Erich Wolfgang Korngold / Richard Strauss
Sonatas for Violin & Piano
Frantisek Novotny (violin), Serguei Milstein (piano)
© 2004 Clarton / CQ 0059-2 131
Strauss and Korngold had much in common.
Both began composing around the age of six.
Both wrote works in nearly all musical genres: chamber, orchestral,
instrumental, opera, ballet. Both
produced Lieder (“songs”) – with either piano or orchestral
accompaniment – that appear across their entire compositional oeuvre.
Both were the most talked-about musician/composers of their early
careers, established musical voices in the late-Romantic traditions that
would remain firm throughout their composing lives, and became
anachronisms in later life as their tonal voices became eclipsed by the
progressive schools of Schoenberg and his followers.
Strauss greatly admired and helped promote the music of the young
Korngold while serving as a musical mentor to the young prodigy, and
Korngold greatly admired and respected the elder.
All of which makes the coupling of their only respective violin
Having just completed a large-scale orchestral work,
the Sinfonietta in B-major, Op. 5, Korngold withdrew to the less
weighty world of chamber music, a pattern he followed throughout his life.
Of the four specifically titled “Sonata” that Korngold
wrote, the only one not for solo piano – the Sonata for Violin
and Piano in G Major, Op. 6 (1912) – was probably requested by Artur
Schnabel and Carl Flesch, the former having premiered Korngold’s Piano
Sonata No. 2, Op. 2, to wide acclaim.
While the first recording of the violin sonata in 1974 included
some minor cuts (ostensibly to let it fit on one LP), there have been nine
recordings of the work prior to the new release on Cesky/Clarton by
Frantisek Novotny and Serguei Milstein.
Like Stacey and Scot Woolley in their 1991 recording,
Novotny and Milstein opt for a slower interpretation of the work.
Though the speeds taken by both sets of performers are very
similar, the latter, newer, is a much more engaging performance.
Playing with immediate feeling and conveying a sense of thorough
understanding of, and familiarity with the piece, the musicians appear to
emphasize what’s behind the music, in addition to simply presenting the
Aided by a sympathetic acoustic of the recording
venue, the playing comes across with a transparency and a clean
articulation, allowing the listener to hear clearly the details of the
writing. In this way, the present recording helps promote an apparent
goal of the piece, in which “…Korngold strove [for] a lyrically
transparent classical style allowing the opportunity for delicate
timbre,… This delicate
timbre allows capaciousness for apparent contradictions…” (1992, Knut
Franke, liner notes for the Calig CAL 50-905 recording)
Adopting slower speeds can be a danger if the
listener senses a lack of forward momentum, however, and this recording
rides that fine line in spots. This
is most noticeable in the scherzo, which at times seems almost languid,
and in several moments previous recordings seem to better capture the
youthful exuberance commonly associated with Korngold’s works from this
period. On a positive note, the slower tempo does allow for easy,
audible examination of fine details in the music that tend to get lost in
the other, faster performances.
Despite all of this, Novotny’s violin playing is
some of the best heard by this writer in this composition.
The playing exhibited in the trio section of the scherzo is one of
the most lush, and seemingly idiomatic performances recorded.
And Novotny adopts a very noticeable yet discrete use of
portamenti, which at the time of composition would have been used
frequently but for the last 50-years-or-so has been deemed
“old-fashioned” or “overly romantic” and generally frowned upon. Heard in a recording of this work for the first time, the use
of the portamenti brings a new and welcome depth to Korngold’s broad and
poetic melodies. Milstein is
also a very capable and sympathetic pianist, partnering Novotny’s
playing excellently to produce a satisfying performance of the
Korngold’s Violin Sonata in G.
The Sonata for Violin and Piano in E-flat Major,
Op. 18 (1887), was Richard Strauss’s (1864-1949) last serious
composition in absolute (chamber) music before establishing himself as a
major figure of tone poems. Like
Korngold’s sonata, his was seriously neglected until recent times, but
unlike the former, the Strauss sonata was rarely performed in his
lifetime. Like most violin
sonatas written in the late 19th century and beyond, the work
is a virtuosic one rather than one intended for domestic music making.
As with the Korngold recording, Novotny and Milstein
approach the Strauss Sonata with a slower tempo, similar to the
Lefevre/Gastaldi recording (2003, Zig-Zag Territoires ZZT 030503).
The playing is articulate, consistently of high quality,
demonstrates a thorough familiarity with the piece, and contains all the
passion and intensity expected in a late Romantic work.
The pair provide a consistent sensitivity in their playing,
providing a reading expressive in all respects, but perhaps lacking the
incisive edge apparent in some other recordings.
And unlike the Korngold, at no time does the listener feel the
momentum of the music is at all restrained.
In all, a wholly engaging performance.
The fanfare-like opening, and Strauss’s fondness
for expansive melodies, would seem to presage aspects of the younger
Korngold’s music twenty-five years later.
The string writing (Strauss was trained on violin from an early
age) is perceivable as more natural and idiomatic in comparison with that
of the “progressive” Korngold seeking to push the instrument’s –
and player’s – capabilities to the limit.
