ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD: The Piano Music – Martin Jones, piano, with Richard McMahon on two 4-Hand works – Nimbus (4 CDs)

by | Oct 9, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD: The Piano Music – Martin Jones, piano, with Richard McMahon on two 4-Hand works – Nimbus UHJ Ambisonic 4 CD box set NI 5705/8, 5 hours ***** [Distr. by Allegro] (TrackList below):

Korngold’s middle name served him extremely well, because he was right up there with Mozart as one of the greatest child composers in musical history.  He only had a few piano lessons at age five from a needy relative and seems to have been completely self-taught.  Yet he created magnificent, highly sophisticated piano works from a very early age.  This was all long before his better-known career establishing the super-romantic Hollywood film scoring style of the late 30s and 40s.

Korngold composed his first opera at age 16.  Potpourris of opera themes transcribed for piano were very popular in the late 1890s and early 20th century, and Korngold created a number of these. Included in this massive collection – recorded in Nimbus’ own studios in 2001 – are selections his first opera The Ring of Polycrates, from The Wonder of Helen, and his biggest operatic hit, Die Tote Stadt.  There are also two sets of delightful piano pieces from a children’s pantomime he wrote in 1909, The Snowman.

The first, second and fourth discs each open with one of Korngold’s Piano Sonatas in order, with the third CD devoted to a 4-hand transcription of his lovely Piano Trio in D Major, his Opus 1.  This half-hour length four-movement work – composed when Korngold was only 13! – deserves to be heard more widely.  In fact many of these works could spruce up piano recitals of the same old same old and be very well-received by today’s audiences.  Korngold’s upbringing in Vienna is obvious in the three-quarter time used in many of the pieces.  I admit to being something of a crank about Viennese schmaltz, but Korngold’s take on this style is so gutsy yet super-romantic that I find myself completely seduced.  The second movement of his Piano Sonata No. 2 sounds like a Germanic version of Ravel’s La Valse.

The most sophisticated music ever composed by a child might be Korngold’s 1909 Six Character Pieces on the story of Don Quixote on Disc 1. These amazing little pianistic tone poems show a mature adult’s musical imagination – not a 12-year-old’s. His later piano pieces become more chromatic and note-heavy  with rich late-romantic trappings, but they have a similar highly developed musical imagination. Korngold likes to introduce intense passages and themes that really grab you very early in a piece to get your attention, and it seems to work.

Like most Nimbus CDs, this collection is encoded with compatible UHJ Ambisonic surround.  If you play it back as normal two-channel you will probably find the piano to be miced somewhat too distantly, although the Nimbus studio does not have a huge reverberation.  However, if you decode it with ProLogic II the instrument will snap into place on the sound stage and it will sound nearly as good as most SACDs of solo piano.  Jones plays the heroic and intensely strong chords with plenty of elbow grease, but also communicates the quiet lyrical passages with finesse, and Nimbus’ sound captures all of it well.  I would highly recommend this set for an introduction to a fascinating area of piano literature not often often explored today and more than worth it.

TrackList:
    1.    Sonata for piano No 1 in D minor
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    2.    Don Quixote, 6 pieces for piano
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    3.    Der Schneemann, ballet-pantomime I. Introduction
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    4.    Der Schneemann, ballet-pantomime II. First Scene
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    5.    Der Schneemann, ballet-pantomime III. Entr’acte
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    6.    Der Schneemann, ballet-pantomime IV. Second Scene
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    7.    Sonata for piano No 2 in E major, Op 2 I. Moderato
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    8.    Kleine Karikaturen (4) für Kinder, for piano, No. 2, To make you slumber (Igor Stravinsky) Op. 19/2 II. Scherzo: Allegro impetuoso
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    9.    Sonata for piano No 2 in E major, Op 2 III. Largo. Con dolore
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    10.    Kleine Karikaturen (4) für Kinder, for piano, No. 2, To make you slumber (Igor Stravinsky) Op. 19/2 IV. Finale: Allegro vivace
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    11.    Märchenbilder for piano, Op 3
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    12.    Waltzes (4) for piano
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    13.    Kleine Karikaturen (4) für Kinder, for piano, Op 19
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    14.    Was der Wald erzählt, suite for piano
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    15.    Das Wunder der Heliane, opera, Op 20 Zwischenspiel (Intermezzo, Act 3)
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    16.    Piano Trio in D major, Op. 1
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
with Richard McMahon, Martin Jones
    17.    Potpourri from Korngold’s “Der Ring des Polykrates” for piano
Composed by L. Ruffin
    18.    Much Ado about Nothing, incidental music and suite, Op. 11 I. Girl in the bridal chamber
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    19.    Much Ado about Nothing, incidental music and suite, Op. 11 II. Crabapple and Sloewine – Watchmans March
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    20.    Much Ado about Nothing, incidental music and suite, Op. 11 III. Masquerade – Hornpipe
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    21.    Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), opera, Op. 12 Schach brugge! Burleske Nachtszene am Minnewasser
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    22.    Geschichten von Strauss(Tales of Strauss), for piano, Op 21  Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    23.    Sonata for piano, No 3 in C major, Op 25
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    24.    Der Schneemann, 4 easy pieces for piano
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    25.    Schauspiel Overture for orchestra, Op 4
Composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
with Richard McMahon, Martin Jones
    26.    Große Fantasie aus Korngolds Oper “Die Tote Stadt”, for piano
Composed by Ferdinand Rebay

– John Sunier

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