The Film Music Of Erich Wolfgang Korngold / Gamba

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Let me come right out and say it: this is the most important film-music recording of the year, and perhaps for many years. The stunning Main Title sequence, with its powerful, sweeping orchestral chords depicting the motion of the sea, followed by the angular, dissonant descending six-note theme for Wolf Larsen’s ship, the Ghost , explores new territory for anyone who identifies Korngold by his scores for swashbucklers ( The Sea Hawk , Captain Blood , The Adventures of Robin Hood ) or costume spectacles ( The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex ). The Sea Wolf (and Between Two Worlds ) is stylistically closer to his two most famous operas, Die Tote Stadt and Das Wunder der Heliane .

Based on the Jack London novel, The Sea Wolf is the story of a sophisticated but sadistic and psychotic captain who psychologically tortures three passengers he has taken aboard his ship. The score is a series of variations on the brutal theme for the “Ghost.” The music is dark and sinister throughout the film, until some light seeps in at the end after Larsen’s death. There is also a haunting and atmospheric contrasting melody for solo harmonica that Korngold later used effectively in his Third String Quartet. The huge orchestra, including piano, celesta, vibraphone, and nova chord, makes you realize how Korngold would have relished utilizing synthesizers in his orchestra. This is the premiere recording of the complete score for The Sea Wolf . In addition to emphasizing the lost art of the composer presenting his principal musical statement in a concise Main Title, the CD also includes nearly five minutes of music composed for the film’s trailer. One thinks of a trailer like that for The Nun’s Story , which is virtually choreographed to Franz Waxman’s symphonically developed music. This is something you unfortunately no longer see in the present age of temp-tracked trailers.

The substantial filler is a 16-minute concert suite that Korngold arranged from his score for The Adventures of Robin Hood . Many feel that Robin Hood is Korngold’s greatest and most original score. While I freely acknowledge its seminal importance and influence in the history of film music, I prefer to listen to any number of his scores, including Kings Row , Anthony Adverse , Between Two Worlds , Devotion , and The Sea Wolf . The technically dazzling and flamboyantly orchestrated swashbuckling and swordfight music wears a little thin after awhile. In arranging his concert suite, Korngold seems to have recognized this. The gorgeous love scene is the centerpiece, and there is more emphasis on lyrical music than the action underscores. What is missing is the dazzling “Coronation Procession,” which is the orchestral highlight of the score.

Rumon Gamba’s interpretation of The Sea Wolf is excellent in every conceivable way. He doesn’t stint on the angry edginess of the music, and its unique atmosphere comes through perfectly. I can pay Gamba no higher compliment than to say that he matches Charles Gerhardt’s short Suite from the RCA “Classic Film Score” series in every way except the sound. Robin Hood does not work quite as well. Some of this is due to sound that lacks the transient speed and fine inner detail necessary to project the complex but transparent orchestration. Gamba is also a little laid back in the love music, and he doesn’t have the feel for those gorgeous climactic final cadences that Gerhardt has. To get back to the sound, the CD is recorded at a very low level, but if you turn the volume sufficiently high, the music explodes with a front and center aural perspective that complements the dynamic impact of The Sea Wolf . The distant harmonica is beautifully phrased and flawlessly integrated with the orchestra. It effectively emphasizes the loneliness of the sailor’s life, especially on this ship from hell. In sum, great music, dynamic conducting, brilliant orchestral execution, and sound that works well for The Sea Wolf , but somewhat less so for the Robin Hood Suite. The album contains excellent program notes written by the composer’s biographer, Brendan G. Carroll. This is essential for Korngold aficionados, film music fans, and music-lovers everywhere. One hopes that Chandos will follow this valuable recording with the many other Korngold scores that have never had adequate complete recordings.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen

The Sea Wolf is one of Erich Korngold's darkest and most evocative scores. This recording includes the entire work, plus the original trailer for the film--more than an hour of music in all. Despite the claim that Korngold's scores link up perfectly when played continuously, there's still a good bit of atmospheric noodling and some clear stops and starts. This is movie music, after all, but the vast majority of the piece really does hang together on its own, and as always Korngold's handling of texture and sonority is simply amazing. The suite from Robin Hood is quite popular and no stranger to disc, but the performances here are uniformly fine and very well recorded. Indeed, the BBC Philharmonic sounds like a good Hollywood pick-up band, perhaps lacking only that last ounce of schmaltz to the string tone. I can't imagine film music buffs or Korngold fans being disappointed.

--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CHAN 10336

  • UPC: 095115133620

  • Label: Chandos

  • Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

  • Conductor: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra