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Chris Morgan
Scene Magazine, June 2012

Born on the cusp of the 20th century, Erich Korngold was a child prodigy and a man creatively out of his time. Eventually he found a home in Hollywood, where he distinguished himself as a film composer, well-known for his work on the 1938 swashbuckling classic, The Adventures of Robin Hood. Upon hearing Ondine’s recently released recording of his Symphony in F sharp, Op. 40, it’s easy to understand why he would have found success writing for the silver screen. His music is expressive, occasionally euphoric, and genuinely evocative. Even when that colourful grandeur fades, as it does in the symphony’s Adagio-Lento, there is still compelling gravitas, a quality of apprehension fully realized in the movement’s somber, funerary conclusion. © 2012 Scene Magazine Read complete review

Adrian Edwards
Gramophone, September 2011

Korngold’s ripe, romantic symphony and an old-style dance’s premiere recording

This new CD joins a select handful of fine recordings of this late Romantic symphony, of which Marc Albrecht’s vibrant account is still fresh in the mind. As an ensemble, there’s no doubt that the Helsinki Philharmonic is on a par with Albrecht’s Strasbourg orchestra but John Storgårds makes heavy weather of Korngold’s writing, stretching out the long paragraphs on his broad symphonic canvas to the point where the symphony often seems becalmed, the ideas outstaying their welcome. Instead of drawing in the composer’s prolix writing, Storgårds is indulgent to the point where each new idea seems over-parted from the last.

Dance in the Old Style, scored for a smaller ensemble, is a charming antidote to what has gone before. This work from the youthful Korngold (in its world premiere recording) inhabits the world of Strauss’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme so, although there are no characteristic grand romantic gestures, the orchestra play this dance with an affection and lightness of touch that makes it fresh and appealing.

Don O’Connor
American Record Guide, September 2011

Anyone who does like the more traditional approach will very much enjoy this recording, especially the slow movement, where Storgards builds the music to a stunning climax…Performances and recorded sound are both excellent.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, September 2011

For a work that had such a difficult start, the Erich Korngold Symphony in F♯-Major has done remarkably well on CD, with eight additional recordings since the 1992 Varèse Sarabande reissue of Kempe’s 1972 concert premiere. Its time, it would seem, has finally come. The symphony, on which the composer labored for five years, first appeared in 1954 on an Austrian Radio broadcast. It was met with supreme indifference. Though it was undermined by a poorly prepared performance, the real problem was the now passé Korngold style. Everything but Korngold had changed. European audiences, left destitute and demoralized by two world wars, had little use for his revivals of Belle Époque glories. True, Dmitri Mitropoulos was much taken with the work, but he died in 1960 before he could take it up. Korngold was gone by then, as well. Few would have predicted that the work could survive.

Korngold’s 12 years of service to Warner Brothers hadn’t, at least until recently, put him in good stead with classical music critics, either. Yet to dismiss his symphony as reworked film music is to miss the obvious: Korngold brought that style to Hollywood. It was in every sense his to use as surely as Beethoven’s, and Mahler’s, and Strauss’s styles belong to them. He actually uses themes from five of his film scores in the symphony, seemingly bent on proving to the world that the music he had written for Hollywood, work forced upon him by circumstance, had in it the same qualities for which he had been celebrated in his youth. The failure of this attempt to regain the European career he was forced to flee in 1938 crushed his already fragile health—he was suffering from heart disease—and he only finished two more works, both written for school orchestras, in the time that remained to him after that premiere broadcast. He died in 1957 at age 60, in Hollywood, far from the Vienna he had hoped to reconquer.

The symphony was initially rejected both for its “atonality” and for being like Mahler. It is neither, though it is certainly chromatic and shares Mahler’s penchant for expansive and sometimes challengingly unconventional structures. It has a chameleon-like ability to sound very different, and fully persuasive, in a variety of interpretations. Franz Welser-Möst (EMI), with quick tempos—he is the only conductor to come close to Korngold’s 14-minute estimate for the Adagio movement—creates a distinctly modern impression: angular, often aggressive—most notably in the martial sections of the first movement—and never sentimental. On the opposite extreme is Edward Downes’s opulent late-romantic traversal on Chandos, especially effective in bringing out the dark Brucknerian influences in the expansive treatment of that same Adagio and the Straussian undercurrents elsewhere. André Previn’s more deliberate, sometimes brooding treatment on DG (out of print except via ArkivMusic) emphasizes the film score origins, concerned with mood and narrative flow. The results are intensely contained and sometimes unexpectedly dark and angry, but his take on the playful, multifaceted last movement is lighthearted, if a bit disjointed. Gerd Albrecht (PentaTone) takes Welser-Möst’s vehemence, Downes’s opulence, and Previn’s filmic orientation, and creates what is possibly the most dramatic, most naturally expressive performance on disc, with the disquietingly spooky wind writing of the Scherzo’s Trio being but one of a disc-full of pleasures.

