I’ve always regarded Erich Wolfgang Korngold as much Mahler’s heir as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Zemlinsky, Franz Schmidt etc. Korngold’s precocious genius was equal to Mozart’s, Mendelssohn’s and Saint-Saëns’. His father, Julius, Vienna’s most feared music critic, took him to Mahler with the prospect of the six-year-old Erich receiving lessons. When Mahler heard him play some of his compositions, some of which even then could hardly be described as juvenilia, he declared there was nothing he could teach him.
Well, not directly. Korngold virtually invented the “symphonic” Hollywood film score and, in doing so, invested the genre with a similar level of complexity and emotional range Mahler did in his symphonies. If Mahler hadn’t composed, Korngold’s music would surely have sounded very different. Few other film composers, then or since, have conveyed the sensation of short-lived and febrile euphoria, rapidly replaced by emotional ambiguity, psychological unease and impending danger as skilfully (and often obliquely) as Korngold, with the frisson of a minor chord.
Admittedly, few of these traits are apparent in the gloriously open-hearted (rather than heart-on-sleeve) Violin Concerto, where the composer developed themes from film scores to Another Dawn, Juarez, Anthony Adverse and The Prince and the Pauper. Despite the gratuitous slurs levelled at this work, it’s much more than just a medley of cannabilised film music with a violin obligato.
The fact that a violinist of Andrew Haveron’s calibre can embrace it with such unalloyed affection (along with just about every other top line violinist now) dispels that notion. He captured both the swooning voluptuous Hollywood glamour of the first movement, and it’s wonderful to savour the gorgeous blossoming of the exotic array of percussion – glockenspiel, xylophone, vibraphone and celesta in the first movement as the music unfolds sensuously. Korngold’s Concerto shows the mature and unique sound of a composer, one that effectively amalgamates the cinematic and classical idioms.
Haveron displays some lovely rather nuanced rubato, alternately intimate and sweeping. What Haveron also does so well is to invest the movement with a genuine sense of yearning and the accompaniment of the RTE Concert orchestra under John Wilson gives excellent support. One review I read of another performance described it as less “sticky” than some renditions. I think the same can be replied to this version, as Haveron avoids becoming becalmed by the music’s sheer gorgeousness. It also serves to distinguish the first movement less like another slow one.
This affectionate second movement is pure Bette Davis and Paul Henried sharing a cigarette in Now Voyager: tender and full of emotional Innigkeit, where Haveron’s tone sounds a little richer, for some reason, than in the first movement.
If the middle movement is intimate, the finale is more swashbuckling Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk or Robin Hood – full of swagger and excitement and Haveron is equally rollicking while displaying spectacular virtuosity.
The energetic Korngold Sextet in D is a testament to this composer’s truly miraculous precocity and compositional sophistication. The Sinfonia of London Chamber Ensemble, of which Andrew Haveron is also a member, contains an interesting counterpoint of echt-Viennese gemutlicheit and somewhat trenchant 20th-century modernism. The instrumental balance is excellent. The Adagio in particular anticipates that frisson of prospective danger, which as I noted earlier, Korngold delivered so brilliantly in his film scores. I found the Intermezzo delightful coquettish. counterparts, while still allowing the delicateness of the violins to come through even in the most intense sections. throughout and the ensemble. The sound is very fine.
Compositions: Violin Concerto, String Sextet
Performers: Andrew Haveron v, String Soloists of the Sinfonia of London, RTE Concert Orchestra/John Wilson
Catalogue Number: CHANDOS CHSA20135