“The Sea Hawk” & “Devotion” – Complete Scores review
Troy O. Dixon
October 2007

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
“The Sea Hawk” & “Devotion” – Complete Scores
John Morgan, William Stromberg, Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Naxos – 8.570110-11 (Released 29 May 2007 – Europe; 31 July 2007 USA)

As the 50th anniversary of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Todesjahr (“death year”) approaches, fans and admirers are treated to another new and complete recording of his film scores.  This time the score is that of perhaps the greatest swashbuckler ever filmed, The Sea Hawk (1940), widely regarded as one of Korngold’s finest film scores.  And if that alone wasn’t enough to inspire an immediate purchase, the complete original music for Korngold’s last film venture Deception (1946) rounds out the second of this new double-CD from Naxos.  As with their previous releases, the musical team of John Morgan (score restoration) and William Stromberg (conductor) provide the listener with first-rate performances for both movie scores.

The Sea Hawk score contains cues and sequences that were dropped or cut for the original release, and also contains the original four-minute trailer score, newly composed by Korngold, not just pieced together from the film’s already existing cues.  The music is performed with the much of the same excitement and exhilaration of the original soundtrack, giving listeners the opportunity to almost relive the film even without the visual stimulus.  We here agree with other reviews that “…the unforgettable choral return of the main title doesn’t convey the overwhelming surge of exultant emotion [as heard on Charles] Gerhardt’s account…”, and that “…Maria’s Song is, well, lost in translation.”  The chorus members for the former seem often to be uncoordinated as a whole, and individual voices are too easily discernible on close listening, rather than blending to form the united chorus they are supposed to represent.  Maria’s Song is performed a little better, but the soloist here still leaves something to be desired.  Yet even with these – on the whole, minor – shortcomings, the remainder of the offering is outstanding, and should be deemed a necessary addition to any Korngold or movie-score collection.
Filling out the remainder of the second CD is the entire original music Korngold composed for the 1946 Bette Davis drama Deception (1946), his last film for Warner Bros.  The feature here, of course, is the movie-version of Korngold’s famous cello concerto, recorded for the first time ever in its shortened, seven-minute film version.  The soloist Alexander Zagorinsky plays extremely well, conveying a strong sense of assuredness with the material.  His warm singing tone brings out Korngold’s luxuriant melodies splendidly, and in the more fiery passages his nimble dexterity demonstrates his capabilities there as well.
To accompany such a tour-de-force recording, Naxos has provided a near-encyclopedic booklet, with generous contributions from film historian Rudy Behlmer and Korngold authority Brendan Carroll, in addition to notes from John Morgan and William Stromberg.  The reader is treated to an excellent historical narrative of the film’s development, including detailed discussions of casting decisions, and setwork and costume designs.  Discussions delve into descriptions of re-releases, cuts, extensions made for the original British release, commercial release in 1986, and even includes mention of footage being used in 1995 for a Miller Genuine Draft beer commercial.  In short, the written details of the historical discussion will interest film historians as well as those interested in the music, especially the interesting and unique tidbits from Brendan Carroll’s personal interviews in the 1970s.

After hearing such a performance, we eagerly await Morgan and Stromberg’s next Korngoldian adventure.

(See additional reviews and interviews at Film Score Monthly.)

Other complete Korngold film scores by John Morgan with William Stromberg conducting the Moscow Symphony Orchestra:

  • The Adventures of Robin Hood. Marco Polo #8.225268, Release Date: 2003-09-01.
  • Devotion. Marco Polo #8.225038, Release Date: 1999-09-01.
  • Another Dawn. Marco Polo #8.223871, Release Date: 1997-01-01.

For those interested in hearing or collecting more of Korngold’s film music, the following is partial listing of other recordings of Korngold film scores.

Other complete Korngold film scores:

  • The Sea Wolf.  Chandos #CHAN-10336, Release Date: 2005-10-18.
  • The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.  Bay Cities, #BCD-3026, Release Date: 1992.  Re-released as Varese Sarabande #VSD-5696, Release Date: 1998-06-29.

Incomplete Korngold film score recordings or film score suites:

  • Song selections from Give Us This Night, and Escape Me Never, on Hollywood Songbook.  VMS # 159, Release Date: 2005.  Also includes highlights from Korngold’s Die Stumme Serenade.
  • Tribute to Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  Koch #3-7302-2H1, Release Date: 2000.  Contains almost 30 minutes of the film score for the movie Juarez.
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream.  CPO #999-449-2, Release Date: 1999-06-01.
  • Between Two Worlds.  Decca / Entartete Musik #444-170-2, Release Date: 1997-02-01.
  • Erich W. Korngold: The Prince and the Pauper.  RCA/BMG CLASSICS #09026-62660-2, Release Date: 1996.  (John Morgan, with William Stromberg conducting the Brandenburg Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • Anthony Adverse.  Varese Sarabande #VSD-5285, Release Date: 1991-04-09.
  • King's Row.  Varese Sarabande #VCD-47203, Release Date: 1984-05-01.


Of historical interest (most titles below are out-of-print):

    • Erich Wolfgang Korngold: The Warner Bros. Years.  Turner Classic Movies Music #R2-72243, Release Date 1996-03-26.  Includes both cues from The Green Pastures (1936).
    • Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Classic Film Scores Series, produced throughout the 1970s.  The series contains a wide selection of cues and suites from most of the Korngold movies.
    • Lionel Newman, cond.  Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.  Originally released on LP by Warner Bros, #W1438, released in 1962.  Re-released on CD by DCC Compact Classics/Stanyan Records #GZS-1094.