ALBUM TITLE: Korngold
WORKS: Symphony; Lieder des AbschiedsMärchenbilder, Op. 3; Schauspiel Ouvertüre; Der Schneemann – excerpts; Violanta – excerptsSursum Corda; Sinfonietta
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10431 X,CHAN 10434 X,CHAN 10432 X,CHAN 10433 X
When Erich Wolfgang Korngold died 50 years ago this month, his reputation was already on the wane. As a late-Romantic in a new modernist age and, moreover, one who had been ‘tainted’ by the lure of Hollywood, he had to wait for the more accepting musical pluralism of the late 20th century to regain something of the popularity he and his music had had in his youth.
One sign of this new acceptance was the series of four discs that Chandos made of his orchestral music with the BBC Philharmonic in the mid-1990s and which have now been reissued to mark the Korngold anniversary. They make up a generous and representative survey, even if it can’t be deemed comprehensive without such a major work as the Violin Concerto, and several less key ones such as the Baby Serenade and Much Ado About Nothing suite. There’s also only the barest hint of Korngold’s operatic work, in two orchestral fragments from Violanta, and no direct acknowledgement of his work in films, which anyway is now liberally represented elsewhere.
The first volume to be made, featuring the rich voice of Linda Finnie in the Lieder der Abschieds together with the late Symphony in F sharp, was in the sure hands of Edward Downes, the later three under the equally incisive baton of Matthias Bamert.
The adage that Korngold’s style emerged fully formed at the age of ten and didn’t advance for the remaining 50 years of his life has a certain grain of truth, to the extent that his ballet-pantomime Der Schneemann, written at the age of 11, has as many recognisably Korngoldian touches as Das klagende Lied – the work of a comparably geriatric 20-year-old – does of the mature Mahler. Even if the orchestration was by his teacher Zemlinsky, the individuality of this music never fails to amaze, as it does here in Matthias Bamert’s warm and endearing account of Act I. His finely paced disc of these earliest works also features a long-forgotten orchestration of the Märchenbilder, the thrusting Schauspiel Overture and the Violanta pieces.
But arguably his first true orchestral masterpiece was the Sinfonietta, a symphony in all but name for all its un-Mahlerian sense of ease with the world and completed when Korngold was still just 15. Here the combination of Bamert’s supple shaping of the music, the BBC Philharmonic’s opulent playing and Chandos’s lustrous sound make for an experience that is both indulgent and satisfying. It’s coupled with the 22-year-old composer’s stormy symphonic overture Sursum corda.
Another highlight is the Symphonic Serenade – a richly inventive use of the string orchestra medium in the tradition of Tchaikovsky, Dvo?ák and Elgar – and demonstrative of the inherent warmth of the BBC Phil’s string sound. And on the same disc, Howard Shelley sails through the challenges of the unjustly neglected Piano Concerto – Paul Wittgenstein’s earliest left-hand commission – and Peter Dixon brings plenty of soaring tone to the short-but-sweet Cello Concerto