Previn, LSO and Korngold

0 of 5 stars

The Sea Hawk
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
Captain Blood
The Prince and the Pauper

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: DG 471 347-2

“Action!” Run the opening credits – Erich Wolfgang Korngold knew just how to complement and illuminate the big screen’s recreation of love, war and adventure.

Andre Previn knows a thing or two about film music of course – and about the Hollywood that spawned the epic films that still captivate today. The LSO has notched up a number of film sessions too, not least for “Star Wars” – so perfect casting. Cue Mr Previn.

As the conductor says in his note, Korngold was writing music that we now associate with the cinema before the genre was invented. Korngold’s luxuriant melodies and fabulous orchestrations lent themselves naturally to films; he didn’t have to find a new style.

This CD brings a generous selection from four film scores – “operas without singing” as Korngold termed them. Although all four are recognisably by Korngold – and that’s the mark of a good composer – each is sufficiently differentiated from the other. Thus, the swashbuckling opening to The Sea Hawk conjures up the sea and the wind, while the majestic opening to Elizabeth and Essex immediately suggests England and green-hill surroundings – an empirical creation but there has to be some illusion! The love music from the latter is chaste; in the former the spark is uninhibited and dangerous. Such is Korngold’s ability to suggest – we don’t always need the films.

Captain Blood similarly suggests seascapes, but this is a more temperate, warmer voyage. A voyage of musical discovery too – the opening of The Prince and the Pauper ended up in Korngold’s lovely Violin Concerto. Korngold’s ability to illustrate characters, their feelings, and suggest landscape and historical time allows the mind to create its own images. Korngold the symphonist is present in the development and transformation of themes. (And their borrowing? The final section of Prince and Pauper is very similar to the second ’Nachtmusik’ of Mahler 7.)

A fund of melody with brilliant and seductive orchestration awaits the listener – the epic sweep of Sea Hawk, the playful lightness of Prince and Pauper – ’Flirtation Waltz’ is a wistful discovery – or the eloquence of Elizabeth and Essex. I wish the opening of The Sea Hawk could have had the spine-tingling impact of Charles Gerhardt’s RCA recording (and the LSO horns are virtually inaudible in their upward strides around 0㤭”) but the strings really sing-out the love music. After that it’s marvellous listening – the ingenious orchestration of ’Gold Caravan’ or the brilliant playing in ’Duel’ (both Sea Hawk), or indeed Korngold’s cut-and-thrust writing in the latter, or the trumpets’ tongue-twisting roulades in Elizabeth and Essex’s ’Victory March’. That’s a great score, so too, in its warm-spirited and nostalgic way, is Prince and Pauper. I would though have swapped Captain Blood for Robin Hood!

The recording is superb in its scope and depth, if slightly variable in degrees of presence. Perhaps producer Sid McLauchlan could have re-taken what sounds like a mistake twenty-seven seconds into Elizabeth and Essex, yet I know from talking with Andre Previn that he prefers to record in long takes with minimal editing (his Telarc/VPO Also sprach Zarathustra is a complete, unedited performance).

I suspect this Korngold CD will find its way into your CD player almost as often as the films are shown on TV.

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