Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Recommended Recordings

Violin Concerto op. 35; Much Ado about Nothing, op. 11 (plus Barber

Violin Concerto), Gil Shaham (violin), André Previn (piano, conductor), LSO, Deutsche Grammophon 439886

Two great romantic violin concertos are played with utmost mastery and beauty and a very soft touch that benefits especially the Korngold. Unlike on [HA33]his later recording with Anne-Sophie Mutter, André Previn neither plays up the film music aspect (much to the performance’s benefit), nor does Shaham self-consciously struggle against its Hollywood-ring the way the work’s dedicatee Jasha Heifetz does. It remains the top choice despite increasingly stiff and able competition from a crop of young violinists who are discovering Korngold for themselves.

Violin Concerto op. 35; Much Ado about Nothing, op. 11, Suite op.

23; Helen’s Song Benjamin Schmid, David Frühwirt (violins), Henri Sigfridsson (piano) et al., Seiji Ozawa (conductor), Vienna Philharmonic, Oehms OC537

Benjamin Schmid’s performance of the concerto at the 2004 Salzburg Festival under Seiji Ozawa with the Vienna Philharmonic is lively and leaves no punch unthrown in the finale. It’s admittedly very much a live recording . . . even including applause after the first movement: musically appropriate but highly unusual on CD. That makes the primary attractions of this Festival Document on Oehms three other works from that year’s Korngold-retrospective. There’s the substantial Suite op. 23 for two violins, cello, and piano left hand, and the two shorter works for violin and piano with violinist David Frühwirt: Much ado about Nothing and Helen’s Song—an aria-transcription from Das Wunder der Heliane. A lot of fine Korngold on one convenient disc.

This performance of the concerto at the 2004 Salzburg Festival is lively Das Wunder der Heliane, Berlin RSO, John Mauceri (conductor), Decca 829402 Symphony in F-sharp, Philadelphia Orchestra, Franz Welser Möst (conductor), EMI 86101

Curiously the Symphony—dedicated to F. D. Roosevelt—was broadcast before it was premiered in concert: it was upon Rudolf Kempe and the Munich Philharmonic to do the latter, and that’s also where the first recording of the work comes from. Despite a few cut bars, it’s the rawest and most exciting reading, worthy to pick up if you can find it at a reasonable price, used (on Varese Sarabande). The best modern recording of this Symphony certainly at EMI’s budget price comes from Franz Welser-Möst. This is sumptuousness become manifest. Barbara Hendricks’ ‘‘Simple Songs’’, op. 9 (4 out of 6) and Marietta’s famous aria from Die Tote Stadt are more than just fillers.

Piano Concerto for the left hand (plus Joseph Marx Piano Concerto),

Marc-André Hamelin (piano), BBC Scottish Orchestra, Osmo Vänskä,

Hyperion 66990

There really isn’t a recording to challenge Hamelin’s account. If the Violin concerto could be thought of Korngold’s Rosenkavalier, the Piano concerto would be his Salome (Gary Graffman). The coupling with the deliciously u ̈ber-romantic, gushing Marx on Hyperion’s volume 18 of their Romantic Piano Concerto series is ideal.

Cello Concerto (plus Ernest Bloch Schelomo, Berthold Goldschmidt Cello Concerto) Julian Steckel (cello), Rheinische Philharmonie State Orchestra (Koblenz), Daniel Raiskin (conductor), Cavi Music 8553223

Marvelously played and programmed, this combines three concertos that all belong in this book. Korngold culled and expanded the Cello Concerto from a sequence he wrote for the Bette Davis film Deception in which a cello concerto features. For a bit of American music trivia: Korngold’s Cello Concerto was premiered by the Hollywood String Quartet’s Eleanor Slatkin—while she was pregnant with Leonard Slatkin’s little brother Fred Zlotkin. The two brothers have even recorded the work—for a freebie disc that came with the BBC Music Magazine many moons ago.

Sextet op. 10 (plus Schoenberg, Verkla ̈rte Nacht), Raphael Ensemble, Hyperion 66425, Helios 55466

Two of the most wonderful chamber works from that period from

composers that would go into such different directions, musically, if not geographically.
Sextet op. 10; Piano Quintet op. 15, camerata freden, Tacet 198

The camerata freden brings a tenacity to these works that makes both words more interesting listening, but maybe less inviting by eschewing superficial beauty for depth. If you have already been seduced by Korngold, this should be an obvious addition to the collection.

Suite for Piano left hand and Strings op. 23; (plus Franz Schmidt, Left Hand Piano Quintet), Leon Fleisher (piano), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Jamie Laredo, Joseph Silverstein, (violins), Sony 48253

The all-star cast—central among them Fleisher, a pianist who understood what being limited to the left hand meant like no other since commissioning pianist Paul Wittgenstein—tends to these rarely performed works with great care and passion.

String Quartets 1–3; Piano Quintet op. 15, Aron String Quartet, Henri Sigfridsson (piano), CPO 777436

String Quartet no. 2, op. 26 (plus Pavel Haas String Quartet no. 2, Joseph Haydn, Quartet op. 64 5 ‘‘The Lark’’), Adamas Quartett, Gramola 99011

Perhaps the Korngold Quartet should have been programmed first, be-
cause the more radical Haas Quartet does rather steal the limelight.

All the same, it’s a terrific work, too, and very nicely played by the promising Adamas Quartet.

Die Tote Stadt, Soloists, Royal Stockholm Opera Orchestra, LeifSegerstam (conductor), Naxos 8.660060

This or the 1975 recording under Erich Leinsdorf (RCA Victor Gold Seal 7767) is a fine choice for this standard work in the canon of romantic opera. The Naxos recording makes for a surprisingly tenacious, evenly cast, and marvelously conducted challenger to Leinsdorf’s classic set.

Sursum Corda; Sinfonietta, BBC Philharmonic, Matthias Bamert (conductor), Chandos 10432

These are two early symphonic works and they are tremendous achievements, rivaling the Symphony for bristling romanticism. Bamert and his forces revel in every aspect of it. In Chandos’ very welcome series of Korngold reissues, this one should probably rank the highest.

The Sea Hawk and other excerpts, National Philharmonic Orchestra /

Charles Gerhardt, RCA Victor Gold Seal 7890

The Sea Hawk and other classic film scores in excerpts on a magnificent recording with Gerhardt could be possibly difficult to find but are worth seeking out. (ArkivMusic offers it as an ArkivCD.) If you want to hear the very complete music ofSea Hawk, go with William

Stromberg’s very fine recent Naxos recording.

Complete Piano Sonatas, Michael Schäfer (piano), Profil Hänssler 4083

The teenage work that is the Second Sonata combines Viennese fin de siècle and intellectualism in ways one would think impossible coming from a boy of 13.

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