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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Einfache Lieder (Simple Songs), Op. 9 (1911-16)
Das Ständchen (Serenade)
Liebesbriefchen (A little love letter)
Nachtwanderer (Night Wanderer)
Schneeglöckchen (Snowdrops)
Das Heldengrab am Pruth (The Hero’s Grave at Pruth) †
Prayer Op. 32 (1941) *
Suite: Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 (1918/19)
Mummenschanz (Hornpipe) – Prelude Act II
Gartenmusik (Garden Music) – Prelude Act III
Intermezzo – An Open Scene
Holzapfel und Schlehwein – Prelude Act III, Scene II
Mädchen im Brautgemach (Maiden in the Bridal Chamber) – Prelude Act IV
Abschiedlieder Songs (Songs of Farewell), Op. 14 (1920/21)
Sterbeleid (Requiem)
Dies eine kann mein Sehnen nimmer fassen (The one thing my longing can never grasp)
Mond, so gehst du wieder auf (Moon, you rise again)
Gefasster Abschlied (Serene Farewell)
Gigi Mitchell-Velasco (mezzo-soprano)
and Stephen Gould (tenor) * and Jochem Hochstenbach (piano) †
Ladies of the Mozart Choir,
Linz Bruckner Orchester Linz conducted by Caspar Richter
Recorded at Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria, 7-9 January 2002


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Another excellent concert in ASV’s continuing Korngold series. New Korngold recordings seem to be pouring out at the moment. Only last month I was complimenting Harmonia Mundi for their splendid Korngold Lieder album with baritone Dietrich Henschel accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch. This new ASV release includes two of the song cycles covered in that release but this time in Korngold’s more colourful version for soloist and orchestra. Gigi Mitchell-Velasco’s golden mezzo voice rivals, in the Abschiedslieder, Chandos’s 1993 premiere recording (CHAN 9171) with Linda Finnie and the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Sir Edward Downes. And in the Einfache Lieder cycle, [that here includes the world premiere recording (in its orchestral dress) of ‘Nachtwanderer’] competes with the Barbara Hendricks 1995 EMI (5. 56169 2) recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Franz Welser-Möst (although this latter recording only included four of the songs).

Heard for the first time in this compilation is Korngold’s 1941 composition Prayer written when he had settled in Hollywood. Here it receives not only its first ever recording but probably its first performance since its premiere in October 1941. It is written on a smaller scale making it ideal for performance in either a church or synagogue and it is scored for organ, harp and female voices with tenor soloist. The poignant text, sung with purity and clarity by Stephen Gould, is by the poet and novelist Franz Werfel a close friend of Korngold who was then living in Hollywood as the third husband of Alma Mahler.

Gigi Mitchell-Velasco’s rendering of the Einfache Lieder is almost as persuasive as that of Barbara Hendricks whose purity of tone and range impresses strongly. Richter however generally provides a more sympathetic accompaniment. The ‘Serenade’ is supple and lightly shaded with Hendricks contributing a most attractive girlish lilt and enthusiasm. ‘Little Love Letter’, one of Korngold’s most touching melodies and, deservedly, one of his most popular songs is most charmingly delivered, with both soloists tenderly maternal. Mitchell-Velasco’s lower register and dramatic shading adds gravitas to a compelling interpretation of the eerie, ghostly ‘Night Wanderer’. The scintillating quietly evocative ‘Snowdrops’ is sung tenderly by both ladies, softly, gently caressing the undulating vocal lines –"It was not singing, it was kissing, that stirred the little flowers gently." ‘Summer’ - "in many ways the most beautiful in the set" - as Brendan G. Carroll rightly suggests, is haunting on the ASV set, the orchestral sound quite ravishing but again Hendricks, for me, is just ahead, however this is not to diminish in any way Mitchell-Velasco’s accomplishment. The orchestral version of ‘The Hero’s Grave at Pruth’ appears to have been lost so Gigi Mitchell-Velasco is accompanied by Jochem Hochstenbach who admirably conjures up the swirling waters of the river and the dreamlike atmosphere of the distant burial ground.

