Korngold Orchestral Works
It’s good to see Andre Previn championing the music of Korngold again – it was Previn, via one of his imaginative television programmes, who induced me to explore the concert works of this composer back in the 1970s, and I’m very glad he did. Following on from his recording of the Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham (DG, 9/94) he now turns his attention to the Symphony, which brings the total number of recordings of this work to five! With fine accounts from Sir Edward Downes and Franz Welser-Most it would make my job easier if I felt this were a less recommendable disc; instead of that I am going to have to plead the case for yet another strong contender for your money.
Thankfully, Previn, like Welser-Most, gives us yet another different view of this magnificent work, which is good for a symphony that, after 40 years, is still only just beginning to acquire the status it so justly deserves. To be honest, I have to say that it took a little time to adjust to Previn’s reading on first hearing. He certainly eschews the sumptuous, Technicolor view of, say, Downes. This is a much darker interpretation, with the first movement driven by a biting, perhaps even angry, passion (it’s frighteningly bleak at times), and I’m not surprised that the Mahlerian overtones which are often implied are much less obvious here. Previn is slower, too, in the first movement than either Downes or Welser-Most – by nearly two minutes compared with the Downes reading. By comparison Welser-Most’s account is more curvaceous and, more than I originally felt when reviewing it, ‘filmic’ than Previn. One has less of an image of Errol Flynn sailing the high seas when that wonderful horn theme appears in the Scherzo, but Previn does tremendous things with this movement and he coaxes wonderful playing from the LSO. The sombre Adagio is superbly controlled and beautifully crafted, making it one of the most symphonic readings committed to disc, and in the finale Previn responds readily to the movement’s optimistic and playful spirit. Overall he achieves a very satisfying and balanced interpretation of this symphony.
As a filler Previn gives us the short but genial Much Ado About Nothing suite, Op. 11, for chamber orchestra. I have got used to hearing this suite prefaced with the Overture, as it is on the CPO label from Werner Andreas Albert, so I am still adjusting to it opening straight into the charming “The Maiden in the Bridal Chamber” as it does here. Nevertheless, Previn once again secures deftly shaped performances and reveals himself as a very fine Korngold conductor.
It is difficult to choose between Downes and Previn in the symphony; both are equally satisfying for different, contrasting reasons. Welser-Most sits somewhere between the two, and I still find many things to admire in his recording, but if I had to direct newcomers to this symphony now then this disc would have to receive a strong recommendation.'