Yes, the Classic Film Scores series is indeed back. Initially recorded and released on long playing records in the 70s by RCA Victor and then rereleased on compact discs in 1990-91, most of the titles have now been out of the catalogue for years. With Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, the series was a success from the very first realease in 1972—a collection of favourite film music bye Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The title track, from The Sea Hawk, is played in just the right way and is full of that great swashbuckling feeling from the movie. The series had a strong focus on quality—both when it came to sound, playing and faithful interpretation—and was highly in demand because it made available great music that previously only was accessible through the movies it accompanied. Other composers in the series include Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Dimitri Tiomkin, Miklós Rózsa, Alfred Newman, David Raksin, and John Williams. Some of the albums were devoted to movies by specific actors and contained music by several composers.
Even though the albums were greatly successful, RCA cancelled the series after the release of John Williams’ Classic Film Score: Return of the Jedi in 1983, when it had reached 15 albums. Poor Charles Gerhardt, who had planned several more releases of music from the golden age of film music that never were realised. These unrealized albums featured composers Sir William Walton, Elmer Bernstein, and Victor Young, in addition to compilations dedicated to science fiction, western and horror films. The label Varèse Sarabande showed some interest in continuing the series but this resulted only in a few albums.
At the end of the 80s when the series was to be released on compact discs, Charles Gerhardt initiated a grand project of remastering the albums and expanding them with unreleased music. This was done for The Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman, which appeared in 1989. Then RCA again interrupted and decided that the entire series should be released in synthesized Dolby Surround Sound without any extra tracks.
Now the series is again available for lovers of great film music. However, it’s not RCA that’s responsible for the reissue. It’s by the retailer ArkivMusic.com, which tends to reprint out-of-print albums that they think should be available for music lovers. It’s great to have the complete series again available and all kudos to ArkivMusic for making the effort. However, I’m still waiting for the ultimate rerelease that should contain unissued tracks as envisaged by Gerhardt and be properly remastered in stereo—or better: on multichannel SACD as most of the albums were recorded in more than two channels—and not that mumbo jumbo Dolby Surround Sound. Furthermore, it would be nice to see the series get a proper conclusion with recordings of the albums planned by Charles Gerhardt that never were realised.
For an excellent article about the Classic Film Score Series, see the one at Classical CD Review, or you can read the lighter article in the July/August issue of Listen Magazine. And be sure to check out ArkivMusic’s Classic Film Scores site. It contains all the albums in the series except the two with music by John Williams—Star Wars and Return of the Jedi. And they don’t have Gerhardt’s recordings for Varèse Sarabande, which include Williams’ The Empire Strikes Back, Korngold’s Kings Row, and a collection with different composers named The Prince and the Pauper.
Although all of the recordings in the series are worth aquiring, the two recordings I want to recommend the most are The Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Sunset Boulevard: The Classic Film Scores of Franz Waxman, because they contain really great music and are issued on CD according to Charles Gerhardt’s visions.