Korngold: Sinfonietta, Op. 5; Violin Concerto, Op. 35

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Dorian
WORKS: Sinfonietta, Op. 5; Violin Concerto, Op. 35
PERFORMER: Ulrike-Anima Mathé (violin); Dallas SO/Andrew Litton
Here in brand-new, sparkling, all-American Technicolor are two of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s most beautiful concert works. The lyrical and gorgeously melodic Violin Concerto is given a sensitive, deeply felt performance by the young German violinist Ulrike-Anima Mathé, whose interpretation stands comfortably beside formidable competition from Gil Shaham and Itzhak Perlman.


The Violin Concerto is based on music from Korngold’s film scores and the shadows of Errol Flynn and Bette Davis are never far away in this recording. Fair enough, perhaps. The Sinfonietta, however, was written when Korngold was still an acclaimed child prodigy, during the years preceding the First World War. It was first performed when he was all of 15 years old, at which time Hollywood was still in its infancy, the ‘talkie’ was not even a glimmer in a director’s eye and the notion of writing film music could never have crossed the boy composer’s mind. Litton and the Dallas SO, however, milk the piece for every last ounce of sentimentality and turn it into as much of a Hollywood piece as the Concerto.

Although the orchestral playing is excellent, the movie-music-like interpretation does not suit Korngold’s optimism and symphonic awareness in this piece, which is based around the cyclic development of an upward-swinging theme which he termed the ‘Motive of the Cheerful Heart’. The Sinfonietta is deeply and essentially Viennese in style and I can’t help feeling that this excessively sugary rendering rather taints its youthful and unspoilt freshness (for a subtler version turn to Bamert and the BBC Philharmonic on Chandos).


The sound, however, is superb: every component of Korngold’s rich-textured orchestration is crystal clear. Jessica Duchen