Philippe Quint, violin; Carlos Miguel Prieto conductor
Russian-born American violinist Philippe Quint, with the smooth, transparent sound of the Orquesta Sinfí³nica de Mineria of Mexico under Carlos Miguel Prieto as a backdrop, gives a truly memorable performance of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 (1945). I am in complete agreement with David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday that this work has suffered too often from kitschy, “sticky” performances, as if the perpetrators were unable to tear themselves away from Korngold’s image as a “movie composer.” That makes the present offering all the more welcome. To be sure, Korngold did use themes from his film scores for Another Dawn (the sublimely beautiful melody with which the soloist opens the work, later restated by the orchestra), Juarez, Anthony Adverse, and The Prince and the Pauper. But make no mistake, this work is no mere pastiche. On the contrary, one is struck immediately by the smoothness and economy with which Korngold integrates his material.
In the Concerto, Quint moves from one enchanting moment to the next with seamless artistry, avoiding mere slickness (no small achievement) as he invests the music with just the right degree of urgency and passion. The lightness of his passagework and the deceptive ease with which he accommodates plucked notes and multiple stopping within the melodic line call for special commendation. So does the interplay between soloist and orchestra. This is a concerto in which the orchestra plays with, and in support of, the soloist, rather than assuming an adversarial role such as we find, for instance, in the Beethoven concerto. The balance between forces in this performance is ideal. Take the way in which the brass are integrated into the texture of the eloquent theme of the slow movement, an Andante titled Romance, rather than punctuating it in the usual way that brass are employed. This is orchestral writing of a higher order, and Quint and Prieto are attuned to its subtleties.
There follows Overture to a Drama, Op. 4 (1911), an astonishingly mature work considering the fact that Korngold was only 14 at the time. An ominous theme, heard early on in wind and strings, builds to a fervent climax, to be succeeded by a languorous middle section with a poetically beautiful melody for the clarinet before things build once more to a decisive conclusion. (Annotator Richard Whitehouse discounts the story that the youthful composer was inspired by reading Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, favoring instead a more abstract approach to the music. I’m not sure he is right. Like another another famous child prodigy, Felix Mendelssohn, Korngold had a life-long love of Shakespeare. this particular play, considered one of the Bard’s “Bitter Comedies,” has disturbing elements that find parallels in the music we hear in this overture.)
The Much Ado about Nothing Concert Suite (again, Shakespeare) concludes the program in fine style. The lively Overture is followed by charm allied with a tinge of regret in “Maiden in the Bridal Chamber.” In “Dogberry and Verges,” a resolute march that keeps sliding off the meter, paints a deft portrait of those drink-sodden constables. “Intermezzo: Garden Scene,” with a cello melody to die for, is followed by a robust and witty Hornpipe (subtitled Mummenschanz, Mummers’ Play), ending matters on a high note.