Korngold - Symphony in F sharp

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ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD - Symphony in F sharp, Op. 40 - Incidental Music from Much Ado About Nothing, Op. 11 - Marc Albrecht (conductor) - Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra - Hybrid SACD - 827949037368 - Released: November 2010 - Pentatone PTC5186373

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) is best remembered for spectacular Hollywood soundtracks such as The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Captain Blood, Juarez, Anthony Adverse and Kings Row. But Korngold had started life, and at a very early age, as a composer of serious art music in his native Vienna. He was the son of Julius Korngold, undisputed doyen of the city's music critics. At the age of ten, little Erich made a strong impression on Gustav Mahler with one of his compositions. Richard Strauss was also an admirer of the budding genius. This disc presents orchestral pieces dating from 1920 and 1952 – a sparkling adaption of theatre music and a symphony rejected in Vienna in a poorly prepared 1954 premiere performance.

As late as 1992, an eminent critic remarked that, "The Symphony in F-sharp lacks bite…" And yet the work was not neglected in recordings. Fine accounts were committed to disc by André Previn (with the LSO/DG) and Franz Welser-Möst (Philadelphia Orchestra/EMI). These successful performances drew attention to the quality of the music but left the impression of a Romantic-era remnant. Marc Albrecht seizes the score by the scruff and marches firmly into the front rank of 20th century symphonic utterance. Drawing superb playing from the Strasbourg Phil, Albrecht, more than any other conductor, exploits the dramatic contrasts to visceral effect. And if the cinematic souvenirs pop up from time to time – so much the better for orchestral colour. This is the finest conceivable performance in the best possible audio. Nothing less, indeed, than a new benchmark for both works. Albrecht demonstrates the same 'take no prisoners' conviction in the incidental music to Much Ado About Nothing. Pseudo light music be damned; Albrecht's Much Ado has the power to penetrate and is rendered with unprecedented cohesion. The Albrecht/Strasbourg/PentaTone collaboration began in 2008 with the release of a collection of Strauss tone poems. This was followed up by Schumann and Dvorák piano concertos with Martin Helmchen, a disc devoted to Alban Berg and a French collection with selections by Dukas, Ravel and Keochlin. This body of work inclines one toward the conclusion that the Strasbourg Philharmonic is now one of the finest recording orchestras in the world. And that we will hear much more from Marc Albrecht.

Stephen Habington - January 2011