For five years, from 1947 to 1952, Korngold worked on what he thought would be his greatest work, his symphony ‘Dedicated to the memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’. He offered the work to Bruno Walter, perhaps in the hope that he would conduct it. Walter was honoured and called the composition “the best modern symphony I know,” but he never conducted it. Why not? We’ll most likely never find out.
The premiere in 1954 was a failure and it was not until 1972 that the work was given a proper performance by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Kempe. We had to live with that recording until 1997, when André Previn gave the composition a new boost – for which I am still very grateful. Or rather was, as the new recording John Wilson made with his newly founded Sinfonia of London makes me forget all the other recordings (there’s also Marc Albrecht with whom I’m not so happy).
I don’t know why, but Wilson shows a strong affinity for Korngold’s idiom. He raises the tension so cruelly you think you’re in the middle of a Hitchcock movie. Cinematic, expressive, but also a little melodramatic, as it should be. But he does not forget the Korngoldian ‘sweet tones’. The result is breathtaking.
Theme and Variations and Straussiana are not really works to write home about, but when they are performed like this… What an accomplishment!
ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD
Symphony in F-sharp, Op.40; Theme and Variations, Op.42; Straussiana
Sinfonia of London under John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5220