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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35 [24:35]
Four Pieces from Much Ado About Nothing, Op.11 [13:55]
Jules CONUS (1869-1942)
Violin Concerto in E minor [18:03]
Elegy for Violin and Piano, Op.1 No.1 [6:29]
Thomas Albertus Irnberger (violin)
Barbara Moser (piano)
Israel Symphony Orchestra/Doron Salomon
rec. Heichal Hatarbut, Rishon LeZion, Israel, October 2015 (concertos); Mozartsaal, Salzburg, December 2015 (others)
GRAMOLA 99108 SACD [63:08]

There is a richness and lyricism to Thomas Albertus Irnberger’s playing which makes it ideally suited to the lush, almost pictorial romanticism of Korngold’s Violin Concerto. He draws an immensely luxurious tone from his instrument and has a wonderful feeling for the character of the work which accords well with Doron Salomon’s broadly sweeping direction. For their part, the Israel Symphony Orchestra play this with enormous feeling and passion, producing some particularly fine orchestral colour in what is already a vividly colourful score.

With well over three dozen recordings of the work available, and from some of the great violinists of the recording age, not to mention a magnificent recent release from Vilde Frang on Warner Classics, Irnberger has his work cut out to make an impression. He certainly does with his sound, but I find this all a little too extravagantly demonstrative to be wholly satisfactory. It dwells a little too lovingly on what sounds nice and spends too little effort on tightening up the detail so that the architecture is fully revealed. Perhaps, though, Korngold’s Concerto is all about what sounds nice, and in that light this performance does stand up as a very worthwhile contribution to the work’s recorded heritage.

Somewhat less well known, but nevertheless more than adequately represented in the catalogues by some significant violinists – with both Heifetz and Perlman having taken a strong interest in it – the concerto by Jules Conus is also characterised here by a richness of sound and an openness of expression which tends to lure the ear away from the deeper detail of the music. Nevertheless, this excellent recording and the very fine sound the Israel Symphony Orchestra produces, does give this an edge over the most recent recordings – Soo-Hyun Park on Onyx and Sergey Ortovsky on Naxos – although Salomon tends to work for the big moment and let the rest of the music find its own feet, creating a kind of rambling feel, especially when heard beside the more sharply focused reading of Thomas Sanderling (with Ortovsky).

However, the companion pieces on the disc are what provide the most attractive aspect of the whole package. Accompanied by Barbara Moser, Irnberger offers up the four pieces which constitute the Suite from Korngold’s incidental music to a stage performance in Vienna of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. This comes across very well indeed, especially given Irnberger’s instinctive feel for the idiom and the charmingly unobtrusive way Moser supports him with some deliciously discreet piano playing.

Even more interesting is the first appearance on disc of the Elegy for violin and piano by Conus. This inhabits a much more dramatic world, full of dark and passionate deeds. From the booklet notes, it seems that the piece’s origins are shrouded in mystery, but as it first appeared in print just a year after the Concerto’s triumphant première (given by Conus himself) in Moscow during 1898, it is probably fair to assume this was an attempt to capitalise on that success as well as to provide Conus with a showpiece solo of his own. Irnberger takes the work on its journey from dark, sombre beginnings, through fiery passion to the deeply felt, and almost painfully sorrowful conclusion with total assurance and conviction. Given such a compelling performance as this, one wonders why the work has basked in obscurity for so long. If for nothing else, this performance alone is well worth the price of the disc.

Marc Rochester



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