The piano part is rich without seeming orchestral, and Novotny and
Milstein sound completely at home with the work.
The cantabile aspect of the slow movement is brought
out with excellent handling, comparable to the trio section of the
Korngold scherzo and the final movement is superbly realized, supporting
Brendan Carroll’s liner note observation that it is “…arguably the
best movement.” We may not
be quite as captivated in this recording compared to Heifetz/Neveu or the
Chung/Zimerman, but the performance is distinguished nonetheless.
Hearing the present recording today, we may find it hard to
understand why this sonata never entered the repertoire.
This CD was made with the support of the
International Korngold Society, and it should be noted for the Korngold
enthusiast that the Sonata, Op. 6 was recorded in Brno – the city of
Korngold’s birth – in October 1997, the centennial year of
Korngold’s birth. The liner
notes provided by Brendan Carroll are also illuminating and educational on
both sonatas, and on the relationship between Strauss and Korngold.
© November 2004, Troy O. Dixon
DIE TOTE STADT DVD REVIEW
Until we in Britain get our first staging of Korngold's successful opera, this DVD of the last year's French premiere will have to suffice, warts and all.
The plot of the bereaved man's obsessive fantasy offers plenty of scope for directional interpretation, and Inga Levant lets her imagination run riot, taking Korngold's Hollywood connection as a cue to allude to as many films as she can,
Marietta stands over an air vent a la Monroe; Paul keeps the clothed skeleton of his dead wife in a cupboard in true hammer Horror Style; and the Act II theatrical troupe puts an poster of Robert the Devil's starring Erron Flyn and Bette Davis' for its Meyerbeer rehearsal.
The result is a juvenile mish-mash of visual distraction that does nothing to illuminate the drama.
Musically, though, it has its strengths, and in Torsten Kerl a tenor who can cope both with Paul's vocal challenges and the role's psychological free-fall.
As Marietta,Angela Denoke does not always make the most beautiful of sounds, but her dramatic conviction in never in doubt. There's a fine cameo from Stephan Genz as Fritz (accompanied by a chorus of nuns decked in the stars and Stripes&ldots;) and the Strasbourg Philharmonic plays magnificently for Jan Latham-Koenig.
Although it offers no extras, this release at least makes good use of DVD's audio capabilities, directing the singing through the central 'set-top' channel in surround sound; the camerawork in excellent.
Matthew Rye (Taken from BBC music magazine December issue)
FROM 'FILMSCOREMONHLY.COM' - New Review:-
Previn Conducts Korngold: The Sea Hawk **** ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD
Deutsche Grammophon 471 347-2 -31 tracks - 67:59
Already long established Internationally as a composer of Opera and
Symphonies Erich Wolfgang Korngold first went to Hollywood in 1934 (at the invitation of fellow Austrian, Director Max Reinhardt) to work on arrangements of Mendelssohn's music for Warner Brothers A Midsummer's Night Dream. It was to be the start of a long, happy relationship Korngold was to have with Hollywood, as he made his film music that he described as "Opera without singing." Deutsche Grammophon got together Andre Previn to conduct The London Symphony Orchestra in Abbey Road Studios in London during July of 2001 to record a collection of Korngold's work. The album focuses on four films: Captain Blood (1935),The Prince and the Pauper (1937),
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk (1940).
The album opens up with The Sea Hawk, Korngold's last Swashbucklermovie, where the hero is played by Errol Flynn. It's a thrilling uplifting score, full of pomp and assured self-confidence, which has been a huge influence on today's orchestral film composers. Everyone from John Williams, Danny Elfman and Patrick Doyle to Hans Zimmer owes some debt to the sound of Erich Korngold. His huge fanfares, lush strings, driving timpani and sweeping melodies have inspired thousands of adventure overtures. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex was Warner Brothers' most important film of 1939 -- it was made in Technicolor and starred Bette Davis in one of her most endearing roles.
The main title is a sustained, royal overture designed to pull the audience into the mind of Queen Elizabeth. Her theme, "Lady Penelope," follows, wistful and yearning as she realizes her own love for Essex is never to be returned, a small string section creating a delicately poised sound. "Elizabeth the Queen" presents the human side of the aging monarch as she declares her love for Essex.Captain Blood was Korngold's first completely original score for thescreen. From the very start, the overture ("Main Title") presents a full-blown symphonic treatment unheard in filmmusic before. Giant brass proclaim typical Korngoldian fanfares while the soaring string melody takes you into the vast atmospheres of both ship and sea. But Korngold could be extremely subtle as well. "Sold into Slavery" presents an unsettling harmony of the main theme and an orchestration that creates a haunting mood before a new yearning string melody takes center stage.
Andre Previn conducts the London Symphony Orchestra with accustomed poise, power and grace. This collection is a grand, sumptuous, lush orchestral history lesson from one of Hollywood's musical founding fathers.
Reviews for "Die tote Stadt" and Violin Concerto Author:Mr Bob Glaser (editor)
fortunate to have experienced an 'All Korngold' weekend on the