Korngold: Die Kathrin

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Korngold
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Die Kathrin
PERFORMER: Melanie Diener, David Rendall, Robert Hayward, Lillian Watson, Della Jones; BBC Singers, BBC Concert Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: 999 602-2
A year after Korngold’s centenary, all his operas have finally been recorded. Die Kathrin, long-awaited by Korngold aficionados, is his last: written over a number of years, it was begun before the Second World War but not performed until 1950, by which time critical opinion had turned trendily against melodic, warm-hearted music. Although much of the work’s dramatic impact was lessened when Korngold attempted to neutralise its political aspect by making the heroine Swiss instead of German, the music carries all the composer’s emotional sincerity and songful inventiveness – this opera emerges as one of his most appealing, accessible and enchanting works, inhabiting a down-to-earth world far flung from the mystical hysteria of his earlier masterpiece Das Wunder der Heliane, closer by far to his film scores.

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Melanie Diener as Kathrin and David Rendall as her lover François do full justice to the work’s unfailing warmth – the latter, particularly, is superb; Lillian Watson appears in a delightful vignette as the cabaret singer Chou-Chou; and there are fine contributions from Della Jones, Robert Hayward and Toby Spence, among others. The recording was made live at the BBC Maida Vale Studio and is far from perfect: the sound is a little dry, and orchestral and choral ensemble is shaky. But such faults are outweighed by the joy of being able to hear these long ‘unheard melodies’ at last. Jessica Duchen