About this Recording
8.570791 - KORNGOLD, E.W.: Violin Concerto / Schauspiel Overture / Much Ado About Nothing Suite (Quint, Mineria Symphony, Prieto)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957)
Violin Concerto • Schauspiel Overture • Much Ado About Nothing Suite


Along with Mozart, Mendelssohn, Busoni and Enescu, Erich Wolfgang Korngold ranks among the main composer prodigies. Born in Brünn (now Brno) on 29 May 1897, the second son of music critic Julius Korngold, he impressed Mahler with his music when aged only nine, and went on to consolidate this with a score for the ballet-pantomime Der Schneeman, given its première at the Vienna Court Opera in 1910. A sequence of orchestral, chamber and operatic works followed, culminating with the dual première, in Hamburg and Cologne, of his opera Die tote Stadt, which made him world famous at the age of 23. The success of his next opera Der Wunder der Heliane was blighted, however, by the worsening political situation, while his last opera Die Kathrin was not performed in Vienna on account of the Anschluss and the annexation of Austria by Germany.

Korngold had by now settled in Hollywood, where a series of lavish film scores over the next decade—such as Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and King’s Row (1941)—brought his music to an audience of millions. Following the Second World War, Korngold returned to Europe and to the concert hall but his effulgent late-Romantic style found relatively little favour in the austerity of post-war Vienna while his death, on 19 November 1957, attracted only passing attention. Recent decades, however, have seen a renewed interest in his music, with a host of performances and recordings to mark his centenary in 1997 and the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 2007.

A relative exception to the rule as regards his posthumous standing is the Violin Concerto, written in 1945 at the prompting of Bronisław Huberman though given its first performance by Jascha Heifetz, who continued to champion the work, in Saint Louis on 15 February 1947. Dedicated to Alma Mahler, the concerto unashamedly recalls the lush Romanticism of Korngold’s music between the wars, albeit with a greater melodic directness occasioned in part by its themes having been taken directly from several of his film scores. A large orchestra is used resourcefully, with some especially atmospheric writing for tuned percussion.

The first movement opens with an expressive melody, taken from the 1937 film Another Dawn, the soloist taking the lead through to an orchestral restatement of its opening phrase before a lively transition into the second theme, from the 1939 film Juarez, which proves even more bittersweet than its predecessor. The first theme briefly returns, presaging a cadenza, punctuated by orchestral interjections, which takes the place of a development section. At length the first theme returns on full orchestra, then the soloist has a heightened transition to the second theme; gaining in intensity, this soon heads straight into a rapid coda that brings about the sparkling close.

The second movement commences with languorous orchestral chords, a backdrop against which the soloist unfolds an eloquent theme, from the 1936 film Anthony Adverse, whose expansiveness is made even more so by a wistful ‘tail’ motif that appears twice. Those initial chords, now subtly darkened in tone, introduce a central section in which the interplay between soloist and orchestra gradually builds in expressive intensity, before the main theme returns as before though now with a sense that the darker colouring has been absorbed into its emotional complexion. The opening chords then return for a raptly serene close.

The third movement bursts into life with decisive orchestral chords, the energetic theme that follows exploiting the soloist’s virtuosity to the full as well as that of the orchestra. A further version of this theme, from the 1937 film The Prince and the Pauper, slower and more indulgent, provides for requisite contrast, before the music heard thus far is reprised in full. This time a rapid transition leads to the slower version of the theme in full orchestral splendour, presently dying down to leave the soloist musing wistfully. The opening orchestral chords then make their timely reappearance, initiating a coda that restores the previous abandon and sees the work through to its headlong close.

Composed in 1911, the Schauspiel-Ouvertüre (Overture to a Drama) was the first orchestral work that the teenage Korngold orchestrated without assistance. Given its première that year by the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Arthur Nikisch, it immediately consolidated his growing reputation. Its content was for long thought to have been inspired by Shakespeare’s play A Winter’s Tale, but that proved to be a gloss put about by the composer’s father Julius. In fact the piece unfolds in inherently abstract terms, with the slow introduction followed by an expanded sonata-form section that culminates in a powerful coda.

The introduction features ominous writing for the wind and strings, building to a brief climax before taking on a more fervent tone. The initial music returns, now extended with chorale-like gestures on brass and leading to a resolute theme for the whole orchestra. Aspects of this are excitedly discussed as the transition to a more languorous theme which itself is capped by a bracing codetta. A central span sees the second theme poetically rendered by clarinet, the whole orchestra then entering with the first theme and initiating a lively discourse on the way to a powerful climax that brings back the first theme at the outset of a varied reprise. The main thematic ideas are recalled, following which the clarinet has a further, even more limpid version of the second theme, taken up by strings and then the whole orchestra as the music gains steadily in ardency on its way to a brief but majestic apotheosis.

In 1918, Korngold composed the incidental music for a production of Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing that was first given at Vienna’s Schönbrunn Castle in May 1920. Realising that the musicians would be required elsewhere before the run had been completed, the composer duly arranged the score for violin and piano in consultation with the violinist Rudolf Kolisch [this version is to be found on Naxos 8.557067], in which incarnation it quickly found favour. This recording, however, provides an opportunity to experience the music as Korngold first conceived it for small but diversely constituted orchestral forces.

The Overture, a model of sonata-form for all its brevity, unerringly sets the scene for the action to follow with its alternately lively and expressive themes, piano and harmonium allotted notable roles in the scintillating instrumentation. Bridal Morning (Mädchen im Brautgemach) finds Hero preparing for her wedding with uncertain yet undeniable emotion, evoked in music whose charm is offset by the merest hint of regret. Dogberry and Verges (Holzapfel und Schlehwein) is a humorous interlude for the drunken nightwatchmen, their lack of control denoted by the stuttering march rhythm. The Intermezzo underlines the reluctant but growing love of Beatrice for Benedick, encapsulated in the heartfelt cello melody with which the piece opens. The Hornpipe (Mummenschanz), replete with an astringent wit and some predictably virtuoso writing for two horns, rounds off the incidental music in robust good spirits.

Richard Whitehouse

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