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Erich Wolfgang von KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Sonata Op.6 (1912)
Much Ado About Nothing - Suite for Violin and Piano Op.11 (1918)
Ich ging zu ihm – from Das Wunder der Heliane
Serenade – from Der Schneemann
Tanzlied des Pierrot – from Die tote Stadt Op.12 (1920)
Caprice Fantastique (Wichtelmännchen from Märchenbilder Op.3 (1910 arr. 1932)
Mariettas Lied – from Die tote Stadt Op.12 (1920)
Joseph Lin (violin)
Benjamin Loeb (piano)
Rec. Performing Arts Centre, Country Day School, King City, Ontario, August 2002
NAXOS 8.557067 [72.06]


Korngold’s violin and piano works make for a satisfying disc, an option now taken up by an increasing number of performers and companies. The latest entrant to the lists is Joseph Lin with pianist Benjamin Loeb, two young musicians based in America, and they give us the popular Much Ado About Nothing suite as well as the dizzyingly youthful Op. 6 Sonata – one of those works that makes you understand his contemporaries’ amazement at his precocity – as well as songful morceaux derived from Die tote Stadt or from songs.

It’s good to see the increasing representation of the Suite on disc – violinists respond to its warmth, vivacity and charm and with good reason, but none more so than Toscha Seidel whose (at the time unissued) 1941 recording with the composer has been resurrected by Biddulph. Lin is an attractive player, fine in the higher positions, pristine and almost virginal in the Maiden in the Bridal Chamber opening movement (not inappropriately). But whereas he is immaculate and waltz-like, Seidel is sensuous and evocative with an enveloping tone that lifts the music beyond the merely charming. Admittedly the Devil himself would have a hard job matching Seidel’s lascivious tonal splendour and his ringing pizzicati in Dogberry and Verges outgun all competition – martial and abrasive – more than helped by Korngold’s incendiary pianism (powder keg bass accents, etched sharp as a cutlass). All this is characterised with utter commitment. Contemporary players can’t help but seem dainty and halfhearted in comparison. I liked the way Lin floats his tone in the Garden Scene – the one movement from the Suite that’s never lacked for advocates – but Seidel’s voluptuary intensity, or Heifetz’s razor expressivity, are part of a different and I think more authentic aesthetic. I don’t have the score but Korngold and Seidel’s Masquerade has some textual additions, an opening piano chordal flourish, that I actually prefer to what I take to be the published version that opens simply with the violin hornpipe.

The Op.6 Sonata is the work of a fifteen year old but what a fifteen year old. Written for Flesch, no less, it’s a big, bold thirty-five minute, four-movement work that pulsates with harmonic sophistication, lyric inventiveness and emotive generosity. If it never entirely convinces as a statement in its entirety, it nevertheless clearly established the young Korngold as a major writer for the medium. The confident astringencies that pepper the opening movement are balanced by melodic attractions – heightened by the registral leaps Korngold asks of the fiddle. Lin and Loeb score well in the delightful trio of the Scherzo and sway into the sprightly variations Korngold crafted from a 1911 song.

Elsewhere they respond well to Korngold’s demands though never really sweepingly enough – the Serenade from Der Schneemann could go with greater intensity and the Caprice Fantastique is just a bit polite. Throughout in fact they seem just too well groomed and lacking in ardency for this fulsome music. I’m sure many will respond to their refinement and dexterity but I tend to prefer a little pepper with my Korngold, especially when the acoustic, though warm, tends to blunt and blur the piano.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Ian Lace


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