KORNGOLD:  Sursum Corda, Op. 13.  Baby Serenade, Op. 24.  Prelude to Act II Die Tote Stadt, Op. 12.  Prelude and Serenade from Der Schneemann.  Interlude from Das Wunder der Heliane, Op. 20
Bruckner Orchestra Linz/Caspar Richter, cond. 

ASV 1074  (F) (DDD)  TT:  61:45

This is a handsome collection of music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold containing  works composed before his fabled movie period.  Earliest is is Prelude and Serenade from Der Schneeman (The Snowman), written  in 1908 when Korngold was only 11 years old, performed at the Proms in 1912 with Sir Henry Wood on the podium; he was, and remains, the youngest composer ever to be played at the Proms.   Next chronologically we have the Prelude to Act II of the opera Die Tote Stadt , composed in 1920.  This was Korngold's biggest  success and for good reason.  With its Viennese style, gorgeous melodies, rich orchestration and fine writing for the voice, It attracted enormous attention and enjoyed a simultaneous double premiere in Hamburg and Cologne in December 1920.  In this Prelude Korngold magnificently suggests the mysterious atmosphere of Bruges, with its tolling bells and  nuns' procession.  The few lines of Marie are sung in this recording by Karen Robertson.   As he was completing Die Tote Stadt, Korngold began work on a large-scale symphonic overture, Sursum Corda which is dedicated to his mentor, Richard Strauss.  It is amazing that this vital, soaring music was not well received at its Vienna premiere in 1920; about two decades later the composer used much of this music  in his score for the film The Adventures of Robin Hood, for which he won his second Academy Award.

Also included is an interlude from the opera Das Wunder der Heliane, Op. 20, completed in 1927, his most ambitious work.  It is a magnificent opera that has yet to have a recorded performance that does justice to it.  Collectors fondly remember Lotte Lehmann's famous 1928 recording of Heliane's Act II aria.  The excerpt  on this CD is heard between acts 2 and 3, rather a funeral march that includes a bit from the big aria.  Closing the CD we have Baby Serenade, Op. 24 from 1928, "baby" only in that it is dedicated to his second son, George, born in 1928.  Strauss wrote his Symphonia domestica; Korngold wrote this charming suite, consisting of  5 brief movements describing a day in the life of a baby.

This new recording is a superb collection.  Caspar Richter is a conductor new to me, although he has impressive credentials in major music centers.  He is versatile as well, conducting Broadway musicals as well as concerts and opera, and seems to have a particular rapport with Korngold's music; these readings are outstanding.  The orchestra is up to their task, and the sound quality first-rate.  Highly recommended.

R.E.B. (Nov. 2000)