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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Sonata in G major op. 6 (1913) [38:24]
Violin Concerto in D major op. 35 (1945) [25:00]
Paul Waltman (violin)
Bengt Forsberg (piano)
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/David Björkman
rec. Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, Studio 2, 12 November 2007 (sonata); Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, 24 May 2006 (concerto). DDD
DAPHNE 1032 [63:52]
Experience Classicsonline

Korngold was a phenomenon but phenomena are transient unless their work has an enduring quality. Korngold had that quality even if it has taken a fashion upheaval to make his concert music acceptable and more.
His chamber and orchestral music spanned the whole of his career while his five operas concluded with Die Tote Stadt in 1920. Film scores - perhaps an opera-substitute and certainly the source of a handsome if exhausting living – in some sense took the place of opera from 1934 until his death.
The Violin Sonata was written during the composer's fifteenth and sixteenth years. Listening to the music these bald facts seem scarcely plausible. The Sonata’s ideas have the stamp and reach of maturity. Wonder is one thing; the music is what matters. This big four movement sonata was written for Schnabel and Carl Flesch. Its language is that of Franz Schmidt and Joseph Marx - lushly romantic, rhapsodically aureate yet taut. It is just as remarkable, and its psychological realm as richly stocked, as that of the Sinfonietta he wrote early on after his studies with Zemlinsky. There have been few recordings of this Sonata – perhaps only Sonia van Beek on CPO. In fact I could not instantly think of any. Forsberg has already recorded Korngold with von Otter but Stockholm-born Waltman is a new name to me. He lays into this work with a will yet has poetry aplenty for the wonderfully touching Scherzo which moves with a strange fluidity between nightmare and delight. Waltman's tone is a shade nasal and hoarse with emotion – not that this is untoward. He tracks adeptly the palette of moods through which Korngold traverses like quicksilver. The following Adagio (III) has the closest touch with the world of the much later Violin Concerto. Several of the figures and one specific episode overlap directly with the Concerto’s material. Korngold also has the confident effrontery to end this symphonically-proportioned Sonata with a quiet poetic glow rather than a brazen Götterdämmerung. The Sonata has a satiated sunset quality which reminded me of the Delius Violin Sonatas 2 and 3 and the Cello Sonata. If you appreciate those works you will love this which also has drama aplenty.
This recording of the Violin Concerto is from a live concert in 2006. It is hemmed about with exalted and robust competition. My favourites include the deliberately unglamorous 1994 version by Ulrike-Anima Mathé on Dorian DOR-90216 and, from much earlier, the equally understated Ulf Hoelscher. Worth hearing alongside Hoelscher (EMI Red Line) are Cuckson (Centaur), Schmid (Oehms), Ehnes (Onyx), Shaham (DG), Perlman (EMI Classics 5096762) and Mutter (DG). They’re all a freshening breeze and relief from Heifetz's relentless hegemony on BMG-RCA.
Waltman does not give the impression of flying through the virtuoso demands of the score with quite the fluidity of his colleagues. One senses the effort he has to invest in the Korngold’s demands. On the other hand his is a poetic and sensitive reading with a sense of luxuriantly expansive grandeur which is very much to the fore in the first two movements. It is at its zenith in the gentle descent of the Romance; here superbly calculated. Waltman does all this without the all-too-easy surrender to slush.
For the record the concerto references Korngold’s film scores for Another Dawn (1937) (I), Juarez (1939) (I), Anthony Adverse (1936) (II) and The Prince and the Pauper (III).
The notes for this cleverly coupled disc are also by Paul Waltman. They remind us that although Heifetz premiered the Concerto it was actually written with the encouragement of Hubermann who sadly became evasive over a premiere date. Heifetz then moved in and the rest is history. Had Hubermann's been the recorded version of the Concerto we had known on disc the chromium-rigorous image of the work as left by Heifetz and RCA might have been very different. Mind you I am not sure that it would have been recorded so early.
The ‘hook’ for this disc is the Sonata which I have not heard bettered and remains neglected. Into the bargain you get a grandly poetic version of the concerto though not one that for me displaces Anima-Mathé or Hoelscher.
Rob Barnett


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