Listening this week: a grab-bag of film music. First up is Deutsche Grammophon’s new recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Andre Previn, London Symphony Orchestra). This includes suites from The Sea Hawk, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Captain Blood, and The Prince and the Pauper. I heard about this on the rec.music.movies newsgroup, and being something of a Korngold nut I had to get it, even though I’ve always found Previn’s results to be of mixed quality. At times he tends to choose tempi that restrict the emotive power of whatever music he happens to be conducting (his Symphony #2 by Rachmaninov, on Telarc, leaps to mind), but when he gets the tempi right he can be as expressive a conductor as anyone (his wonderful recording of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue on Philips, with the Pittsburgh Symphony, are a testament here). Unfortunately, the new Korngold recording is an example of the former. The Sea Hawk is one of the most thrilling of film scores, with brazen fanfares, a muscular main theme, and a love theme that sweeps and soars in the grandest Romantic fashion. In Previn’s hands on the present recording, though, the music seems to almost be chained in place, never really being able to engage the emotions because of the slowness of the proceedings. The disappointment is compounded by the fact that the men’s chorus in the famous “Strike for the Shores of Dover” cue is omitted entirely. This is the emotional high point of the entire score, and this omission is inexplicable. The music, sans the chorus, simply sounds wrong. It is wonderful to see film music getting more respect from the classical world, instead of being viewed with suspicion as some kind of odd bastard-child genre. It’s too bad the recording itself can’t be more successful. For a better Korngold experience, seek out Charles Gerhard’s amazing recordings with the National Philharmonic, which are still the best of this repertoire despite their having been recorded almost thirty years ago.
I’ve also listened several times to Howard Shore’s increasingly amazing score to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. What an amazing work this is. In a recent interview in Film Score Monthly Shore talked at length about the operatic nature of his work, and it really is true. He uses the leitmotif style of composition to amazing effect, weaving motifs together in a tapestry that is thrilling, moving, and cohesive. My only quibble is that the CD, by necessity, omits much of the score. This work needs a release similar to the “Ultimate Edition” of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace that came out a few years back: every note, in film order. (A particularly nice touch is that on the CD, the track titles are — for the most part — the names of Tolkien’s actual chapters. I like that kind of attention to detail.)