Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra; John Storgårds
Ondine ODE 1182-2
Here is a fine addition to the significant revivals and original works recorded by John Storgårds with the Helsinki Philharmonic. The precocious Erich Korngold was already writing chamber music, orchestral works, and operas at an age when many composers have barely started. But he was forced to leave Austria during the Nazi scourge and turned to Hollywood, becoming an innovator in the new art of film music. The Symphony in F sharp, completed in 1952 after his return to Vienna, is a wonderful summation of his concert and film music accomplishments.
Korngold was a story-teller when critical opinion prized abstract and esoteric music. Only recently have we appreciated his expressive persona, orchestral mastery, and judicious incorporation of musical modernity. The Symphony’s dramatic opening movement demonstrates all these qualities. Its angular melodies, dissonant harmony and interjections by brass and percussion (particularly the xylophone) show his mastery of newer idioms. Storgårds’ transitions assuredly through the work’s contrasting moods, as in a flute solo over hushed strings or in cinematic flashes featuring the horn section. The orchestration of the Scherzo is especially colourful and the Helsinki Orchestra takes it all in stride with tight ensemble work. I find their performance of the anguished slow movement extraordinarily moving. More cheerful and witty is the finale, whose popular American film idiom is interrupted by intense interludes. Rounding off this valuable disk is Korngold’s youthful Tänzchen, which receives a charmingly Viennese treatment by the Helsinki Orchestra.