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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Fairytale pictures and other orchestral music
Violanta: Prelude and Carnival Op.8 (1916) [7.41]
Schauspiel Overture Op.4 (1911) [13.27]
Märchenbilder (Fairytale pictures) Op.3 (1910) [18.57]
Straussiana (1953) [6.47]
Theme and Seven Variations Op.42 [9.04]
Tales of Strauss Op.21 (1927) orchestrated Franz Kopriva [11.01]
Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Caspar Richter
Recorded in Bruckner House, Linz, Austria, 20-24 February 2001. DDD
ASV CD DCA 1108 [68.38]

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This second volume of Korngold’s orchestral music (the first is CD DCA 1074) spans both his very first and last works. A precocious boy composer - aged 13 when his ballet The Snowman was staged in the Vienna Court Opera in 1910, orchestrated by Zemlinsky but prompted by the Wunderkind - it’s hard for him to escape the shadow of Richard Strauss, and frankly he never does. Der Rosenkavalier is a computer worm burrowing into his musical hard drive (Wagner is of course a given) but the result is a satisfying mix of lush textures and soaring melodies. He went on to write many film scores, and these early compositions, written twenty years before Al Jolson, provide many a signpost to his later career in America, where he fled from Nazi persecution in the 1930s. Meanwhile his opera Die tote Stadt had scored a deserved triumph in 1920 and did his reputation no harm in Austria and further afield.

The Märchenbilder (Fairytale pictures) were originally seven piano pieces, which Korngold orchestrated (only six have survived), while the Schauspiel overture (Overture to a Drama) was orchestral in concept from the outset and may have been inspired by a Shakespeare play. It received a fabulous baptism when Nikisch gave its first performance in Leipzig on 14 December 1911, and was then taken up by a galaxy of top conductors, in Europe by Muck, Busch, Furtwängler, Mengelberg and Steinbach, while in Britain Wood did it at the 1912 Promenade Concerts.

His first opera (written at 16) was a short comedy (Der Ring des Polykrates) to which he added Violanta, a full-blooded tale of lust as a companion piece. Schrecker, von Schillings and Zemlinsky were writing such pieces taken from romantic Renaissance tragedies, so it is hardly surprising that Korngold should be drawn to such sources under their influence. The music of this by-now 17 year-old was still in the hands of the greatest conductors of the day: in the case of Violanta it was Bruno Walter at Munich on 28 March 1916 while it did much for the career of Maria Jeritza who made the role her own. The listener should bear in mind that this music which opens the CD, is highly erotic yet comes from the pen of an uninitiated youth. The Theme of Op.42 is marked to be played ‘like an Irish folk tune’ and is followed by seven brief but colourful variations. It was written for a school orchestra. Tales of Strauss was originally a fantasia for piano, but subsequently, and with the composer’s approval, orchestrated by Franz Kopriva. Straussiana is what its title implies, but again it is Johann rather than Richard from which the music is derived, three short pieces rescored by Korngold. Given no opus number because he was superstitious that he would not live beyond his Opus 42, sure enough Straussiana was his last completed work four years before his death.

Apart from a woefully out of tune chord which concludes track 8 (Märchenbilder), the playing of the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz is both stylish and idiomatic under their principal guest conductor Caspar Richter. While the sound ambience could do with much more bloom and space, this is a welcome disc of highly enjoyable music taking us beyond the obvious as far as Korngold’s output is concerned - the violin concerto is justifiably doing well.

Christopher Fifield

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