Korngold Symphony in F sharp
Five years ago there was a big programme of concerts as part of the Berlin Festival, all of them devoted to composers who left Germany and Austria in the 1930s. Although there were several photographs and a couple of pages of biography in the catalogue that accompanied the concerts devoted to Erich Wolfgang Korngold, not a note of his music was played. Was this snobbery or some more mundane consideration of copyright? Because of his success in Hollywood, Korngold's music seems to breed a sense of unease among the musically established. After the war, he had a spurt of energy, returning to concert works, though never to opera: a violin and a cello concerto, and several other instrumental and orchestral works preceded this Symphony. It was never performed in public during Korngold's lifetime and this recording is of the world premiere, given in Munich in 1972, 15 years after the composer's death.
The symphony is in four movements. The opening moderato suggests a striving, menace-laden drama, with psychological overtones provided by marimba and xylophone in the percussion. A little hint of love-theme comes from the woodwind.
The Scherzo second movement is swifter, with an adventurous chase-like theme for the strings, with some heart-beat big drums the big romantic adagio suggests a tragic affair and long parting. Then, the upbeat finale takes on a military air, with a flute solo leading the troops into their march towards life or death. It is difficult, given Korngold's Hollywood output, not to imagine this as a mighty movie score, but it is none the worse for that, and those existing admirers of Korngold's music should get great pleasure from this. 'Wagnerian' is for once a more than apt description, for just after he composed this symphony Korngold set to work on the score for one of Hollywood's composer bio-pics, Magic Fire. Kempe conducts a performance as vigorous and taut as one would expect from that still-lamented figure; the recording is adequate, without being brilliant.'