Richard Rodgers' greatest achievement was "Victory at Sea," an unprecedented 13-hour composition for the World War II television documentary series of that name. With the big help of orchestrations and undoubtedly many linking contributions by Robert Russell Bennett, Rodgers' huge score contains a wealth of memorable melodies; one great, stirring march after another; and many evocative illustrations of war scenes. Two hours of this mighty work
were organized into three terrific suites by Bennett -- which he recorded for RCA Victor Red Seal -- but here, in "Victory At Sea"'s first digital recording, Erich Kunzel whittles it down further to a mere 22 minutes of highlights. Why not more? There is plenty of great music in this lode to fill out an entire CD and then some. Instead Kunzel limits himself to the most popular numbers, "The Song of the High Seas," "Guadalcanal March," "Beneath the Southern Cross" (better known as "No Other Love" from "Me and Juliet"), "Hard Work and Horseplay," and "Victory at Sea." The latter is unbelievably mislabeled here as "Mare Nostrum," which is an entirely different section of the score. As is usual for Kunzel, his tempos lean toward the leisurely side, and these performances don't outpoint the Bennett RCA Victors except in sheer breadth of sound. There is one more bit of Rodgers here: a brief, handsomely played suite from another TV documentary series, [RoviLink="VW"]The Valiant
Years[/RoviLink] -- a study of Winston Churchill -- a fine score that ought to be better-known. Otherwise, the CD is a mostly a hodgepodge of sumptuously played film scores from war movies -- mostly with a WWII setting -- and an occasional war song ("Over There," "The Colonel Bogey March"), topped off by a pro-forma Richard Hayman-arranged medley of U.S. Armed Forces songs The most substantial piece of material of the lot is Richard Addinsell's tuneful Rachmaninoff pastiche, "Warsaw Concerto," played in somewhat smoothed-over fashion by Kunzel, the Cincinnati Pops, and pianist William Tritt. Ideally, this should have been two albums -- one devoted entirely to "Victory At Sea" and the other to war movies -- instead of a compromised single-disc concept.