Korngold: Der Ring des Polykrates

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Korngold
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Der Ring des Polykrates
PERFORMER: Endrik Wottrich, Beate Bilandzija, Jürgen Sacher, Kirsten Blanck, Dietrich Henschel; Deutsches SO Berlin/ Klauspeter Seibel
CATALOGUE NO: 999 402-2
Good news for Korngold fans: at long last, here is the first ever complete recording of Korngold’s first opera. And it’s delightful. It is distinctively Korngoldian – full of sparkling energy and good-humoured upswing, sensitive orchestration and youthful idealism. Listen especially for the final ensemble which brims over with tenderness and sympathy. It is also considerably more compact than most of his other operas. The setting is Saxony in 1797, and the young Korngold pays tribute to the Classical era by using just five singers and a smaller-than-usual orchestra, which enables the textures to be clearer and lighter. The story is equally light: a young married couple are so happy that their long-lost ‘friend’ challenges them to make a sacrifice lest their luck change, in parallel with the story of Polycrates, who threw his ring into the sea as a similar sacrifice. He therefore demands that the husband asks the wife whether she had loved anyone else before him. Eventually the couple decide to sacrifice their friend instead, and throw him out of the house.

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This is a good performance on the whole; I find Dietrich Henschel a little too overtly threatening as the disruptive friend Vogel, but Beate Bilandzija gives a beautifully nostalgic account of the best-known moment, Laura’s ‘Diary Song’, and the orchestral playing is clear and lively. Jessica Duchen