CD Review: The Prince and the Pauper

With its latest release, Tribute Film Classics serves up a musical treasure fit for a king–Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s complete score for THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER (1937).

When Tribute Film Classics emerged as a new label in 2007, their mission was to “to record deserved scores in complete renditions–including music that may have been omitted or edited in the final film–that have been either ignored or survive in less than pristine condition.” That their releases have been greeted with praise should come as no surprise. After all, score reconstructionist John Morgan and conductor William T. Stromberg were responsible for a string of excellent recordings of older scores on the Marco Polo and Naxos labels. When Morgan and Stromberg joined with executive producer Anna Bonn and struck out on their own, film music fans became all the richer for it.

TFC’s earlier efforts–dedicated to scores by Bernard Herrmann and Max Steiner–have been met with great enthusiasm in the film music community. With Korngold as the focus for their sixth release, they tackle true film music royalty.

Warner Bros. knew that Korngold’s success as a concert composer in Europe added prestige to their roster and they did everything they could to make him happy. Korngold’s contract stipulated not only was he limited to a maximum of not more than two films in any 12-month period, but he was also allowed to select his projects. Following his Oscar-winning score for ANTHONY ADVERSE (1936), Korngold had to complete a second film before being allowed to return home to Vienna. He was offered the lavish production of Mark Twain’s THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, starring Errol Flynn.

I didn’t think TFC could top their superb recording of Max Steiner’s THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE earlier this year, yet THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER sets a new standard. Morgan and Stromberg recorded a 38-minute suite from the score years ago for RCA, but neither was pleased with the result. Whatever misgivings they may have had have been rendered null and void with this lively performance.

The immediacy of the recording is so vivid that from the opening bars, I felt like I had traveled back in time and was sitting on the Warner Bros. sound stage listening to Maestro Korngold conduct the studio orchestra. The main title’s majestic French horn fanfare (which would later serve as the basis for the third movement of his Violin Concerto) not only conjures up the court of Henry VIII, but also a period in film scoring long gone.

Main Title
Click Track: Main Title

Bravo to Morgan’s superb reconstruction from Hugo Friedhofer and Milan Roder’s original orchestrations. In Korngold’s hands, even a saxophone sounds appropriate in Tudor England, providing wit and charm to the score. Much of the music displays a chamber music feel, but you’ll still find plenty of the composer’s trademark sweeping melodies in all their Golden Age glory.

While the music may not “swash” as much as some of his other scores for Flynn, when Korngold picks up the tempo, Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra continue to meet the challenge. In the liner notes, Stromberg says he wanted to “try with all of my might to keep all the tempos up to those in the original film.” Particularly in the action cues, conductor and orchestra play with dizzying excitement at “almost inhuman, breakneck speed.”

Duel
Click Track: Duel

The elaborate packaging is as first-class as the performance–beautiful cover art and a 32-page booklet containing a veritable cornucopia of information about the film, the score, and the recording process. Kudos to engineer Alexander Volkov for a particularly crisp recording that brings out the vividness of the performance without the stuffy accoustics that often plague studio recordings.

As TFC’s trend of stellar restorations continues, we film score fans are all the richer, even if our wallets are that much poorer. THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER is a crowning achievement.

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