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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1945) [23:43]
Schauspiel-Ouvertüre (Overture to a Drama), Op. 4 (1911) [13:31]
Much Ado About Nothing - Concert Suite, Op. 11 (1918-1919) [16:13]
Philippe Quint (violin)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Mineria/Carlos Miguel Prieto
rec. August 2007, Sala Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico
NAXOS 8.570791 [53:40]
Experience Classicsonline

After years of relative neglect Korngold is reaching a wider audience at last. True, Erich Leinsdorf’s classic recording of Die Tode Stadt has been around for nearly 40 years but Das Wunder Der Heliane had to wait until the 1990s before it appeared as part of Decca’s Entartete Musik series. Since then Matthias Bamert and the late Ted Downes have recorded some fine discs of Korngold’s vocal and orchestral music for Chandos. And don’t forget André Previn, whose version of the violin concerto with Gil Shaham (DG 439 886 2) is one of the very best available. He has also returned to his Hollywood heyday with a disc of music from The Sea Hawk and other film scores (DG 471 347 2).

Even in his music for the movies Korngold never lost his echt-Viennese character - just listen to the music he wrote for those sweeping swashbucklers Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk - and the same holds true for his violin concerto and other concert pieces. The concerto, premiered by the legendary Heifetz, is one of Korngold’s best- known works - ArkivMusic lists no fewer than 23 versions - helped, no doubt, by the advocacy of some of our finest fiddlers.

A relative newcomer to this club, Russian-born violinist Philippe Quint first came to my attention on a Naxos disc of works by John Corigliano and Virgil Thomson (review). I admired his instinctive musicianship then and I’m pleased to say he doesn’t disappoint now. The rich violin melody that opens the Moderato nobile is just sweet enough - more schlagobers, less sachertorte - and Quint seems almost nonchalant in the more virtuosic writing that follows. Shaham’s fuller, sweeter tone and sharper attack are even more impressive, the DG recording suitably warm and weighty.

Although the LSO/Previn partnership, at its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, is special, Carlos Miguel Prieto also has plenty of rapport with his players, who are every bit as focused and sympathetic in their accompaniment. Just sample the harp playing in the Romance, for instance, where one is transported to the ambiguous, bittersweet sound world of Die Tote Stadt. This is glorious music, eloquently played and recorded with a degree of warmth one doesn’t often encounter with Naxos. One can only wonder at how the concerto’s dedicatee, Mahler’s widow Alma, responded to this lovely, late-Romantic sunset.

Quint may not match Shaham for refulgence of tone - especially in the Romance - but he certainly makes up for that with some vigorous playing in the Finale. Pietro may seem a little rushed at times - rhythmic articulation is not as precise as Previn’s - but the Mexican orchestra are just as thrilling as the LSO in the concerto’s trenchant final bars.

Korngold the child prodigy is represented here by his Overture to a Drama, written when he was just 14 and premiered by no less a band than the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Nikisch. There’s nothing uneven or precocious about this well-made piece; indeed, the music strikes me as Brahmsian in places - it certainly has a bluff quality about it - with a sprinkle of Mendelssohnian fairy dust as well. The Mexican players respond to Korngold’s youthful vigour with a mix of enthusiasm and polish, that recurring theme bandied about the orchestra to great effect. And yes, they do bring a Latin lilt to some of the music’s more rhythmic sections. A most enjoyable performance that ends with a cymbal-capped, rather Brahmsian, flourish (shades of the Academic Festival Overture).

The percussion is no less thrilling in the nimble overture to Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing suite, written to accompany a Viennese performance of the play in 1920. I particularly like the way this music is delivered with a slight Latin accent, even in the gentle string tunes of Bridal morning (tr. 6). Meanwhile, in the comedy of Dogberry and Verges (tr. 7) Pietro points and phrases the music with delicacy and wit. As for the brief, Cav-like Intermezzo it has a wistful radiance that’s hard to resist, the final Hornpipe buoyed by strong, secure brass playing. Some listeners may prefer the composer’s own arrangement for violin and piano, in which case the Previn/Shaham recording should be at the top of your list.

This is a delightful disc and a welcome addition to the growing list of Korngold recordings. Quint is not without his rivals in the concerto, but that matters little when he plays so seductively throughout. And don’t overlook Carlos Miguel Pietro and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Mineria, who bring so much warmth and high spirits to these scores. Nice one, Naxos.

Dan Morgan

see also reviews by Göran Forsling and Kevin Sutton



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