ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
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
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
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.