I’ve just had the pleasure of hearing a particularly gorgeous new recording of the Korngold Violin Concerto, released on Naxos and due to hit the stores worldwide tomorrow. The soloist is the young Russian-American violinist Philippe Quint…
A rising luminary in the US, Philippe was born in St Petersburg and studied in New York with Dorothy DeLay, among others. He turns out to be a Korngold fan of the first order and he’s caught the piece’s idiom to a T, so I’ve asked him to do an ‘e-interview’ for us about the concerto, its delights and its challenges.
Here’s a taste of it from YouTube, then my questions and Philippe’s answers. Enjoy.
JD: When did you first hear the Korngold Violin Concerto and what made you want to play and record it?
PQ: The first time I heard this beautiful concerto I was a student at the Aspen Music Festival and someone brought a recording of Jascha Heifetz playing a concerto by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, which was completely unknown to me then. I was instantly taken by this concerto’s over-the-top Romantic motifs: it took my breath away and prompted me to run to the library and look at the full score. Call it” love at first hearing”! It did not take me very long to learn it as I immediately started practising it non-stop for hours and just could not put it down.
I had wonderful opportunities to work on this concerto with many great musicians including Isaac Stern and Kurt Masur and my teacher Dorothy DeLay. I am not even sure how many times I have played this piece at this point, but every time it feels fresh and new.
One of the aspects that I love about the work is that it possesses an incredible amount positive energy. It is well known that some music can irritate, annoy, depress, make you angry and certainly these are all diffirent moods that music brings out from time to time.
I remember I had very difficult times learning the Shostakovich Violin Concerto no.1 – I felt that I was experiencing the torment that the composer was going through during his lifetime, a feeling all too familiar to me, since I grew up in the former Soviet Union.
With Korngold it is the exact opposite. I never get tired of playing it , working on it, singing it in my head. Hard to say why, but I always felt that this piece could have been written for me especially. But perhaps this feeling is shared by other violinists too!
JD: Why do you think the concerto was neglected for so long, and why has it suddenly become so popular?
PQ: The question here is probably not the neglect of the concerto but rather the concerto’s composer. The whole Hollywood association left a mark on Korngold, his life and his work; it was considered commercial film music, thus lack of integrity in the minds of classical music community. However if one accuses Korngold of being a Hollywood (no substance?) composer then perhaps we should actually walk all the way to Wagner who truly introduced to us the whole concept of ” Musik Drama”, later picked up by Mahler and Richard Strauss. Korngold followed in very simlar footsteps, but the only diffirence is that he used some of the music for film scores. I don’t feel that it in any way takes away from his brilliant music.
Analyzing the concerto, if you look through it carefully enough you will notice an unbelievable complexity – harmonically, musically, technically and rhythmically. Each instrument plays an important part in something that is more of a large symphonic work then just a violin concerto. However there is no question that his music is being brought back to the stages and is now performed frequently as the world slowly realizes that there has been a neglected genius for many years.
JD: As a violinist, what special qualities do you feel it offers the soloist?
PQ: I would probably have to say freedom. Certainly one must obey an enourmous amount of Korngold’s suggestions. In fact I hardly know any other concerto that has diffirent tempo markings, dynamics, mood and color indications in virtually every bar. But do not be confused by what can be perceived as conservative markings: these are all done for the purpose of indicating freedom and liberty within limits. Another way of describing the work, however, is to call it a ”small opera” where the violin is the main voice/protagonist(again a Wagnerian concept). In Korngold’s own words after the work’s premiere in Saint Louis: ”In spite of the demand for virtuosity in the finale, the work with its many melodic and lyric episodes was contemplated more for a Caruso than for a Paganini”. True! The work imposes great technical demands on a violinist, but once these obstacles have been conquered then even all the techincal passages can be executed in the most traditional operatic ways, with the violin ranging from a baritone to a soprano.
JD: Where do you rate it alongside other major works in the violin concerto repertoire?
PQ: I think in the next 10 years or so this concerto will become what we like to call a ”warhorse”. In other words, Korngold will join the audience’s favorite concertos next to Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn.
JD: Are you thinking of exploring other Korngold’s violin works as well? …
PQ: I am very familiar with Korngold’s other works including his orchestral and chamber music…unfortunately I have not had the chance to programme any of them yet, but it is certainly on my agenda. The Violin Sonata and the Much Ado About Nothing Suite are marvelous works by all means.
JD:…or works by other emigre composers of his generation who may have ended up in Hollywood & similar situations?
PQ: The other composer that comes to mind is Miklos Rozsa, though his was a very diffirent destiny. Rozsa was able to separate his Hollywood film work from his Classical works. I actually had the pleasure of discovering and recording his short violin works, including a magnificent solo sonata that is sure to make it to the violin’s standard repertoire. Let’s also not forget that Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Schnittke also composed for film and that Stravinsky and Schoenberg supposedly failed in their attempts to break into the world of film music.
Overall I think that it is really not Hollywood that made Korngold. It is Korngold that established the ”Hollywood” sound, but now in retrospect it is almost irrelevant. His music is coming back and to rave reviews and roaring crowds.
JD: Thank you, Philippe Quint, and congratulations on the new CD!
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