CD REVIEW – KORNGOLD: SYMPHONY IN F SHARP, ETC.
Sinfonia of London / John Wilson
Chandos CHSA 5220 (59:17)

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, was a child prodigy who had composed a widely performed pantomime at the age of 11 and a piano trio at 12. He seemed set for the career of a respected classical composer in Vienna, where most of his early life was centred.

But in 1934, when he was beginning to fall out of favour with Herr Hitler and his ghastly gang, he accepted a commission to adapt A Midsummer’s Night Dream for Hollywood. This led to Warner Brothers giving him a free option to write music for any film that took his fancy.

Some of the finest film scores ever written were the result, including 'Anthony Adverse', 'The Adventures of Robin Hood' (both winning Academy Awards), 'Captain Blood', 'The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex', 'Of Human Bondage' and 'The Sea Hawk'.

Over 13 years Korngold became one of the foremost in his field. He then found time to return to writing classical music and in 1947 his violin concerto was premiered by Jascha Heifetz, in his day the world's greatest violinist.

The Symphony in F Sharp heard here – started in 1947 and completed five years later – is dedicated to the memory of President Franklin D Roosevelt. In his detailed liner notes Korngold's biographer, Brendan G Carroll, calls it arguably the composer's most important post-war composition.

The album is completed by two shorter works – the last that Korngold wrote – commissioned by the American School Orchestras Association. Theme and Variations is marked to be played 'like an Irish folk tune', which is then treated to seven contrasting variations. The second work, Straussiana, is an arrangement and re-orchestration of music by one of Korngold's own musical idols, Johann Strauss II.

The Sinfonia of London is a name from the past. Originally formed in 1955, its recordings were among the first I started to collect as a member of the World Record Club. It was re-established in 2018 by John Wilson and this is its first CD, issued in partnership with Chandos Records. The orchestra leader is Andrew Haveron who used to lead John's wildly successful hand-picked BBC Proms orchestra.

The sound recording, made in the Church of St Augustin, Kilburn, London, is of the customary high standard set by this label, although the timing is rather less than we have come to expect.

We can look forward to another SoL release early in 2020.

Peter Burt 2019

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