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Symphony in F Sharp Op 40 / 4 Simple Songs


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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A slight difference of opinion. Jan. 19 2002
By Bob Zeidler - Published on Amazon.com
I hope, with these paragraphs, that I can convince readers to consider listening to this Korngold recording, despite the comments of the editorial reviewer above. Needless to say, I find the editorial review to be unfairly negative, in fact very much so.

Korngold was a child prodigy. (It is an interesting coincidence that his middle name was the same as that greatest of all child prodigies, Mozart.) Born just before the turn of the previous century (1897), he was steeped in the cultural milieu of fin-de-siècle Vienna, in which his father, Julius Korngold, was an influential music critic (in fact, one of the few who championed Gustav Mahler, both as composer and as Vienna Court Opera director, at a time when the virulently anti-Semitic Vienna press was having none of Mahler). So it was Mahler to whom Julius Korngold turned, when Erich Wolfgang was ten years old, for guidance as to his son's musical education, and it was Mahler who directed him to Alexander von Zemlinsky for that education.

Korngold achieved his first great success with his opera "Die tote Stadt" ("The Dead City") in 1920. While this opera, with a libretto based on a rather supernatural fable, was to fall out of favor, thanks to attention paid to the much less lush expressionist works that characterized the Second Viennese School, it is full of beautiful music, much in the vein of Richard Strauss. And one song from "Die tote Stadt" has remained - and will continue to remain - in the repertoire of lieder singers, because of its ineffable beauty: "Mariettas Lied" ("Marietta's Song"). Here, Barbara Hendricks, with the able assistance of Welser-Möst and the Philadelphia Orcestra, performs it wonderfully, as well she does for four of the lesser-known Korngold lieder, the "Six Simple Songs," originally written when Korngold was barely a teenager (but scored for orchestra a decade later). At least a few of these youthful songs remind me of Mahler's "Wunderhorn" songs in content, style and temperament, although the orchestration is more Straussian than Mahlerian. They are - simply - good.

With the Anschluss of Austria by Germany in 1938, Korngold - like so many of his contemporaries - emigrated permanently to the U.S., and to the film community in Los Angeles (where he had already been "commuting" for a few years, writing film scores), to settle in to a second career as a studio composer. Many of the blockbusters of the time had Korngold scores: Anthony Adverse, King's Row, The Sea Hawk, and Captain Blood, to name just a few. His style in this composing was to have its eventual effect on a later composer who made an even bigger name for himself in the genre. But I'm getting just a little ahead of myself here.

The major work on this CD, Korngold's Symphony in F sharp, was a "late in life" composition written in the early '50's and dedicated to the memory of FDR. While it has no obvious program, it is clearly heroic without being bombastic. Fully "tonal" (and, some would say, anachronistically so at a time when "Stravinsky was king"), it is very accessible in a post-Straussian sense. While harmonically somewhat more advanced (there is some question as to whether the "F sharp" should be "F sharp Major" or "F sharp Minor"), anyone comfortable with Mahler, Strauss, and/or Zemlinsky will have no problem with this underrated and underperformed work, which I consider sadly overlooked. The third-movement Adagio, as just one instance, is more than a minor masterpiece. While clearly Viennese, it is not at all what I had expected (i.e., a poor imitation of a Mahler Adagio). As far-fetched as this might sound, I was at first reminded of Sergei Rachmaninoff's symphonies. Only better. Much better. As melodically engaging and harmonically lush as a Rachmaninoff work, but with better attention to the details of transparent orchestration and thematic continuity without rambling interminably. And the brilliant Finale puts the lie to the idea that "late-in-life" works should be contemplative. As well, it pulls in a few of the major themes from the earlier movements with excellent effect.

This symphony is expertly constructed, brimming with both craftsmanship and beautiful themes, and is simply terrific. Thankfully, Welser-Möst (and a few others) have addressed an egregious oversight by committing it to disc. Getting back to my opening paragraph, I don't find this performance "unimaginative" or "plodding," nor do I find the recorded sound "thuddy" and "dry." Far from it; having played this CD on several systems, both at home and elsewhere, I find the performance to be both exciting where it needs to be and finely-wrought throughout, and the sound satisfactorily clear and full. So the editorial reviewer and I have differing opinions on these aspects. Use your judgement. And, if you trust me, then try to track down this recording.

