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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major Op.35 (1937-39) [25.38]
Heliane’s Song ‘Ich ging zu ihm’ from Das Wunder der Heliane – (1923 arranged for violin and piano 1927) [3.53]
Much Ado About Nothing – Suite (1918 arranged for violin and piano 1920) [8.55]
Suite Op.23 for two violins, cello, and piano left-hand (1930) [34.00]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa - Concerto
David Frühwirth  (violin) and Henri Sigfridsson (piano) – Heliane, Much Ado
Benjamin Schmid and Hanna Weinmeister (violins), Quirine Viersen (cello) Silke Avenhaus (piano) – Suite
rec. Salzburg Festival, July - August 2004


This is a souvenir of the 2004 Salzburg Festival. Of course it’s much more besides as it showcases the talents of two emerging fiddle players, Benjamin Schmid and David Frühwirth, who with their colleagues are responsible for this all-Korngold compilation. Both violinists have made contributions on disc before now – I’ve reviewed Schmid on this site in fairly standard repertoire and Frühwirth has put together an intriguing double CD selection of inter-War things – among them Gál, Rathaus, Busch, and indeed the Korngold suite he essayed in Salzburg.

One can assume they feel comfortable in congenial repertoire – the results are certainly persuasive. Apparently Schmid was the toast of the town for his companionable meeting with Ozawa in the Concerto. This is a work becoming increasingly visible in the racks – long gone are the days when Heifetz was the only yardstick – though it’s also true to say that the work is becoming increasingly more measured and introverted with each passing year. It was, one needs to remember, written for Huberman not Heifetz, so perhaps Heifetzian rapier would have been modified by the more anachronistic Huberman aesthetic, had he ever given a performance. What remains the case is that there are a number of recommendable recordings at all price brackets – Perlman (recorded as ever too close) with the Goldmark, Shahan with the Barber and Korngold’s Much Ado, Heifetz, unmatchable, is still here with Wallenstein, and Vera Tsu, surprisingly good on Naxos with the Goldmark in a mini-Perlman offering.

Schmid is not as closely recorded as Perlman and Heifetz and that’s to the good. He isn’t as warmly succulent as either, though his is a subtle infusion of colour, albeit one that cleaves to the accepted prevailing view of this work as rather chaste and feminine. Well, call me crabby but I like a bit of guts hereabouts and I go for Heifetz’s Porsche road handling skills, and a tempo altogether faster than his rivals. No one can quite match his oratorical presence in the ruminative opening – here in Salzburg there’s just the hint of sagging and the slightly diffuse orchestral sound balance doesn’t assist. Still, Schmid’s silvery tone brings its own rewards, especially in the Anthony Adverse-isms of the slow movement. Schmid’s sensitivity is further signalled by his selfless care over dynamics in the finale and by his attentive fusion of his colour with that of the orchestral solos. Ozawa marshals the rhythmic business of the finale pretty well. A good performance then, all round, but not one I think that matches the front-runners. 

In the Suite he’s joined by chamber colleagues for a commanding traversal, somewhat spoilt by a clangy piano. Nevertheless there’s plenty to note here – the craggy Prelude, ominous cello, pizzicato flecked and increasingly voluptuous. There’s a whimsical waltz, with succulent colour, but one that so borders – in this performance – on the obsessive that the ensuing Groteske third movement seems to emerge organically for once and not seem to be imposed. The forlorn contrastive B section is a troubling foil – in point of fact this is a deeply troubling work – and the performance barely stints of the hints of mania (it was written in 1930). There’s a beautiful lied to calm things and a fine energetic Rondo. But the impression remains of barely concealed tension.

The Much Ado About Nothing suite has been popular since it was first published. In fact violist Lionel Tertis was quick off the mark, recording a movement for Columbia (not issued at the time) a scant few years after it was brought out. The biggest figure in its recorded history – certainly the most molten - was Toscha Seidel. Frühwirth is no Seidel, either in inclination or tonal reserves, and he has in any case already recorded the Suite in studio conditions for Avie. He brings elegant tang to the second of the movements, and brings explicit contrast between crystalline upper strings and husky lower ones in the Garden Scene (the most popular).

Both these fiddle players are offering some good things in their careers and particularly here. Korngold addicts can take a punt, but knowing that these are live documents and they will need ancillary performances.

Jonathan Woolf


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