Also reviewed this month: A recital of music by Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD: Naxos 8.557067
First please allow me to vent an old grudge. Many years ago, when I first began to listen to classical music, I was appalled that some record companies printed on their LP record sleeves, the names of their conductors (notably Karajan) in huge letters but the composers' names in much smaller type (yes, even Beethoven!) Outraged, I used to boycott these discs on principle. I see that deplorable practise has crept back here. Anne Sofie von Otter is a lovely lady and I am not at all sure she would have condoned having her name writ large and Korngold's in much smaller letters. It is as if TDK marketing has thought, "Korngold wasn't really regarded as a top rank classical music composer by the musical establishment, after all he wrote all that film music didn't he? And this stuff is a bit off the mainstream, so we better push the name of our star."
Thankfully, Anne Sofie is more positive. In the interview featured on this DVD, she says, "Korngold's music has enjoyed something of a renaissance and his classical music is now acclaimed throughout the world." She also says that when she was first introduced to the music, some twenty years ago, she felt that it did not really suit her voice; but over the years she has performed the music very frequently and is now a very ardent Korngold fan. She is also very keen on Korngold's chamber music saying it has great intensity, rhythmic buoyancy and colour. "I think he is a great composer." Bengt Forsberg, in his interview, adds that he thinks the music is very beautiful, romantic and has great flow. It is also wonderfully orchestrated.
Fragments of these interviews are scattered through the programme as are isolated movements of the Suite for Two Violins, Cello and Piano (Left Hand) (commissioned from Korngold by Paul Wittgenstein), and the Piano Quintet in E major (the two movements on this DVD are placed in the wrong order) to show parallels and shared material between them and the songs. Some might regard this as a valuable and interesting concept, others might be disconcerted and think it patronising. Nevertheless, the chamber ensemble plays with finesse and romantic intensity. In both these works there is a definite foretaste of the great romantic film scores that Korngold would create for Warner Bros. in the '30s and '40s.
The chamber and songs were, of course, filmed in a live concert given at the Théâtre Musical de Paris – Châtelet so there is all the ambience and spontaneity of live, unedited performances. Anne Sofie von Otter's empathy for Korngold's beautiful songs - bitterly-sweet and unashamedly romantic - is quite plain, her control, her creamily-smooth beautifully contoured delivery impress most strongly. Highlights include 'Mond, so gehst du wieder auf' (it is to be hoped that she will go on to record this song in its orchestral dress as a part of Vier Lieder des Abschieds), the songs from Korngold's early-mid teenage years: Liebesbriefchen and Sommer, and the ever-popular aria from Die Tote Stadt, 'Marrieta's Lied.' Charming, too are the four songs to words by William Shakespeare.
A delightful concert of mainly lesser-known songs and chamber works by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Anne Sofie von Otter, clearly empathising with these lovely bitter-sweet songs, shines.