KORNGOLD Symphonic Serenade. Sextet
Some exaggerated claims have been made for Erich Korngold’s extra-cinematic output but here are two of his finer works performed with enthusiasm and commitment. The Symphonic Serenade is the surprise inclusion, CPO’s second recording of a piece rarely touched by concert planners or record companies since its unveiling by Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1950. The more familiar Sextet is a product of the composer’s teenage years when he was widely regarded as a second Mendelssohn. At the time of its 1917 premiere Korngold’s own voice was deemed unmistakable and by no means old hat.
So what’s not to like? The main issue is one of scale, for all that Hartmut Rohde, most familiar to record buyers as the Mozart Piano Quartet’s viola player, effects necessary adjustments with sensitivity. Wrocaw’s NFM Leopoldinum Orchestra, of which he was artistic director between 2014 and 2017, is only twentyish strong – too small for the Symphonic Serenade, too big for the Sextet. Surprisingly, it’s Werner Andreas Albert and the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie who allocate the Serenade’s glorious opening melodic line to solo violin alone. Thereafter the interpretations diverge as you might expect. Rohde exposes the spikier inner workings of Korngold’s invention. Albert’s larger forces luxuriate in its nostalgic warmth. The one version of the Serenade that is truly epic in scope, from Simone Pittau and the LSO (ASV, 2/07), would seem to have vanished from the lists.
Both featured works have generally high-spirited cyclical finales whose tendency to run on empty is countered here by a certain edginess. But then there are moments not so much transparent as wiry or emaciated throughout. As Brendan G Carroll notes in the booklet, the Serenade ‘requires the utmost accuracy and precision in intonation from every player’. Though well worth sampling, these vivid renditions are not quite what Korngold would have imagined in his mind’s ear. Nor is the astringent character of the music-making muted by plentiful hall resonance. Safer (duller?) recommendations are listed below.