Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Save around 22%
with these retailers

Prelude: Act II Die Tote Stadt (1920) 7.25
Sursum Corda overture (1920) 18.36
Baby Serenade (1928) 21.32
Prelude and Serenade from Der Schneeman (1908) 4.42
Interlude from Das Wunder der Heliane (1926) 8.29
Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Caspar Richter
rec 29-31 March 1999 ASV CDDCA 1074 [61.45]

This is a varied collection of odds and ends but each pieces has its intriguing strangenesses and delights. A Korngold delight is usually especially memorable.

All those years ago (1972?) it was with Die Tote Stadt that RCA launched Korngold as an operatic reputation. The second act prelude is sombre and almost Delian - a trend I noted in the last Act of Die Kathrin. LINK? It ends however with the richest imaginable skein of bell carillons - a clamour, orgasmically Rimskian and resolved in orchestral shudders reminiscent of the Ride of the Valkyries. The Bells of Bruges (the Dead City itself) usually dowsed in slow emotional spice are offset by a crystalline magic straight out of Rosenkavalier. Korngold venerated Richard Strauss's music.

Sursum Corda is a lanky, fulsome, dense concert overture. Janacekian strings probe and flicker sabre-like. Confidence does not exude from every bar; it bursts forth in a torrent with a surge like that of Elgar's In The South. This blood-rush is full of ecstatic shrills and the call of strange birds. The typical 'deep cream' theme is lovingly pitched and rocked with all the rich melodrama you could ask. Korngold tops each climax with the hectic torrential invention of Szymanowski's concert overture (actually nowhere near as dense as Szymanowski's early effort) or Enescu's first symphony. It only suffers because its final five minutes give the impression that the composer was trying out all sorts of endings until he found one that fitted.

It is the first time that I have heard the Baby Serenade (written for son, George). This looks like a recording premiere (Korngold completists will correct me if I am wrong). It still rushes pell-mell but is lighter textured with an orchestra of jazz trumpet, 3 saxes, banjo, piano, harp, percussion and strings. The sax darts and cants around and at times you feel that the orchestra must be powered by some form of accelerant. The second movement is a 'hearts and flowers' lied of reverberantly supercharged and ghostly creaminess while the scherzino's motor horn cheekiness is played to the hilt. The woodwind are in cherry-ripe form. The jazz movement is not all that jazzy but you can tell what Korngold intended: very much a ghostly street nocturne. The epilogue has hints of the traditional Christmas tune O Tannenbaum and is agreeably sentimental; note the piano apparently ticking out the moments to Christmas Day and the feathered the gong stroke. More than a few subtle moments here.

Der Schneemann (1908) has been done before (several times). A more major slice of the score is to be found on Chandos. The two very short excerpts are good and the solo violin of Heinz Haunold is sweetness itself.

How long do we have to wait for a complete recording of the opera The Wonder of Heliane? Going by this prelude I hope I get the chance to review it. I also hope that Caspar Richter is selected as the conductor. For the prelude imagine again the ripest Elgarian material - perhaps culled from the second symphony - and then imagine it slowed and steadied with the orchestration made transparent. The strings swoop, slide and fade with faultless timing. The congestion of Sursum Corda is absent and the piece seems more secure and fully rounded - balanced to perfection. The Waltonian brass erupt, at first tactfully, then in glory as the great cortege moves onward: tragic and happy, sad and confident - a melting angel cake of a piece. Utter perfection.

The orchestra is in tip-top form as you might expect from their little known recording of the Franz Schmidt Symphony No. 4 (conducted by Martin Sieghart) on Chesky - review.

As you might expect the notes are by foremost Korngold authority, Brendan Carroll, who now also seems to be branching out towards another late romantic the Austrian, Joseph Marx. See Mr Carroll's notes for the very fine recording of the Marx string quartets review.

Summing up: Great recording, richness and clarity; performances that are not so much spirited as flaming. We must hear more from Caspar Richter and the Linz orchestra. High recommendation.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links but you can also purchase from:

Return to Index