Moscow Symphony Orchestra - The Sea Hawk / Deception - Audiophile Audition

29 August 2012
Audiophile Audition
Peter Joelson
4½ Stars

It's good to see high definition releases from Naxos's back catalog being offered on various download sites.  This generous release includes the world premier recordings of the substantial score Korngold wrote for The Sea Hawk and the half hour he wrote for Deception.

The Sea Hawk is one of a series of hugely successful Hollywood swashbuckling stories, a Michael Curtiz vehicle for Errol Flynn and co-starring Claude Rains, Flora Robson, Henry Daniell (those were the days when British actors played both goodies and baddies) involving pirates, an armada, the Spanish Main, an English queen and a beautiful Spanish princess. Pure escapism and possibly something of a morale-booster for British audiences at the time.  Painstakingly restored by John Morgan, the score is pretty well through-composed and is, I found, as highly enjoyable as a complete ballet score of similar vintage; it survives magnificently without the pictures.

Deception is altogether darker fare.  Appearing after the War, in 1946, this Irving Rapper directed film starred Bette Davis, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid in a tale of the appearance of a previously missing cellist, his former girlfriend and her current lover, and the production and performance of a cello concerto.  Even by Korngold's standards, this short score oozes quality.  The concerto itself, included separately at the end is a short one, but highly effective, and it's very well played here by Alexander Zagorinsky.

The Moscow Symphony Orchestra under William T. Stromberg are on excellent form.  They had worked together for several years before this recording was made in Mosfilm's Studio 5 in 2005, and continue to do so on their own label, Tribute Film Classics.  Recording quality is very good indeed but, in The Sea Hawk a little more warmth and open-air in the sound would have allowed more of an al fresco feeling. On the other hand, the engineers have recreated in high fidelity that taste of the sound from those Hollywood years, before reverberation became the acquired taste.

At a reasonable price for a newish and very good recording of excellent performances, and with the complete and excellent 24-page booklet included, this is recommended with enthusiasm.

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