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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Over Straining To Be Different!, 16 Nov 2007
This review is from: The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Volume 2 (Audio CD)
1. This recording is, well, certainly different. But then again, it has to be! There are (by my count) almost 20 other truncated, small-ensemble extant modern recordings and at least two versions of the original sound track in circulation. Then there is the Morgan/Stromberg definitive, blockbuster recording of THE SEA HAWK(TSH) released earlier this year (ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD: THE SEA HAWK [1940]AND DECEPTION [1946], NAXOS 8.570110-11).

2. The strain to be different is palpable throughout starting immediately with the Main Title (track 1). Disconcerting at first, it rapidly degenerates into being just plain annoying (and increasingly artificial) as the tracks go by. Conducting and orchestral performance are uneven from track to track and within a track. Some tracks come close to reflecting the energy resident in Korngold's score (e.g., tracks 1, 2, 6, 18, 23, and 27). Others are tempo deprived--and often sound under rehearsed (e.g., tracks 11 and 29). Sometimes the tempo changes back and forth within a single track for the same theme to be, well, apparently different (e.g., track 12). Then there are tracks that are severely truncated internally and/or end in mid score (e.g., tracks 3, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30)--see below.

3. Part of the problem (a major part) with the CD is the lack of score restoration. This version of TSH is less than 80 minutes in duration. Korngold's score runs for over 100 minutes of screen time. Morgan/Stromberg's fully-restored recording runs to over 114 minutes. So we are hearing only about 70 percent of the complete score. This is masked by using mini-suites where attempts are made to blend each track into the next. But to even the casual listener, this legerdemain is painfully obvious.

4. Most of the rest of the problem seems to resides with the conductor and his support group. TSH is a passionate (perhaps the most passionate) Korngold film symphony. Passion is only sporadically present in this recording. Much too often it seems sufficient to just "cover the bases" in workman-like fashion, and trust that the sound engineers and editor can make up the difference (they don't). "Cold and rather sterile" quickly comes to mind.

5. That said, for once the words to "Happy Sailing," the coral version of the main title (track 27), are understandable. Apparently, it takes Englishmen to clearly enunciate what is meant to be the musical words of English sailors. It's been tried by Americans in the original sound track and by Russians in the Morgan/Stromberg recording with equally dismal results. Congratulations to the Manchester (male voices) Chamber Choir!

6. Sound engineering, recording, and editing are acceptable, but far from outstanding. The orchestra sounds small (and a little lost) in the recording hall with edited coverage uneven from track to track. The appearance of individual instrument voices (as well as sub-groups of instruments) is an intra-track, hit-and-miss affair. The latter is a shame, since the conductor appears to be stressing the prominence of particular instruments and instrument clusters to lend (literally) notes of distinction to counter a limited score (and pedestrian arrangement).

7. The CD booklet is also a mixed bag. Track numbers are disassociated from track titles. This helps to gloss over missing portions of the score. Tracks are lumped into mini-suites, as noted above, with durations from 4:12 (one track) to 22:04 (eight tracks). Mr. Brendan Carroll (Korngold's definitive biographer) manages to inject some freshness and new Korngoldian tidbits into yet another of his track-by-track music analyses of TSH (two so far this year alone). But like the recording, Carroll's contribution is much too brief.

8. Kudos to the Chandos label for releasing modern recordings of Korngold's film scores, and, especially, ones that are infrequently recorded like THE SEA WOLF (CHAN 10336). Brickbats for attempting to re-invent (for about the 20th time!) the proverbial wheel (and a rather flat one at that) with this recording.

9. Bottom Line: Too little, too languid, too late!

William Flanigan, Ph.D.
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The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Volume 2
The Film Music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Volume 2 by E.W. Korngold (Audio CD - 2007)
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