THE SEA HAWK is presented on (or, rather, explodes from) CD 1 and the first half of CD 2--over 114 minutes in all. What we have here is the globally-acknowledged, consensus-based greatest film swashbuckler (or, to use Erich Wolfgang Korngold's term, "schwanzbuchler") score of the first half of the 20th Century. And, possibly, all of the last century plus--so far--the 21st Century. THE SEA HAWK is Korngold's most famous and greatest film symphony. A case could easily be made (Oscar or no Oscar award) that it is his finest New World composition period! This unparalleled music is also a major reason (if not THE reason) why Korngold's name lives on as one of the most accomplished (but vastly under rated and unappreciated) composer of our time. It has provided (and remains) the portal or spring board for many to discover his contagious and addictive catalog of compositions. THE SEA HAWK is Korngold's fourth (or third, since THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX  is more talk than action) and, lamentably, final swashbuckler score.
The film was directed with "firm control" (to put it mildly) by no-nonsense Michael Curtiz. Likewise, the performance of the complete score in this remarkable recording is, indeed, conducted with firm control by Maestro Stromberg. Even casual listening quickly reveals the presence of orchestral voices never heard in previous recording (both original and re-recorded) plus the dark-panel richness of a superb and balanced performance (as well as sumptuous sound capture)--the audio equivalent of a rare Merlot. The impact is even more startling with studio monitors or similar high-end audio equipment. And any sound system will testify to the spot-on tempos and intra-thematic tempo changes that, up until now, only Korngold himself could pull off. Part of this pure pleasure is due to the larger orchestra demanded by the original score and provided in this recording compared to the smaller ensembles utilized for the concert suite and score fragments presented in previous modern recordings. Then there is the huge restoration and re-orchestration infrastructure that supports this peerless performance with John Morgan at the helm.
Once again Stromberg provides expansive evidence that he is clearly Korngold's modern-day conducting equal! Similarly, Restoration Magician Morgan demonstrates once again that he is well up to the combined skills of orchestrators such as Hugo Friedhofer, Milan Roder, Ray Heindorf, and Simon Bucharoff who formed Korngold's support group for THE SEA HAWK.
Typical of a Morgan and Stromberg undertaking, even the score for the theatrical trailer (CD 2, Track 10) is included. But this is no "ordinary" trailer music. Korngold's score for the original preview contains new variations on themes from the film's score and is presented in three parts (the trailer itself has long since vaporized). Previews for later re-releases of THE SEA HAWK (which are still around) use pieces of music from this original three parter.
DECEPTION (on CD 2) is one of Korngold's shorter film scores--it easily fits fully restored along with music from the original theatrical trailer on half a CD. This is because the film deals with the triangular trials and tribulations of those who happen to be in the classical-music business, and, naturally, Korngold included a hefty dose of music from a number of classical composers. His own score is scattered throughout the film, but as presented in this composite recording, you'd never know it. Talk about tonality!
Conducting and orchestral performance are once again top drawer in this remarkable recording. Maestro Stromberg has applied (as usual) the necessary orchestral discipline to successfully rekindle the raw energy that rendered Korngold's sound-track recordings without equal in their day (and still today in modern recordings by other conductors, although Charles Gerhardt comes close). Sound capture and mixing is first rate except for the opening moments of the Main Title (CD 2, Track 11) where individual instrument voices are a bit stream rollered by the orchestra at large. The restored Original Theatrical Trailer (CD 2, Track 24), courtesy of Mr. Morgan, makes one's ears pop with anticipation when contemplating the possibility of it being performed (sans any concretized "extension") in live performances.
The CD booklet is strictly an A-Team production. Mr. Rudy Behlmer, the de facto reigning Dean of "Golden-Age" Film Historians, probably knows more about Warner Bros. than Albert, Harry, Jack, and Sam ever did. In this extensive booklet, Behlmer expands upon his recent on-camera video-disc commentaries and hard-copy publications to provide a detailed (make that definitive) account of all matters regarding THE SEA HAWK, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, DECEPTION. This is a read you simply can't put down until done--the modern hallmark of an accomplished historian. Restoration and re-orchestration Master John Morgan offers an insider's view of the sheer enormity of time and resources (not to mention dedication and perspicacity) required to fully restore both film scores (see Q&A Sidebar for more). He also explains why it is physically impossible for the original score from THE SEA HAWK to be performed in a live concert setting as it was presented in the film and in this recording. Mr. Brendan Carroll, Korngold's definitive biographer, weighs in with essentially a note-by-note examination of both scores plus some fascinating new background information not included in his extensive Korngold biography (Note 2). Carroll possesses the innate ability to jump back and forth from the macro to the micro in analyzing musical compositions. Here he does it yet again!
DECEPTION, sadly, was Korngold's farewell to film symphonies. Korngold was offered several subsequent (and notable) films, but turned all of them down except one--MAGIC FIRE (1955). This is a film biography of composer Richard Wagner. Korngold was hired not to compose, but to edit, arrange, conduct, and supervise the scoring of Wagner's music. "I'll do it ... (but) only to protect Wagner" he remarked going in. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough. The film was DOA (dead on arrival) and remained so even after (or as a result of) numerous re-edits.
And so, Korngold ended his film-music career as he had begun it some 20 odd years earlier by massaging and conducting the music of another. His first "break-through" film was A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935) where he reprocessed and conducted Felix Mendelssohn's music. Ironic (or intentional?) bookends.