It is amazing to think how many recordings of Korngold’s Symphony
have appeared over the last two decades; this following so many
years of neglect after the composer’s death. A great gap yawned
between Rudolf Kempe’s 1972 recording of the work’s world premiere,
given in Munich in 1972, fifteen years after Korngold’s death.
We now have recordings by: Sir Edward Downes, André Previn,
James DePreist, Franz Welser-Möst, Werner Andreas Albert, and
now this new PentaTone release which I will say, immediately
is outstanding. It is a very intense reading.
The Symphony is scored for a large orchestra including: piano,
celesta, marimba, bass tuba and enlarged percussion. It opens
in a defiant, explosive, percussive statement. Albrecht’s reading
of this haunted, mysterious and sometimes eerie movement has
plenty of attack and verve - and lyricism in its contrasting
quieter romantic passages. Martial music and hunting-calls sound
triumphant proclamations of the main theme but one wonders if
this triumph is hollow? Certainly the movement ends in despair.
One cannot but conjecture that this music reflected Korngold’s
disillusion with life in Hollywood, his return to post-war Vienna
just, to see it in ruins, and the general antipathy to his kind
The Scherzo, second movement is very fleet-footed. A theme from
his score for the film Juarez is included. The music
is racy and comic with occasional sinister inflections. Then,
at around six minutes into the movement, utter tiredness seems
to set in with the music seemingly a spent force. It spirals
downwards to an almost complete stop, becomes sparse and ghostly
until fanfares arouse the music and declare a repeat of the
opening rushing figures. The movement ends on an odd note of
The Adagio quotes from more of Korngold’s film music: The
Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Captain Blood
and Anthony Adverse. Albrecht’s measured response
speaks eloquently of anguish and disillusion with a lovely fiddle
solo, about 12 minutes in, rising above it all. A strong outburst
of passion and yearning follows.
The finale is stirring and optimistic. The music, that includes
material from another film, Kings Row, tries to strike
a devil-may-care pose. Yet there are passages of irony and self-deprecation.
Throughout this performance, there is virtuoso playing and in
particular, here, by the woodwind players in some quite tricky
fleet-footed passages. There is an impression of swashbuckling,
sword-on-sword influences before the music winds down, momentarily,
into depths of depression.
The whole performance, brilliantly delivered, is served in excellent,
sharply defined and focused sound.
Korngold’s suite from his incidental music for a performance
of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a much
lighter-hearted work. Written when Korngold was just 21, it
uncannily anticipates some of his later Hollywood work. The
bustling Overture is merry, comic and burlesque-theatrical with
one of Korngold’s attractive broad melodies - one might imagine
Errol Flynn courting Olivia de Havilland. Albrecht liberally
uses portamenti strings here to add to the romance. The quirky
use of the harmonium is another highlight of this tongue-in-cheek
overture. The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber has another
lovely melody – wistful romance laced with comedy as Hero prepares
for her wedding. Its hesitancy suggests that she has decidedly
mixed feelings. The Holzapfel and Schiehwein music is
a bizarre, comic march that anticipates Korngold’s more risible
Sherwood Forest scenes from his film score, The Adventures
of Robin Hood. The ‘Intermezzo’ is a dreamy nocturne
beginning with a sweetly melancholic passage for piano and cello
– this is another lovely Korngold creation. The Hornpipe Prelude
to Act II is a high-spirited delight with clever writing for
the horn. Albrecht’s reading is fine enough but I prefer the
2002 ASV recording by Caspar Richter (see review).
He has a lighter more appealing way with the music. Besides,
this recording includes an extra movement from the Much Ado
suite - The Garden Music which is omitted from other
recordings - why I cannot imagine for it is quite enchanting.
This Caspar Richter recording does not include the Symphony
but winning performances of Korngold’s Abschiedslieder
and Einfache Lieder.
An intense reading of Korngold’s Symphony of disillusion.