I have not even mentioned John Storgård’s recording on Ondine, the alleged focus of this review. That is because in this company it is really superfluous. It is not a bad performance; it is just an ordinary one. It is too slow—at 53:48 for the symphony, the slowest on CD—and it misses the insights of Downes and Previn. It lacks the tension and contrast of the Welser-Möst. It is not effortlessly idiomatic as is the Albrecht. In fact, it is deficient of any clear personality. The Helsinki Philharmonic is a good orchestra, with particularly impressive brass, but it is not the equal of any of the orchestras in the recordings cited. The only claim to our attention is the world premiere recording of the charming seven-minute Dance in Antique Style, a work of Korngold’s fêted youth. Nice, but not enough, I am afraid.

Roger Knox
The WholeNote, July 2011

Here is a fine addition to the significant revivals and original works recorded by John Storgårds with the Helsinki Philharmonic. The precocious Erich Korngold was already writing chamber music, orchestral works, and operas at an age when many composers have barely started. But he was forced to leave Austria during the Nazi scourge and turned to Hollywood, becoming an innovator in the new art of film music. The Symphony in F sharp, completed in 1952 after his return to Vienna, is a wonderful summation of his concert and film music accomplishments.

Korngold was a story-teller when critical opinion prized abstract and esoteric music. Only recently have we appreciated his expressive persona, orchestral mastery, and judicious incorporation of musical modernity. The Symphony’s dramatic opening movement demonstrates all these qualities. Its angular melodies, dissonant harmony and interjections by brass and percussion (particularly the xylophone) show his mastery of newer idioms. Storgårds’ transitions assuredly through the work’s contrasting moods, as in a flute solo over hushed strings or in cinematic flashes featuring the horn section. The orchestration of the Scherzo is especially colourful and the Helsinki Orchestra takes it all in stride with tight ensemble work. I find their performance of the anguished slow movement extraordinarily moving. More cheerful and witty is the finale, whose popular American film idiom is interrupted by intense interludes. Rounding off this valuable disk is Korngold’s youthful Tänzchen, which receives a charmingly Viennese treatment by the Helsinki Orchestra., April 2011

John Storgårds treats the Czech composer, who is nowadays best known for his Hollywood film scores, as a significant symphonist, and the Helsinki Philharmonic plays Korngold’s symphony with verve, spirit and considerable flair. This really does sound like a late-Romantic work rather than one from the middle of the 20th century—and it is a big symphony…under Storgårds’ direction, it builds and flows naturally and shows that the composer, born in 1897, had considerable mastery of large-scale musical forms by this time of his life. The symphony has nothing to do with its dedicatee, but that scarcely matters: it is a well-wrought, tuneful and often highly expressive work that deserves more-frequent hearings even though its harmonic language was rightfully considered anachronistic for its time. Storgårds also offers, as an encore, a long-lost “Little Dance in the Old Style” that Korngold wrote around 1919 and that may never have been heard in public until Storgårds first conducted it in 2007. It is a slight work containing episodes of warmth and gentility, vaguely reminiscent of parts of Grieg’s Holberg Suite but not particularly consequential in itself. It does, however, make a fine contrast to the heavier and far more emphatic symphony.

David Hurwitz, April 2011

A few years ago this performance would have been more competitive than it is today. It’s still very good by any measure, well played and well recorded. John Storgards typically pays great attention to details of string articulation and to Korngold’s always glittering textures. He’s aided in this respect, but hindered in others, by slowish tempos (similar to Previn’s DG recording) that tend to weigh the music down, the first two movements in particular. The Tänzchen im alten Stil, a seven-minute piece receiving its world-premiere recording, is a charming trifle, and Korngold completists who don’t mind owning another recording of the symphony will likely find more than enough here to justify purchase.

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