For film score fans, the main item of interest here is Korngold’s
brief and concentrated, but highly dramatic Cello Concerto developed from the
concerto the composer wrote for the 1946 Warner Bros film, Deception
that starred Bette Davis caught in a love triangle between her teacher, Claude
Rains, playing an egomaniac composer and Paul Henreid as a cellist and former
lover believed lost in war but recently returned from a concentration camp.
Zuill Bailey gives a powerfully intense reading with a deeply felt adagio (and
a magical cadenza) while Richter gives excellent support full of dramatic urgency
and attack, the orchestra really growling in places yet tender and dream-like
in the quieter sections.
Der Sturm, for chorus and orchestra, receiving not only
its premiere recording here but also its first ever performance, was written
when the composer was only sixteen. It is a sound picture of a storm at sea
and is a setting of a combination of verses by Heinriche Heine. The work is
substantial and complex with intricate harmonies and shifting rhythms and tempi.
Korngold’s tempest storms and shrieks as he evokes ‘A living mountain of water’
and ‘an abyss yawning… there towers a white wall’ but the ending sooths with
the serenity of a star-bejeweled sky.
Incredibly Korngold’s lovely Waltz from Der Schneemann
(The Snowman) was written when the prodigy was only eleven. It maybe
derivative of the Viennese styles prevalent then but there is impressive sophistication
and refinement here. Richter delivers a reading full of old world charm.
An earlier ASV album (CD DCA 1131) included a suite from Korngold’s
incidental music for a 1920 stage production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About
Nothing. Conductor Caspar Richter has exhumed three more movements for this
compilation. Festmusik is a sparkling high-spirited piece, Trauermusik
(nodding towards Grieg) is a measured melancholic nocturne that becomes
magical when a solo piano enters to suggest a serene sylvan landscape, and Schlusstanz
is a reprise of the Hornpipe heard in the earlier suite but with a resounding
The remaining items in this album comprise arias from three
Korngold operas: the charming ‘Diary Song’ in which heroine Laura muses over
past romances comes from Korngold’s earliest opera, Der Ring des Polykrates
written when the composer was only sixteen; while the excerpts from Korngold’s
Die Kathrin, his last opera, banned by the Nazis and which never really
caught on after World War II, are the light-hearted and swaggering march (shades
of The Adventures of Robin Hood) as the hero marches off to war) and
Kathrin’s aria in prayer for his protection, she despairing and left pregnant.
In between we have the intensity of Der Wunder der Heliane the story
about a bleak country where the ruler has banned all love and joy. His marriage
is unconsummated and his wife, the saintly Queen Heliane, comes under the spell
of a young stranger who preaches love to the downtrodden populace. Korngold
uses a huge orchestra for this opera, The album includes three excerpts: the
glorious introduction to Act I when angelic voices sing in a chapel as the stranger
lies manacled in a cell below; the demonic march, that is the Prelude to Act
II, suggesting the brutality of the regime; and Helene’s Act II aria ‘I went
to Him’ in which she insists on the purity of her meeting with the stranger
(although she disrobes for him) while the orchestra in its mounting sensuality
suggests her real feelings. Wendy Nielsen is expressive enough in all three
arias but her voice most secure in her mid-range has hardly the lyric soprano
qualities required for Korngold’s earliest opera.
For those curious enough to want to explore Korngold’s non-film
music this new release is most rewarding.