Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Songs Vol. 1:
Drei Lieder, Op. 22 (1928-29) [8:04] (Was Du mir bist (What Are You to Me?); Mit Dir zu schweigen (To Be Silent When I’m With You); Welt ist stille eingeschlafen (The World Has Gone to Sleep))
Unvergänglichkeit (Immortality) Op. 27 (1933) [10:35] (Unvergänglichkeit 1 (Immortality 1); Das eilende Bächlein (The Rushing Little Stream); Das schlafende Kind (The Sleeping Child); Stärker als der Tod (Stronger Than Death); Unvergänglichkeit 2 (Immortality 2))
Songs of the Clown: Five Songs from Twelfth Night by Shakespeare, Op. 29 (1937-41) [9:15] (Come Away Death; O mistress mine; Adieu, good man Devil; Hey Robin; For the rain, it raineth every day)
Vier Lieder (Four Songs), Op. 31 from William Shakespeare (1937-41) [10:20] (Desdemona’s Song; Under the greenwood tree; Blow, blow, thou winter wind; When birds do sing)
Zwölf Lieder (So Gott und Papa will (If God and Father So Wish), Op. 5 (1910-11) [22:41] (Das Ständchen (Serenade); Winternacht (Winter Night); Das Mädchen (The Girl); Abendlandschaft (Evening Landscape); Schneeglöckchen (Snowdrops); Aussicht (Outlook); Die Sperlinge (The Sparrows); Nachtwanderer (Night Wanderer); Der Friedensbote (The Messenger of Peace); Vom Berge (From the Mountain); Waldeinsamkeit (Woodland Solitude); Sangesmut (The Spirit of Singing))
Sechs Einfache Lieder (Six Simple Songs) Op. 9 Nos. 4-6 (1910-11) [7:50] (Liebesbriefchen (A Little Love Letter); Das Heldengrab am Pruth (The Hero’s Grave at Pruth) Sommer (Summer)
Four Posthumous Songs (Angedenken (Remembrance) [1:56]; Vesper [3:08]; Reiselied (Travelling Song) [1:22]; Der Geniale (The Genius) [0:56])
Britta Stallmeister (soprano); Uwe Schenker-Primus (baritone); Klaus Simon (piano)
rec. Theodor-Egel-Saal, Freiburg, Germany, 18-20 November 2007; and Schlossbergsaaal, Freiburg, 14-16 March 2008. Song texts available here
NAXOS 8.572027 [76:53]

This is the first volume of what is expected to be a complete collection of the songs of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the compositional wunderkind, the young prodigy whose talent impressed Mahler, D’Albert, Reger, Puccini, Saint-Saëns, and Richard Strauss and many other musical luminaries.

This disc includes examples from his early years up until the Shakespearean songs of his Hollywood years when his reputation as a serious composer plummeted (‘more corn than gold’ was the demoralising wisecrack). Reassessment came in his centenary year, 1997, with the then current re-emergence and regained respect for tonal music. There were also two biographies by Jessica Duchen and more importantly that by Brendan G. Carroll, President of the International Korngold Society (The Last Prodigy – A Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, 1997, Amadeus Press ISBN 1-57467-029-8.)

The baritone Uwe Schenker-Primus illuminates the early songs of Opp.5 and 9 composed when Korngold was only 13-14 years old. It seems incredible now that Erich’s father, the stern Viennese critic, should scorn them believing the songs to have no virtue and the texts by Eichendorff to be of little merit. In fact Korngold’s Op. 5 became his Sinfonietta for orchestra and it was some years before the songs were published. Accordingly, Korngold’s Op. 5 songs were cheekily given a subtitle ‘if God and Father so wish’. The songs show an astonishing grasp of the demands of the genre from one so young; they demonstrate an extraordinary musicality and sensitivity.

Schenker-Primus, who sings these early songs, has a most attractive timbre, his diction well-nigh perfect, so too is his control and sculpting of the contours of these songs coupled with a high expressive art. There is so much to admire here. There is the exuberant joyfulness and romantic charm of ‘Ständchen’; the delicate beauty of ‘Snowdrops’; the dark intensity of ‘Night Wanderer’ described by more than one commentator as Korngold’s ‘Erlkönig, the impressionistic piano part of ‘Winter Night’ giving a remarkably evocative picture of wintry desolation; and the magnificent melancholy of ‘From the Mountain’.

Equally delightful, if not more so, are the Op. 9 Songs Nos. 4 to 6 included here. The ‘Little Love letter’, inspired by one of Korngold’s young sweethearts, Mitzi Kolisch, has a lovely memorable melody and the despairing song of lost love that is ‘The Hero’s Grave at Pruth’ has an extraordinarily eerie atmosphere, while the rippling beauty of ‘Summer’ has another haunting melody.

Of the ‘Four Posthumous Songs’ ‘Vespers’ with its insistent tolling of bells in the piano part makes for a trenchant accompaniment culminating in their most mournful and almost dissonant chimes at the lines – “What is it about the bells today that makes me want to cry? The bells, which mean that my life is dead!” The concluding ‘The Genius’ forms an exuberant and cheeky finale.

Britta Stallmeister sings with enthusiasm and animation the later songs in this collection. There is the romantic bliss of ‘The World Has Gone to Sleep’ – “my love, I think of you ... I seek you in the stars;” from Op. 22. There is the gorgeous melody that is ‘Immortality’; the strongly pictorial piano part of ‘The Rushing Little Stream’, the endearing simplicity of ‘The Sleeping Child’ and the darkly dramatic ‘Stronger than Death’ mitigated only at the final lines “the power of love is stronger even than death” – all from Op. 27.

Stallmeister’s command of English is impressive in the nine Shakespearean songs. She relishes the opportunities to colour her voice to the five Clown songs from Twelfth Night. The cheekiness of ‘O mistress mine’ is delivered knowingly - film fans will remember Olivia de Havilland singing this tauntingly to Bette Davis as the ageing Queen in Elizabeth and Essex. She invests taunting irony in ‘For the rain, it raineth every day’. Of the Four Songs, ‘Desdemona’s Song’ features another of Korngold’s beautifully poignant melodies and is sung very affectingly here. By contrast, ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ and ‘When birds do sing’ are sunny, joyful and tuneful celebrations.

Klaus Simon provides consistently non-intrusive but illuminating accompaniments and Cornelius Bauer’s helpful notes complete a very attractive programme. The whisper is that the second CD in this series is even better.

A delightful programme comprising the lesser-known Korngold songs delivered to perfection.

Ian Lace

A delightful programme comprising the lesser-known Korngold songs delivered to perfection.e