A typical film soundtrack today might not fill the length of a CD, while being padded with any pop music hits for which the producers would cough up the money for the rights. As often as not the scoring would be light, with a tinkly piano/synth background. The Naxos series "Film Music Classics" takes listeners back to another era, with full orchestrations of melodically rich, evocative music. And there could be no better example than the two disc set which features Erich Wolfgang Korngold's full score to The Sea Hawk - almost 110 minutes of music. That should be enough to entice any fan of classic film scores, but Naxos adds on 30 minutes of music from the Korngold score for Deception, which includes a mini (7 minutes) cello concerto.
Korngold's The Sea Hawk works as a suite, with his brassy themes appearing in various guises over the course of the score. As would be expected, the music for action sequences tends to rely on rapid, ascending figures, and a little goes a long way. But there are also extended lyric passages, as well as brassy heroic music of a kind that clearly foreshadows the popular John Williams's scores for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg films. The first CD ends with the lovely "Maria's song," sung in barely recognizable English by soprano Irina Romishevskaya. Compared to the first disc, CD2 has a few more of the briefer cues that characterize many film scores. However, most of the tracks are over 3 minutes in length, so that the score hangs together. It's not profound music, but it delights the ear.
Deception, a lurid vehicle for Bette Davis and Claude Raines, gets a string-rich outpouring, with a lovely tune sometimes clouded over with chromatic passages that suggest Korngold's perhaps frustrated impulses as a composer of so-called "serious" music. He gets at least a few extended minutes to flex his compositional muscles in the abbreviated cello concerto that closes the disc, with cellist Alexander Zagorinsky's tone alternately sweet and impassioned.
Naxos supplies a generous 24-page booklet, with long essays about the films and also a tracking guide for each of the scores that connects the music to the storyline. John Morgan also contributes a note, detailing the score restoration he prepared to enable the recording to be made.
William Stromberg has led the Moscow Symphony Orchestra in many of the recordings of film scores for Naxos, and the performances due credit to the quality of the music. Never mind the bargain price, Naxos has simply released an exciting, enjoyable recording Lovers of film music will race out for it, and anyone anxious to hear some wonderfully melodic 20th century orchestral music should be right on their heels.