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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


RECORDING OF THE MONTH

Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Lieder
12 Lieder "Op.5 So Gott und Papa will"

Das Ständchen (Serenade); Winternacht (Winter Night); Das Mädchen (The girl); Abendlandschaft (Evening Landscape); Schneeglöckchen (Snowdrop); Aussicht (A Prospect); Die Sperlinge (The Sparrows); Nachtwanderer (The Night Traveller);
Der Friedensbote (The Messenger of Peace); Vom Berge (From the Mountain); Waldeseinsamkeit (Loneliness of the Forest); Sangesmut (The Singer’s Creed)
(from) 6 einfache Lieder Op. 9
Liebesbriefchen (Billet-doux); Das Heldengrab am Pruth (The Hero’s Grave on the Pruth (The River Pruth in Romania); Sommer (Summer);
4 Lieder des Abschieds Op. 14

Sterbelied (Requiem); Dies eine kann mein Sehen nimmer fassen (This one thing my yearning can never understand); Mond, so gehst du wieder auf (Moon, thus you rise once more); Gefasster Abschied (Resigned farewell).
3 Lieder Op. 18

In meiner innige Nacht (Into my profound night); Tu ab den Schmerz entflieh, Verlangen (Dismiss pain, flee, longing); Versuchung (Temptation).
5 Lieder Op. 38

I Wish You Bliss; Wings; Old Spanish Song; Old English Song; My Mistress’ Eyes

(from) Unvergänglichkeit Op. 27
Das eilende Bächlein (The Rushing Brook); Das schlafende Kind (The Sleeping Child)
(from) 3 Lieder Op. 22
Was du mir bist (What are you to me?)
Reiselied (Journeying Song)
Vesper (Vespers)
Die Geniale (A Genius of a Girl)
Nachts (At Night)
Sonett für Wien (Sonnet for Vienna)
Die Gansleber im Hause Duschnitz (The Goose-liver at the Duschnitz House)

Dietrich Henschel (baritone) with Helmut Deutsch (piano)
Recorded November 2001, Teldec Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 901780 [75:45]

It seems amazing, that not so long ago, critics were dismissing Korngold as ‘more corn than gold’ because he had committed the cardinal sin of diminishing his talent by composing for films. Thankfully, because of a steady increase in the flow of new recordings of the composer’s operas, orchestral, chamber, and instrumental music, over the last two decades or so, this prejudice and ill-informed view has thankfully just about been eradicated. This Harmonia Mundi release reveals another golden seam in Korngold’s oeuvre, closing another important gap in our knowledge. Here are thirty-six of the composer’s songs (he composed around forty) ranging from the early, heavily-influenced, Twelve Lieder of 1911 (when the composer was barely into his teens), to the radical, advanced harmonic language of the Drei Lieder Op. 18 of 1924.

Of course, most of us came to know Korngold through his film scores. Several of these songs were taken from his work for Warner Bros. His last song ‘Sonnett für Wien’, composed in 1953, for example, used one of the effulgent melodies from a long-forgotten Errol Flynn film Escape Me Never (1946). [I recommend the Korngold film score album in Charles Gerhardt’s ‘Classic Film Scores’ series, released by RCA in the 1970s. This album (RCA Victor GD87890) includes an eight-minute suite of music from Escape Me Never that is a breathtaking profusion of gorgeous melodies in the grand Viennese operetta tradition].

The opus 38 collection (1948), written and sung in English is rooted in film music too: ‘I wish you bliss’ has the beautiful lyrical main theme theme composed for the film Devotion (about the Brontë family); ‘Wings’ has a motif from Juarez; ‘Old Spanish Song’ is a plaintive little gem from The Sea Hawk ("Stood a maiden at her window… ‘My love is far from me’."); the robust and rollicking ‘Old English Song’ was written for, but not used in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. The only newly-composed song from this collection, ‘My Mistress’ Eyes’, is from Shakespeare and is full of irony as the singer damns his love with faint praise.

