes 1-7)





Editor's Choice -
Best of the Month August 2007


THE SEA HAWK (1940) and DECEPTION (1946)

Music composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold



2 CDs

Disc One
Tracks 1-15: THE SEA HAWK (Part I) = 78:00

Disc Two
Tracks 1-10: THE SEA HAWK (Part 2I) = 36:26
Tracks 11-25: DECEPTION = 30:22

Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by William Stromberg.
Irina Romishevskaya, soprano ("Maria's Song") ; Alexander Zagorinsky, cello soloist (Cello Concerto). Score Restorations by John Morgan. Score Preparation: Anna Bonn. Recording Engineer & Editor: Genadly Papin. Music Notes: Rudy Behlmer, John Morgan, Brendan G. Carroll. Design: Ron Hoares. Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, Russia, October 2005.

Naxos CD 8.570110-11

Rating: ****

The masterful team of score restorer John Morgan and conductor William Stromberg have once again compiled an outstanding release of vintage film music. Of the 30 or so classic films scores they have produced, this Naxos release is among the very best of them all. This time it's an appropriate tribute on the 50th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest film composers from Hollywood's Golden Age: Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957).

I can still remember back in 1972, the excitement when I bought the first in a series of the "Classic Film Scores" scores on LP with the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Charles Gerhardt. This LP was later remastered for CD in Dolby Surround, making it sound even more impressive. The compilation had a suite of three cues from THE SEA HAWK (6:53), and about four minutes from DECEPTION.


Three years later, there was another LP with the National Philharmonic Orchestra titled: Captain Blood: Classic Film Scores for Errol Flynn.
This recording had a longer suite for THE SEA HAWK (8:08), unfortunately without the Main Title. This suite was less impressive and also a mere sampling of this epic Korngold score.


Now, for the first time, we have complete restored scores for two memorable Korngold scores on this Naxos CD.

THE SEA HAWK alone lasts one hour and forty minutes spread over the 2 CDs. The other score, DECEPTION, is thirty minutes.

And what treasures they both are!

On Disc One is the first part of THE SEA HAWK. The "Main Title" (2:06) of this 1940 score is overflowing with full blown gusto, like the sails of the ships in this swashbucker action film starring Errol Flynn in one of his best remembered roles. The score by Korngold is probably the greatest one ever written for a high seas adventure.

One of the aspects that is apparent in this restoration is the longer tracks which give the music a chance to be heard in all its splendor and illustrate the brilliance of Korngold's music. For example, track 4 ("The Albatross - Battle - Duel - Thanks for Convincing the Trumpeter"), with nearly nine minutes of developing the various themes, including the magnificent fanfare from the Main Title.

But it isn't all swashbuckling action music. There are quieter moments too. For instance, track 7 ("Love Scene on the Boat - The Throne Room" - 7:57). Yet much of this score is pure action music with an enormous amount of orchestral support. Sometimes it fluctuates between stormy music and suspenseful music. This may be heard on the longest track 14 (13:29), which goes through eleven separate cues and keeps the pace moving along, even in the slower sections.

The last track on Disc One (track 15, 3:48) opens with "Maria's Song." According to Brendan Carroll's very informative music notes, the music for this song was based on an earlier melody that Korngold wrote when he was only 14! In the film this song was sung by Dona Maria (played by Brenda Marshall, voice dubbed by Sally Sweetland). On the Naxos CD the song is beautifully sung by Irina Romishevskaya. She has a lovely voice but unfortunately it is difficult to understand her diction. The song is about a girl's longing for her lover far away and the lyrics were written by Howard Koch, who also co-wrote the screenplay.

The final portion of THE SEA HAWK on Disc Two is equally enthralling as the first part. On the first track ("After the Council - Maria's Bedroom - Rebellion - I am Abbott"), there is nine minutes of wonderfully rich emotional underscoring. This is not cerebral or elitist, but instead is highly romantic and dynamic music. For example, there is the beautiful love theme heard in "Reunion - New Difficulties " (track 7, 5"18). By the "Finale - End Credits" (track 9, 3:38), you have witnessed a momumental film score achievement. There is even the music for the Original Theatrical Trailer (track 10, 4:01).

Since Korngold was a respected European classical composer, his film scores reflect his well grounded music training, especially in the operatic traditions with thematic identifications or motifs for characters or actions. Brendan Carroll writes that Korngold laid out THE SEA HAWK script like an opera libretto. He even called his film scores, "operas without singing." Korngold was a child protegy in Vienna and known especially for his operas, especially Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). His classical background is illustrated throughout THE SEA HAWK and also DECEPTION, which highlights his Cello Concerto.

The score for DECEPTION is obviously not on as an epic a scale as THE SEA HAWK. It is a lusher and more romantic score, beginning with strings in a sweeping Main Title theme (track 11, 1:37), accented by the drums. This theme is expanded further in the next track, "Mysterioso" (1:53), with an Impressionistic quality and once again the emphasis on the strings. It's a lovely track.

As with THE SEA HAWK, there is the original Theatrical Trailer music (track 24, 3:36), and also Korngold's fine Cello Concerto in its original version (track 25, 7:23).

The Moscow Symphony Orchestra under William Stromberg's expert direction plays with great expressiveness. The score restorations by John Morgan sound like Korngold and his team of orchestrators (Hugo Friedhofer, Milan Roder, Ray Heindorf, Simon Bucharoff) had just written them down for the orchestra. If you think that's an easy task, just read John Morgan's notes!

The other CD notes by Rudy Behlmer and Brendan G. Carroll are filled with fascinating bits of information and interesting to read as well. If only more film music CDs had this much valuable background material!

This is a first class production and everyone involved deserves a round of applause for their participation.

This Naxos CD is a monumental achievement in film music preservation.

It gives Korngold his due as one of the greatest composers working during Hollywood's Golden Age.

Highest recommendation.


--Roger L. Hall, 22 August 2007

Note: THE SEA HAWK is listed at No. 77 on the list of

100 Essential Film Scores of the 20th Century

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