The most interesting item in this adventurous
Korngold programme is Der Sturm, for chorus and orchestra,
receiving, incredibly, not only its premiere recording here but
its first ever performance. The score was never published and
aside from an oblique reference in a 1928 newspaper article, not
even mentioned by its composer. The composition, in MS score,
is preserved in the Library of Congress. It was written when the
composer was only sixteen. It is a sound picture of a storm at
sea and is a setting of a combination of verses by Heinrich Heine.
The work is substantial and complex with intricate harmonies and
shifting rhythms and tempi. Korngold’s tempest storms and shrieks
as he evokes ‘A living mountain of water’ and ‘an abyss yawning…
there towers a white wall’ but the ending soothes with the serenity
of a star-bejewelled sky. Uneven in inspiration, it nevertheless
is an important find and something of a recording coup.
The album also includes arias from three Korngold
operas: the charming ‘Diary Song’ in which heroine Laura muses
over past romances comes from Korngold’s earliest opera, Der
Ring des Polykrates written when the composer was only
sixteen; while the excerpts from Korngold’s Die Kathrin,
his last opera, banned by the Nazis and which never really caught
on after World War II, are the light-hearted and swaggering march
(shades of The Adventures of Robin Hood) as the hero marches
off to war) and Kathrin’s aria in prayer for his protection, she
despairing and left pregnant. In between we have the intensity
of Der Wunder der Heliane the story about a bleak country
where the ruler has banned all love and joy. His marriage is unconsummated
and his wife, the saintly Queen Heliane, comes under the spell
of a young stranger who preaches love to the downtrodden populace.
Korngold uses a huge orchestra for this opera, The album includes
three excerpts: the glorious introduction to Act I when angelic
voices sing in a chapel as the stranger lies manacled in a cell
below; the demonic march, that is the Prelude to Act II, suggesting
the brutality of the regime; and Helene’s Act II aria ‘I went
to Him’ in which she insists on the purity of her meeting with
the stranger (although she disrobes for him) while the orchestra
in its mounting sensuality suggests her real feelings. Wendy Nielsen
is expressive enough in all three arias but her voice most secure
in her mid-range has hardly the lyric soprano qualities required
for Korngold’s earliest opera.
For film score fans, there is Korngold’s brief
and concentrated, but highly dramatic Cello Concerto developed
from the concerto the composer wrote for the 1946 Warner Bros
film, Deception that starred Bette Davis caught in a love
triangle between her teacher, Claude Rains, playing an egomaniac
composer and Paul Henreid as a cellist and former lover believed
lost in war but recently returned from a concentration camp. Zuill
Bailey gives a powerfully intense reading with a deeply felt adagio
(and a magical cadenza) while Richter gives excellent support
full of dramatic urgency and attack, the orchestra really growling
in places yet tender and dream-like in the quieter sections.
Incredibly Korngold’s lovely Waltz from Der
Schneemann (The Snowman) was written when the prodigy
was only eleven. It maybe derivative of the Viennese styles prevalent
then but there is impressive sophistication and refinement here.
Richter delivers a reading full of old world charm.
An earlier ASV album (CD DCA 1131) included a
suite from Korngold’s incidental music for a 1920 stage production
of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Conductor Caspar
Richter has exhumed three more movements for this compilation.
Festmusik is a sparkling high-spirited piece, Trauermusik
(nodding towards Grieg) is a measured melancholic nocturne
that becomes magical when a solo piano enters to suggest a serene
sylvan landscape, and Schlusstanz is a reprise of the Hornpipe
heard in the earlier suite but with a resounding conclusion..
Another important album adding to our knowledge
of Korngold’s colourfully dramatic non-film music with seascape,
Der Sturm, receiving its first ever performance.