KORNGOLD: Violin Concerto, String Sextet – Chandos

by | Apr 16, 2020 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

KORNGOLD: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35; String Sextet in D Major, Op. 10 – Andrew Haveron, violin/ Sinfonia of London Chamber Ensemble/ RTE Concert Orchestra/ John Wilson – Chandos CHAN 20135, 56:32 (3/27/20) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

By now, the etiology of Erich Korngold’s 1947 Violin Concerto has become familiar: the composer “borrowed” music originally conceived for a series of Hollywood film scores – Another Dawn, The Prince and the Pauper, Juarez, and Anthony Adverse – and adapted their melodic tissue for a work suggested by Julius Korngold, the composer’s father, after having been impressed with the rhapsodic nature of the theme for 1937’s Another Dawn.  In Europe, the composition’s first venue, the premiere went to virtuoso Robert Pollak (1880-!962), but that debut proved inauspicious, and Korngold set the music aside until 1945, this time revising the work for Bronislaw Huberman. But Huberman balked at the project, and so the revised score came to it most natural exponent, Jascha Heifetz, who, with conductor Vladimir Golschmann, gave the Concerto to the St. Louis Symphony audience on 15 February 1947.

The first movement, Moderato nobile, announces the heroic theme from an Errol Flynn feature, Another Dawn, a tune built on ascending fourths and fifths, culminating on G-sharp, a tone that reappears in the second subject, this based on the love theme from Juarez. Haveron’s violin – which, we must confess he brandishes in the Heifetz manner – takes up the lyric an octave higher than when first surrounded by strings and harp glissandi.  Conductor Wilson, already an advocate of the composer in recordings, has plenty of color work in the form of glockenspiel, tubular bells, vibraphone, celesta, and harp, which form a rich, perfumed tapestry of sound.

The second movement, Romanze: Andante, proceeds in G Major, with the exotic sound of the vibraphone, celesta, and harp to accompany Haveron in semi-oriental languor.  The melody derives from the epic Anthony Adverse, the Fredric March vehicle of love and the temptations of the slave-trade. Haveron mutes his instrument for the middle section, a fantasia in competing keys that projects a Hollywood-tropics mentality. The return to the outer section melody occurs waywardly, via F Major and whole-tone scalar pattern, until the elongated breath of repose concludes the romance.  The playful third movement, Allegro assai vivace in 6/8, takes its energy from another Errol Flynn vehicle, The Prince and the Pauper.  A rondo with theme-and-variations, the music has a witty, improvisational character, much demanding of the violin’s pyrotechnical antics.  Competition between duple and triple meters, added to whiplash presto makes the last pages rather a thrilling exercise in color panoply, a combination of revelry and refined wit.

The String Sextet, Op. 10 of 1914 may be compared to the precocious finesse of Felix Mendelssohn, but its likely models lie in Brahms and perhaps the great sextet of the fin-de-siecle, Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. This assertion bears fruit in Korngold’s Adagio movement. The opening movement, Moderato – Allegro, offers many challenges to the listener, not the least the audacious changes of key that evolve, moving to pivot on B Major. The triplet figure Korngold employs proves a typical device for polyphonic treatment. Polychromatic and labyrinthine in its sonata-form, the piece – often proceeding fugato – seems a hybrid of Brahms and the post-Romantic impulses in Schoenberg, Reger, and Dohnanyi.

The second movement will serve as an adumbration of melody and atmosphere in Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt, the melody’s having been appropriated from a song, Nachts (1913).  The eerie ambiance of the progression resembles a string symphonic poem in a nervous G Major, with a marvelous passage for the cello (Jonathan Assguard). The application of double and triple stops in the violins adds to the anguished intensity of the whole, a nearly bitonal declamation of erotic ardor extraordinary for any seventeen-year-old.  The ensuing Intermezzo comes straight from Old Vienna, in graceful rondo in F Major, 6/8. In rising fourths, the melody earned from Korngold the sobriquet “the motif of the cheerful heart,” with a decidedly Brahmsian lilt. The solo violin (Haveron) intones the melody with a certain, cheerful swagger. A little epilogue adds a touch of Mahler to the mix.

The last movement, Finale: Presto, enjoys a Mendelssohn energy, cross-fertilized by Korngold’s original harmony. The key once more sits in F Major, but the progression likes to focus on B-flat as lever to attain the D Major of movement one. The jaunty rhythmic flow has a rusticity that nods to Schubert and Brahms, no less than to the aforementioned Mahler. A lovely melody from the cello invokes the cyclical return of tunes from prior movements. Deliberate slides and portamentos urge the nostalgia and open sentimentality of the occasion. On 2 May 1917 the Rose Quartet and guests premiered this fascinating work in Vienna. Sound engineer Jonathan Cooper has preserved the recording before us (rec. 20-22 January 2019) for a grateful posterity.

–Gary Lemco

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