Korngold: The Prince and the Pauper (CD review)
Dashing, charming, and impossibly handsome, Australian actor Errol Flynn took Hollywood by storm in the mid 1930's, making a remarkable succession of adventure classics like Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Essex and Elizabeth, and The Sea Hawk. Within a decade or so his light began to fade, the swashbuckling hero overtaken by drink and hard living, but what a ride it had been. Almost lost amongst his bigger hits, however, is The Prince and the Pauper (1937), somewhat forgotten, perhaps, because Flynn actually took a backseat in it to a pair of young boys, the Mauch twins, who played the movie's leads, a young prince and the street beggar he trades places with in Mark Twain's famous novel. Poor Flynn doesn't even show up to help save the day until the movie is almost half over. Still, it's a rousing tale and well worth one's while.
But we're here today to discuss the movie's music, another of those wonderfully swaggering scores by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (Captain Blood, Anthony Adverse, Juarez, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk, The Sea Wolf). The music has been around on disc for years in various suites, bits and pieces, but now, thanks to film-music restorers John Morgan, Anna Bonn, and William Stromberg, we can hear it complete. And what stirring and intoxicating music it is.
Naturally, things begin with an atmospheric overture, the music for the main titles that set the stage. There follow forty-two more segments, each one descriptive of a particular action or scene in the movie, from the ceremonial birth of the prince through his street escapades and right up to the epilogue and end title. When the album concludes, it's with music for the trailer and even special end-title music that includes "God Save the King," done especially for the British market.
Morgan, Bonn, and Stromberg have been doing this sort of thing for quite a while, of course, seeing their music restorations recorded on Marco Polo, Naxos, BMG Classics, and presently on their own label, Tribute Film Classics. The reconstructed Prince and the Pauper, as originally orchestrated by Hugo Friedhofer and Milan Roder, tackles the music "one cue at a time and one instrument at a time to restore Korngold's musical score in its entirety," as the booklet note says.
Maestro William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra have also been doing this old film music for so long now, it's undoubtedly in their blood. They seem to have a special affinity for it because they always sound better, more attuned to the nuances of the action, than the original orchestras in this material. It's kind of like having the movie there in your mind's eye if you just glance at the scene descriptions and listen to the shifting moods of the music.
Accompanying the disc, Tribute Film Classics provide a lavishly illustrated, thirty-two page booklet of text and pictures. It covers the movie, the stars, the filmmakers, the history, the score, and the score's reconstruction. You'll find Tribute left no stone unturned.
The sound, recorded at Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, in March 2008, is wonderfully vivid. And while the midrange transparency, air, and smoothness are outstanding, it's really the treble that sparkles, the high notes shimmering with beauty and clarity. Although the relatively close-up miking doesn't always deliver the greatest orchestral depth, the audio makes up for it with a wide stereo spread, a quick transient response, and more than adequate dynamics. It's a pleasure listening to the recording, and the disc is a delightful effort all the way around.
To learn more about Tribute Film Classics and their products, you can visit their Web site at http://www.tributefilmclassics.com/.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.