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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Schauspiel Overture (1911)
Bruckner Orchester conducted by Caspar Richter
(Recorded in Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria, 2001)
Piano Quintet in E major (1921)
The Schubert Ensemble
(Recorded in Broadcasting House, Manchester, 1998)
String Quartet No. 2 in E flat (1934)
Flesch Quartet
(Recorded in St Philips Church, Norbury, London, 1998)
Tomorrow (1942)
Gigi Mitchell-Velasco (mezzo-soprano) with the Ladies of the Mozart Choir, Linz
And the Bruckner Orchester, Linz
conducted by Caspar Richter
(Recorded in Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria, 2002)

Another interesting ASV repackaging, this time centred on the relatively unfamiliar chamber works of Erich Wolfgang Korngold best known for his Warner Bros film scores of the 1930s and 1940s.

The Piano Quintet is a substantial three-movement work with a very demanding piano part. Typical of the composer, much of it is warm and good-humoured with, in the opening movement, upward-sweeping optimistic figures, but also a contrasting shadowy, central section with mysterious dissonances. The central movement is harmonically arresting and is based on a set of variations from an introspective romantic theme from Korngold’s Lieder des Abschieds (‘Songs of Farewell’). The finale begins sternly but proceeds in sunshine and good humour with the sort of music that anticipates the more rumbustious episodes of his The Adventures of Robin Hood film score. The Schubert Ensemble deliver a convincing performance of considerable charm and polish.

Korngold’s String Quartet No.2 in E flat opens with reflections on a summer-lit Austrian countryside with passages of lyrical serenity contrasted with more joyful, bustling material. The second movement Intermezzo is pleasant salon music with significant solo parts and interplay between the individual voices. The emotional heart of the work is the lovely Larghetto (Lento) third movement beginning with intriguing string glissandi, misterioso, leading to deeply introspective musings affectingly played by the Flesch Quartet. The concluding movement is a set of variations on a Viennese waltz.

The two chamber works are book-ended by two works written on a larger scale. The Schauspiel Overture (‘Overture to a Drama’) was composed when Korngold was only 14.

Despite a tendency towards immature bombast, it shows amazing assurance and command of the resources of a large orchestra and understanding of structure and dramatic tension. Richter splendidly realises the work’s colour and the heroics, writ large in the grand Richard Strauss manner.

Tomorrow was written for the film The Constant Nymph for orchestra, female choir and mezzo-soprano soloist. It is a small-scale symphonic poem and to be frank it is not top-drawer Korngold. It’s all too melodramatic - even for Korngold and on this evidence one can see why some wags (unjustifiably) criticised the whole of Korngold’s output as being more corn than gold. Its sombre opening is in the manner of a marche funèbre with tolling bells recalling his operas Die tote Stadt and Violanta. It then proceeds in autumnal nostalgia as the (doomed) soloist sings: "When I am gone, The sun will rise as bright tomorrow morn … Beauty will live ..." To their credit, Richter and his performers make this tear-jerking work as convincing as they can.

Another valuable re-packaging – the two chamber works being especially welcome.

Ian Lace

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