In 1993 Chandos released a Korngold album (CHAN 9171) that included the orchestral version of the Op. 14 Abschiedslieder (Songs of Farewell), in the quasi-operatic style of Strauss and Mahler, hauntingly sung by contralto Linda Finnie with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Sir Edward Downes. I wholeheartedly agree with Brendan Carroll who suggests, "They are probably his finest work in the genre". The songs were inspired by the huge loss of life in World War I. Here we have original 1921 version. ‘Sterbelied’ (Requiem) is a setting of Christina Rossetti’s famous verses – "When I am dead, my dearest, Sing no sad songs for me…", the music heartrendingly beautiful in its mournfulness. ‘Dies eine kann mein Sehen nimmer fassen’ (This one thing my yearning can never understand) mixes defiance, longing and hopelessness; the accompaniment is ravishing. ‘Mond, so gehst du wieder auf’ (Moon, thus you rise once more) has a beauty that is silvery yet also numb and desolate, the piano part is particularly affecting – a wonderful song. ‘Gefasster Abschied’ (Resigned Farewell) brings some sign of hope for a new life and future love.

This collection contains many first recordings including songs transcribed from the manuscripts and performed here for the very first time. The first surviving example of Korngold’s songs is ‘Knabe’, written when the prodigy was only seven years old. By the age of fourteen, he had composed a two-act ballet, chamber music and his first important orchestral work, the Schauspiel Overture. And, about this time, he began work on the twelve songs that comprise Op. 5 as a birthday gift for his father. Most were never published. Brendan Carroll thinks this was due to the influence of his father – Papa was clearly ‘not willing’ - for only three of them were later printed (as Op.9). For this recording, Helmut Deutsch, writing in an additional note, to the excellent main notes by Brendan Carroll, explains that he had to work from scarcely decipherable manuscripts held in the Library of Congress in Washington. His work has revealed 12 early Korngold songs of estimable value. Yes, some are clearly salon pieces, and some have the clear imprint of Schubert but all have charm. One of these Das Mädchen (The Maiden) anticipates the Old Spanish Song (see above). The three songs from this collection that Korngold returned to in 1916 as a foundation for the Op.9 compilation were: the dreamily evocative ‘Schneeglöckchen’ (Snowdrop) – "It was like soft singing in the garden tonight…"; the light-hearted, Schubert-like ‘Das Ständchen’ (The Serenade); and the extraordinary, ghostly Nachtwanderer (The Night Traveller) with its spectral tones "He rides at night on a brown steed…dark night is man’s enemy…". To these three songs Korngold added three more to complete Op. 9: ‘Liebesbriefchen’ (billet-doux), inspired by one of Korngold’s early girl friends, is one of the loveliest of all his songs, ‘Das Heldengrab am Pruth’ (The Hero’s Grave on the Pruth) contrasts eerie piano effects, brilliantly evoking the haunted atmosphere of the burial ground, with more intimate memories of the fallen hero; and ‘Sommer’ (Summer) is distinguished by the piano’s gently bubbling semi-quavers recalling Mahler before the song settles into a ravishing arpeggio accompaniment to the lovely melody. So many times I found my ear captivated by the beauty of Korngold’s piano writing.

Drei Leider Op. 18 (1924) are songs described by Korngold as character studies for his opera Das Wunder der Heliane. They are richly chromatic and frequently bi-tonal. In meine innige Nacht’ (Into my profound night) is ghostly, remote and desolate. The abrasive ‘Tu ab den Schmerz’ (Dismiss, pain, flee, longing) has bi-tonal material in E flat major and A minor.

Of the remainder, all gems, I must mention the following: ‘Vesper’ (1911) with its sombre tolling-bell accompaniment, the droll gourmet humour of ‘Die Gansleber im Hause Duschnitz’ (The Goose-liver at the Duschnitz House); and the sweetly nostalgic Was du mir bist (What are you to me).

Baritone, Dietrich Henschel rises to the challenges of these often demanding songs (especially those comprising Op. 18) sensitively colouring his voice according to their mood and atmosphere. He is splendidly partnered by pianist Helmut Deutsch who reveals all the striking beauty of Korngold’s piano writing.

Ian Lace


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