Korngold’s Abschiedslieder dates from 1920/21 and these songs are recognised as his finest accomplishment in this genre. The opening gently mournful Requiem to another sublime melody is a setting of Christina Rossetti’s well-known lines – "My love, when I am dead do not mourn for me, instead of roses and cypresses, let the grass grow upon my grave". The sense of mourning and loss seems more palpable in the Chandos recording but Mitchell-Velasco delivers a cleaner vocal line than Finnie. The second song, ‘The one thing my longing can never grasp…’, is also sharply dramatic and damply, mistily evocative as defined by Finnie and Downes but so too is the new version, and Mitchell-Velasco adds sharp testiness to her mourning over lost love. She is polished too, and very affecting in the lovely, ‘Moon, you rise again’ -- "Teach, oh please teach me how not to long for her…" providing more emotional depth than Finnie; both orchestras shine here with Downes’ nocturne beautifully illuminated by shafts of silvery moonlight. The concluding song ‘Serene Farewell’ is sung most tenderly and consolingly by both soloists while Richter delivers the most sympathetic accompaniment.

The purely orchestral Much Ado About Nothing Suite for a smaller ensemble with harmonium and piano is magic under Richter’s sure direction. The Garden Music which is really the Prelude to Act IV is receiving its premiere recording here – why I cannot imagine for it is quite enchanting. It opens with distant horn calls to give the piece a brief initial sense of perspective, then more intimate glistening string-harp-and-harmonium figures, and rippling piano arpeggios, suggest birdsong and flowers nodding in zephyr breezes – all in gentle romantic waltz time. The bustling Overture is merry, comic and theatrical with another of Korngold’s attractive broad melodies to which one can imagine Errol Flynn courting Olivia de Havilland. The quirky use of the harmonium is another highlight of this tongue-in-cheek overture. The Hornpipe Prelude to Act II is a high-spirited delight with clever writing for the horn while the Holzapfel and Schiehwein music is a grotesquely comic march that anticipates Korngold’s more risible Sherwood Forest scenes from his film score, The Adventures of Robin Hood. The Intermezzo is a dreamy nocturne beginning with a sweetly melancholic passage for piano and cello – another lovely Korngold creation. The final movement, The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber is another beautiful melody – full of character (hesitant romance tinged with comic overtones) as Hero prepares for her wedding with decidedly mixed feelings.

Alas, I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the remaining item in this programme which incidentally also appears on the just released ASV Platinum repackaging of chamber works (ASV CD DCA 1131). Tomorrow was written for the film The Constant Nymph for orchestra, (heavenly) female choir and mezzo-soprano soloist. It is a small-scale symphonic poem and to be frank it is not top-drawer Korngold. It’s all too melodramatic - even for Korngold and on this evidence one can see why some wags (unjustifiably) criticised the whole of Korngold’s output as being more corn than gold. Its sombre, lugubrious opening is in the manner of a marche funèbre with tolling bells recalling his operas Die tote Stadt and Violanta. It then proceeds in autumnal nostalgia as the (doomed) soloist sings: "When I am gone, The sun will rise as bright tomorrow morn …Beauty will live..." Maybe I just cannot dispel my imagined heavily saccharined over-the-top Hollywood scenario that probably accompanied this music. (I say imagined because the 1943 Warner Bros. film, The Constant Nymph that starred Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine seems to be lost to view.) To their credit, Richter and his performers make this tear-jerking work as convincing as they can but then even the enthusiastic Charles Gerhardt with the National Philharmonic in his tribute to the cinematic Korngold (‘The Sea Hawk’ – 1972 RCA Gold Seal GD 87890) could do much with this piece! [The words on that recording are different by the way, more ‘Hollywoodish’ beginning with "When I am gone another love will cheer thee" and ending with "The sun will rise as bright tomorrow morn".]

Tomorrow apart, this is another winner in ASV’s continuing Korngold series with raptly beautiful renditions of the orchestral songs and a beguiling Much Ado About Nothing Suite.

Ian Lace

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