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Korngold: Symphony SACD

David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

This is, hands down, the best-engineered performance of Korngold’s masterful symphony yet released, and that means a lot. Looking at the score, what strikes the eye immediately is not how lavishly Korngold deploys his resources, but rather how efficiently and economically. The secret of that special orchestral (and now thought of as “Hollywood”) sheen results from remarkable chord spacing between strings and winds, and above all from rhythmic displacement–from having the parts slightly out of synchronization with each other. The result creates fluidity without density, and by placing, say, a harp glissando where you least expect it, Korngold gives the impression of richness when in fact the size of the ensemble is not at all extravagant. All of this is particularly easy to hear in this wonderfully clear and present recording.

Happily, the performances also stand among the finest available, and that means Kempe/Munich (Varèse Sarabande) and Welser-Möst/Philadelphia (EMI). Marc Albrecht has the strings playing with virtuoso abandon, in the first two movements especially, both of which present some truly difficult challenges in terms of ensemble coordination. More importantly, Albrecht has a real feel for the structure of the music. The first movement and finale seldom have sounded so cogently paced, as well as expressively powerful.

The truth is, if you compare all of the work’s extant recordings, the timings among them are not significantly different. What matters is the internal relationship between formal sections, and it is here that Albrecht really excels. This, plus the clarity of his bass lines and incisive feeling for rhythm, gives the music an urgency and vitality that are the very opposite of the tired, late-Romantic decadence that Korngold stereotypically represents. The result is tremendously beautiful, moving (try that perfectly flowing Adagio!), and satisfying. The suite from Much Ado About Nothing makes an ideally apt and absolutely delightful encore, but it’s the performance of the symphony that makes this disc special. Listen, and dare yourself to admit that it’s not one of the truly great 20th-century works in the medium.

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Welser-Möst (EMI)

ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD - Symphony in F-sharp minor; Much Ado About Nothing (Suite)

  • Record Label: PentaTone - 5186373
  • Medium: SACD

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