COMPOSERS: Erich Korngold,Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Warner Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Britten • Korngold
WORKS: Violin Concertos
PERFORMER: Vilde Frang (violin), Frankfurt Radio Symphony/James Gaffigan
CATALOGUE NO: Warner Classics 2564600921
Korngold and Britten may appear odd bedfellows: Britten’s style is as spare and lean as Korngold’s is lavish. Both violin concertos, though, were conceived around the same time, 1936-7 – Korngold’s opening melody was written well before it found a home in a film score, Another Dawn – and both were written by Europeans far from home in North America.
Korngold’s Violin Concerto has been recorded a lot recently, and sad to say, soupy, saccharine interpretations abound. Why the notion that Korngold’s music must be soggy and soft-focus? In film context, conducted by the composer, it is electrifyingly energetic: romantic in the grand, sweeping, swashbuckling sense. The Concerto’s first movement is marked Moderato nobile – ie noble – but Vilde Frang’s first entry emotes, gasps and oozes. Listen to Jascha Heifetz, the Concerto’s first performer, for some perspective (The Heifetz Collection, RCA 09026617522).
Frang has a beautiful tone and superb intonation, and in both concertos applies a satisfying range of colour – there’s much to enjoy, technically speaking. The spiky, lonely atmosphere of the Britten comes off slightly better than the Korngold, yet also suffers a touch from exaggerated projection. It’s not a virtuoso roller-coaster, but a tortured, introverted masterpiece, and it needs more emotional maturity and many more subtle dimensions to succeed fully. The real star here is the orchestra, the ebb and flow and the transparency of the textures controlled by James Gaffigan with sensitive exactitude, everything emerging lustrous, intense and vivid.