Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 35 (1945) [25:15]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major K.219 (1775) [28:16]
Caroline Goulding (violin),
Berner Symphonie Orchester / Kevin John Edusei
rec. Diaconis-Kirche, Berne, Switzerland, 2017
CLAVES 50-1808 [53:43]
The concept of two composers sharing the same name and being child prodigies as reason enough to release their violin concertos together is quite slim, but that is the case here. Especially since here we have a wonderful example of a late romantic concerto, and one from the classical era. The other reason given for this combination of works is that they both had pushy parents. Whilst the story of Mozart and his father Leopold is well known, the story of Korngold’s relationship with his critic father is less so. Julius Korngold, also a part time composer, became one of the most powerful men in music when he succeeded Eduard Hanslick as chief critic of the Neue Freie Presse. He named his sons after his two favourite composers, Mozart and Schumann, and not, as some stories suggest, because he knew that they were destined for musical greatness. After all, who has ever heard of Erich’s brother?
Erich Korngold composed his concerto in the aftermath of the Second World War, having earlier vowed only to compose film music until the defeat of Nazi Germany and the downfall of Hitler. It was the first work of his new start. It is a deeply romantic piece, one that shows some of the techniques he employed during his Hollywood years, as well as a few influences, and was dedicated to Alma Mahler. It is a richly scored work that calls for some unusual instrumentation, including a full array of woodwind and a percussion section that includes vibraphone, xylophone and celeste.
The first movement opens with a lush solo violin theme borrowed from the theme music of the film “Another Dawn”. It is a wonderful introduction to what is one of my favourite violin concertos. The main theme of the second movement is taken from one of his most famous film scores, “Anthony Adverse”, whilst “The Prince and the Pauper” provides a motif in the second theme of the final movement. It is not the fact that he used these themes in his concerto, it is more how Korngold uses and develops them that has rightly made the Concerto his most popular work, and one of the finest and most popular of all twentieth century concertos.
There have been many fine recordings of the Concerto over the years since Jascha Heifetz’s famous recording – he had also given the premiere performance in 1947. This present recording offers the listener a good clean performance. For me it lacks a little of the sparkle that you get from Heifetz or Gil Shaham (439 886-2), my favourite modern performances. Shaham really knows how to bring the most out of the slow “Romance” middle movement, something I find a little lacking in Goulding’s performance. It is too straight at times – I wanted her to put a little more soul into her performance so that her violin would sing more.
My choice of Mozart these days is governed by performing practice. I tend to like historically performed performances, ones with period instruments. The Violin Concerto No. 5 K. 219 was first performed during the holiday season in Salzburg in 1775. It is often known as the “Turkish”, due to the use of what is regarded as Turkish music in the third movement Rondeau, Tempo di Minuetto. It is this lively dance theme has made the concerto probably Mozart’s most popular with listeners.
I have already stated how I like my Mozart, and that is probably why I find the orchestral playing a little too heavy in this performance. It is also a bit too slow, the second and third movements each being over a minute slower than the much-vaunted recent Harmonia Mundi release by Isabelle Faust (HMC 902230.31). This detracts from what is a good solo performance. Goulding is made to sound slow and old fashioned by the pace of the orchestra, especially in the famous Turkish theme.
Caroline Goulding give good performances and has a pleasing tone throughout this recording, it is just that she is a little too slow at times, which makes her sound as if she is playing safe, especially in the Mozart. I prefer her Korngold, but not enough for it to get into my favourites list.