CD Review: The Sea Hawk – The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold
The Classic Film Scores recordings of Charles Gerhardt from the 1970s were an essential part of my film music education, unearthing a whole new world of Golden Age film music for my still-developing love. Gerhardt recorded a total of 14 albums in the series, but the CDs were long out of print until a couple of years ago when ArkivMusic offered them through their CD-R program. Now Sony Masterworks has dug into the vaults and reissued six of these Golden Age gems for a new generation of film music fans to discover and enjoy.
In the days before Film Score Monthly, Intrada, Varese Sarabande and other labels, fans of Golden Age film music had to be content with whatever nuggets they could find. When the first album in Gerhardt’s series, THE SEA HAWK—THE CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD, was released in 1972, it was a surprise bestseller. Featuring 12 of Korngold’s scores, Gerhardt went back to the original orchestrations to reconstruct cues, themes and suites that highlighted the musical goldmine of Hollywood’s early years. Korngold’s music remains timeless and the performances of Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra are just as vibrant as they were nearly 40 years ago.
From the depth of the timpani and the rousing brass fanfare that opens the title track, the album displays Korngold’s melodic gifts and command of the orchestra, as well as the wonderful remastering job of this reissue. The brief cues from THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and ANTHONY ADVERSE make me dream for truly great re-recordings of these two Oscar-winning scores. The spirited reading of the Overture from CAPTAIN BLOOD only serves to point out the criminality of not having a proper recording of this classic score as well.
The majestic main title to KINGS ROW foreshadowed Gerhardt’s excellent later recording of the score, while the heartbreaking strings of OF HUMAN BONDAGE and JUAREZ brought tears to my eyes. Whether it was from the beauty of Korngold’s music or the mists of memory, I’m not sure. Probably a little of both.
While the album includes Korngold’s more recognizable titles, lesser-known works like THE CONSTANT NYMPH, DEVOTION, DECEPTION and ESCAPE ME NEVER are equally impressive, once again proving that even second-tier Korngold still ranks heads and tails above most of his contemporaries.
The muffled quality of later Dolby “enhanced” re-releases is thankfully missing here. So are extended versions of THE SEA HAWK, OF HUMAN BONDAGE and BETWEEN TWO WORLDS found on later reissues (which also deleted some of the tracks from the original LP). Instead, Sony has gone back to the original 1972 album masters, restoring Gerhardt’s original program order, giving us a much more cohesive listening experience remastered in glorious sound. The remastering brings out rich orchestral details–such as certain French horn licks in THE SEA HAWK and the descending string portamenti in BETWEEN TWO WORLDS–that are not as prominent on the LP and earlier CD incarnations.
While I miss the nostalgia of the old LP/CD covers (which are included on the back of the booklet), the consistency of the new packaging will make it a lot easier to find the series on a shelf. It’s also nice to have the original liner notes from producer (and Korngold’s son) George Korngold. But by not generating a new set of notes, Sony missed a golden opportunity to put these landmark recordings in some historical perspective. But that’s a nitpick and for most fans, film music or otherwise, the original notes will probably suffice. Even without the bargain price (under $10), these are essential recordings that belong on the shelf of every film music fan. Visit Amazon or Screen Archives to hear more audio clips and to order.
Gerhardt’s pioneering recordings laid the groundwork for our re-recordings of today on Tribute Film Classics, Tadlow, Silva Screen, Naxos and Chandos. The next batch in the series is due March 2011. Until then I’m going to wallow in the sonic splendor of this classic album. Decades later, THE SEA HAWK remains the finest introduction to Korngold’s music you can find, featuring some of the best film music ever written. Look for more posts from this series in the coming days.