The son of a music critic, Erich Wolfgang Korngold was a child prodigy in the mould of Mozart and Mendelssohn. His 43-minute Sinfonietta was written at the age of 15. In its lush orchestration, Romantic melodies and richly chromatic harmonies, it sounds like a tone poem by Richard Strauss. (Both Strauss and Mahler admired the young Erich).
Forced to leave Vienna in the early 1930s, Korngold made a fresh start in the USA where he virtually invented the sound of Hollywood films. He was brought over by the Austrian director Max Reinhardt to adapt Mendelssohn’s music for a movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream possibly on the basis of his earlier score for a theatrical production of Much Ado About Nothing. This is the first recording of the full incidental music. Korngold’s approach to Shakespeare is appropriately characterful, and the power he gets out of his chamber forces is extraordinary. He was truly a master of the orchestra.
Storgårds and the Helsinki Philharmonic have given us several first-rate recordings of neglected music – including Korngold’s Symphony – and this disc is similarly successful. I don’t care for the pinched tenor of Mati Turi in Balthazar’s song (Sigh no more, ladies) but that is the sole vocal track. The orchestral music is alive with Korngold’s wit, heart and surface sheen.