Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Orchestra: BBC Philharmonic
Conductor: Matthias Bamert
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Size: 262 MB
 Sursum Corda, Op. 13
- Sinfonietta, Op. 5
Who Says Korngold Wasn’t A Genius?
I’ve owned this CD for several years but just now came back to it because I’d recently reviewed the new release on Naxos of the complete music Korngold wrote for the Errol Flynn movie, ‘Robin Hood.’ Written on a tight schedule, that film score makes use of some of the main ingredients of the ‘Sursum Corda’ presented here; in fact, the principal theme of ‘Sursum Corda’ is Robin’s main theme in the movie. So I thought I’d come back and revisit it. What a pleasure! The é’lan and poetry of this score is heart-easing. ‘Sursum Corda’ is usually translated at ‘Lift Up Your Heart’, but more accurately the Latin would be rendered as ‘Let Your Heart Be Lifted Up,’ and that is certainly what this piece does. It is one of the most sweepingly optimistic pieces of music that I know. It’s no surprise that Korngold thought to use parts of it to limn the insouciance of Robin Hood. I would nominate ‘Sursum Corda’ as a concert opener; it only lasts 19 minutes and certainly gets the audience in a receptive mood, I should think. Matthias Bamert and his BBC Philharmonic (not always the most polished ensemble) do a bang-up job with this and the Sinfonietta which follows it. Bamert does seem to have a real talent for extrovert music.
The ‘Sinfonietta’ on this disc was begun when Korngold was only fourteen, finished the next year and premi’èred soon after. In spite of its name it is a full-fledged, four-movement, 45 minute Symphony. Further, it is an amazingly assured work. Korngold seems never to lose his train of thought in the musical working-out, never seems to be padding the texture which, although dense is often filled with some of the most cleverly intricate and tasty contrapuntal appositions of several of the main themes. I is based on a theme in ascending (or descending) fourths which he labeled the ‘Motif of the Cheerful Heart’ and which turns out to serve as the generating theme for the whole work. The second subject of I is a Viennese waltz. The development features several light-hearted fanfares. Can you see why this symphony is often described as ‘sunny’? II is a rambunctious Scherzo with a contrasting tender trio. III, the Andante, is marked ‘Dreamily’ and has prominent celesta and English horn solos and lots of chords of the ninth; Korngold had clearly been paying attention to the methods of the Impressionists, and indeed even as a young child had met both Ravel and Debussy who, we are told, were impressed with his talent. IV starts with a jagged, even peremptory opening marked ‘Patetico’ that leads to a sober-sided fugue arising out of the low strings. Soon, though, the sun breaks through and a section marked ‘Allegro giocoso’ takes over. The Allegro is energetic, using the same fugue subject, and simply bursts with good humor. There are contrasting sections including an arioso second subject, several rises and falls in the level of excitement before a simply grand finish. It is amazing to see how this child-composer manages the psychology of this movement, keenly judging the effect of each climax, falling back to prepare for the next and then finishing with a blaze of instrumental brilliance. Why oh why isn’t Korngold’s concert music played more? I’ll never understand it.
A Wonderful Performance
The astonishing talent of Erich Wolfgang Korngold is not better demonstrated than in the Sinfonietta, which gets a fabulous performance on this disc. The Sinfonietta was completed when Korngold was 15 and displays maturity well beyond his years. It is tuneful with well-developed melodies. He also makes use of interesting instruments like the English Horn and celesta. One can detect the later film music in this inventive music. The Sherzo is dramatic and the finale joyous but perhaps the dreamy Andante is the most surprising part of this piece, creating an atmosphere exotic and languid.
The Sursum Corda (Lift Up Your Hearts) was written at the time of Die Tote Stadt and was greeted at its premiere with boos as it was considered too modern. It is difficult to say why the piece was so disliked since it is an unforgettably beautiful work. The music fits its title remarkably well, and it had a second life in the score for “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” It is important to remember that Korngold thought that music was inspired whatever its source, so reusing melodies from his compositions into film music and back again was no different than Prokofiev creating a symphony from his operas.
The performances are committed with great playing by the BBC Philharmonic. The recording by Chandos is superb. A must have disc.