As for that "later composer who made an even bigger name for himself in the genre," you may want to pay close attention to the opening of the Scherzo for this 1951-1952 work. A new theme enters the Scherzo after the introduction, at the 1'36" mark in this Welser-Möst performance. It might remind you of a score for a 1977 blockbuster film. Retrospectively, of course.

Bob Zeidler
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen to it and you'll love it. Sept. 20 2008
By Good Stuff - Published on Amazon.com
You simply must dismiss the rather boorish review offered by, apparently, Amazon's resident carpenter. For he certainly knows little, if anything, about music.

This is a wonderful recording. The recorded sound is warm, vibrant and immediate. The orchestra, the venerable Philadelphia from which we hear far too little these days, is magnificent.

The songs and aria are performed magnificently by the great American soprano, Barbara Hendricks.

And all are well served by the spot on conducting of Franz Welser-Most.

This is a winner.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glorious Performance March 8 2007
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
I first heard Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Symphony in F from an old LP conducted by Rudolf Kempf, and have held the music in high regard since. I purchased this recording of the symphony to replace the LP version and have been very pleased with the performance. So, I join with my prior reviewers to highly recommend this disc. Despite the editorial comments that were added here, this recording was well-received by the reviewer at Gramophone magazine. Franz Welser-Most clearly loves this symphony as is evident from the ominous opening bars, beautifully phrased and played with the right emphasis. The Scherzo is particularly good, expressing the tarantella-like rhythms with driving intensity and the Adagio that sounds so world-weary. The joyous Finale concludes the performance perfectly, recalling the earlier movements as the symphony gloriously ends.

The Six Simple Songs (four of which are on the disc as a filler) are beautifully sung by Barbara Hendricks and coming after the harder edges of the symphony are like entering a beautiful landscape. Ms. Hendricks also sings Marietta's Lied from Der Tote Stadt with great feeling. Listening to this aria made me want to listen to the entire opera, which I did shortly after.

There are several recordings of Korngold's Symphony that are excellent and the recording by The Philadelphia Orchestra under Franz Welser-Most is certainly among them. The orchestral clarity is second to none and the playing of the Philadelphia brings out the wonderful tragic and triumphant music.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A twentieth century masterpiece Sept. 9 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Korngold's Symphony was written after the end of the Second World War, and after he had decided not to renew his Warner Brothers contract. Returning to composing concert works, he courageously remained true to his late romantic, essentially tonal roots, in spite of the prevailing atonal and serial music being written at that time. The Symphony is truly inspired, heartfelt and melodically sumptuous, using themes from his familiar film scores in unexpected ways. It is beautifully crafted and orchestrated with his customary expert knowledge of orchestral color.. It is written in a tonal but highly chromatic language that stretches the ear without breaking it.
This performance captures the piece in a way that no other recorded performance does. The Philadelphia Orchestra is still, even after Riccardo Muti's tenure, the ideal instrument for this kind of music, and Welser-Most encourages the orchestra to play with their trademark beauty of tone and attention to detail. The recording persepective is distant, and the room chosen to record in is too dry for this music.
The beautiful songs included as filler are from an early opus, written during Korngold's prodigious youth, and orchestrated by him in his twenties. Hendricks has a beautiful, light soprano instrument but sings these pieces as if she is sightreading them. She seems uninvolved. Her German sounds as if she does not understand the language, making errors in pronunciation and singing wrong words. The famous aria from Korngold's operatic masterpiece, "Die Tote Stadt", is unimpressive. The orchestra, however, plays the songs and the aria beautifully and the conductor is an expert accompanist.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cult recording! July 27 2011
By Hiram Gomez Pardo - Published on Amazon.com
Franz Welser Most is nowadays, one the most interesting figures at the podium. And just a few conductors have had the courage to record this admirable Symphony, unfairly forgotten, dismiised and overlooked by most of audiences.

Composed in Franklin Delano Roosvelt's memory, the Symphony is far from being a modern Symphony. Inmersed into the last breadth of the great Romantic European tradition, this work exudes expressive noblesse hovered by spiritual flair.

Barbara Hendricks is terrific with Korngold, except in Marietta lied. I rather chose the version of Kiri Te kanawa directed by Previn with LSO from 1994.

A must have. Buy it. You will be surprised all the way through.

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