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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
The Romance of Korngold

Various works including
Much Ado About Nothing, Escape Me Never, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Prince and the Pauper, Der Schneeman, Baby Serenade, Symphony (extract), Das Wunder der Heliane, Between Two Worlds, Symphonic Serenade, Die tote Stadt, Passover Psalm, String Quartet No. 2 in E Flat (extract), Songs of the Clown, and Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Various artists including: Gil Shaham, LSO/Previn, John Mauceri. Flesch Quartet, Caspar Richter/Linz Orchestra, RSO Berlin, Von Otter, Bengt Forsberg.
Rec 1991-2000
2CD set
DG 461 834-2 [CD1 78.05; CD2 74.27]

This set ranges far and wide through the triple catalogues available to Universal. The Mauceri tracks are from Philips and Decca (Entartetemusik series) and the Previn from DG. I was surprised (and pleased to see two tracks licensed from ASV - they haven't been gobbled up by Universal?). The recordings are very fresh - the oldest being 1991 (the Robin Hood music) and the most recent from 2000.

From the soporific dreamy intermezzo (Much Ado About Nothing)it is not a far cry to the Love for Love music from Escape Me Never. However the flattish cocktail of sentimentality and grand salon overlaid by Bruce Fowler's arrangement (which was in turn based on Hugo Friedhofer's orchestration) is really too much. I am however impressed by the technique that twin-tracked the composer playing this piece solo with John Mauceri (in the majority as a conductor on this set) conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Mauceri allows a far too soft contoured approach in the Robin Hood music which drags rather than beguiles. Previn and the LSO are far more alert in The maiden in the chamber interlude from Much Ado. Mention of Previn and the LSO reminds me that Previn conducted the LSO in a BBCTV studio broadcast of the Korngold Violin Concerto (now, who was the violinist? Possibly Ulf Hoelscher?) back in the very early 1970s. Previn returns later with the adagio only from the Symphony. This is taken at a sway that points up parallels with another epic symphony championed by Previn in the early 1970s: the complete Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2. Caspar Richter and the Linz Orchestra are outstanding amid such eminent company; indeed the ASV disc from which this comes is amongst the strongest of the Korngold discs in the catalogue.

The Zwischenspiel from Das Wunder der Heliane injects some much needed acrid corrosion into the proceedings. Surprising similarities with Elgar Pomp and Circumstance No. 4 are to be found here. This is superb Korngold material with Mauceri directing the RSO Berlin. The Theme and Variations is nicely done though not exactly indispensable EWK. I liked the Between Two Worlds music - four tracks that I could easily imagine appealing to the late Charles Gerhardt. The music is very susceptible to swooning but the unforceful dissonance of the solo piano and the fantasy of many pages are appealing. The Symphonic Serenade (of which we get only the Allegro moderato) is a natural cousin to the string serenades of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.

The second disc is dominated by the human voice, Renee Fleming in plummy voice gives us Marietta's Lied from Die Tote Stadt while Matthias Goerne (always a real treat) sings Mein Sehnen, mein Wahnen from the same opera - pacing and grading his singing in the dreamy way of German romance linking with the tradition shared by Pfitzner's Deutsches Seele, the songs of Othmar Schoeck and the tragically neglected orchestral songs of Josef Marx. Anna Tomowa-Sintow struggles with Ich ging zu ihm rather than riding triumphant over the music. Anne Sofie Otter is the finest female singer in this collection and is heard in the by no means obvious Shakespeare settings of Songs of the Clown (in English). Bengt Forsberg is von Otter's match. I note von Otter's utterly accomplished and natural accent. These songs vie with the strong tradition of Shakespeare settings by English composers.

I had never previously heard the Passover Psalm but am pleased to make its acquaintance not that it is desperately memorable. It shares material with the lied taken by Goerne. It is from the tradition of Bruckner's and Brahms' choral music.

The Flesch Quartet show us what can be done when Korngold is kept light on his toes rather than being soused in adipose languor. The ASV tracks show up well in this company.

To close a shaken-down and tight-packed collection, Gil Shaham and Previn with the LSO are to be heard in the Violin Concerto - complete - thank heavens. This is a recording held in high regard - and with justice. Shaham and Previn treat the concerto with respect as well as zest - listen to those lightning flourishes in the final ten or so bars of the Moderato. Shaham relaxes more than Ulrika Anima-Mathe on my reference version on Dorian. His tone is aureate, aristocratic and yet youthful. While I would steer clear of Heifetz (breathtaking but steely and unyielding - impressive on Heifetz's terms not Korngold's) you should also watch out for Ulf Hoelscher's version which can still be found on EMI Redline. DG's 1994 team of engineers trounce most of the competition (though not the opulent Dorian team) on the technical front.

Minimal highly competent notes from Jeremy Nicholas.

A generous double CD set with a predominance of slower paced romance - what you see (in the title) is what you get to hear. This does not fit the bill if you want one set to represent Korngold. It instead explores and expresses the thick and dreamy seam in Korngold's imagination and stylistic tradition.

Rob Barnett

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