Korngold

Husband and wife team Gerald Frantzen and Alison Kelly sing and dance to “Darling, you’re dancing just like my wife!” during the “Korngold in Song” concert, part of the Korngold Rediscovered festival at the University of Chicago.

“Korngold Rediscovered” is a ten-day festival celebrating the life and work of composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, currently underway at the University of Chicago. Concluding on April 10, the festival features concerts, lectures, a film screening, a scholarly symposium and the North American premiere of Korngold’s last opera, “Die Kathrin.”

Korngold (1897–1957) was born in Austria and moved to the United States in 1934 (in part due to the fear of the rising power of the Nazi regime) where he became famous for his film scores. But Korngold’s musical output was varied and the Korngold Festival dives into many of his numerous lesser-known achievements.

On Saturday night the Logan Center Penthouse was packed for a performance of Korngold songs. The first work on the program was a song cycle composed in 1911. It was a gift to his father, a music critic and amateur singer.

“So Gott und Papa will” (“What God and Papa wish”) is a surprisingly vibrant and fascinating collection of songs. Even as a child Korngold had a mature approach to text and he does a marvelous job of matching music to mood in this collection of songs set to poetry by Joseph von Eichendorff. Baritone Matthew Carroll offered a performance always sympathetic to both music and text. There was mystery and expectation in “Evening Landscape,” and “Remembrance” contained misty memories and a satisfying big ending.

Korngold’s writing can be bold and enticing, as in the song “Outlook” or downright jolly, as in “The Girl”. “The Messenger of Peace” was an unusual combination of something like a lullaby and a march. Anatoliy Torchinskiy was an enthusiastic partner at the piano.

Soprano Katherine Petersen took on Korngold’s Lieder des Abschieds (Songs of Farewell), composed in 1921. Petersen had feather-weight softness for some of her most alluring high notes and sang with a gentle earnestness. The music was evocative, particularly with rain in one song.

Carroll returned for Sechs einfache Lieder (Six Simple Songs) from 1916; noteworthy was his caressing of the word “kiss” in “Snowdrops,” and all the excitement generated in the stormy song “Night Traveler”.

The highlight of the evening was Korngold’s 1941 “Prayer,” performed in an arrangement by Anthony Barrese with a tenor, female choir, string quartet, bass and piano. It is a deeply moving work with beautiful melodic lines and rich color. Tenor Gerald Frantzen, the head of Folks Operetta and one of the festival organizers, sang with burnished sound and beautiful intensity. The choir was all the more remarkable when it was discovered that they had to prepare at very short notice. (A COVID outbreak at a larger performing organization caused them to poach the singers originally intended to perform at Logan.)

The last part of the concert featured operetta excerpts and they were as charming and fizzy as a glass of cold champagne. Petersen brought sparkle to Irina’s Song from “Roses from Florida.” Soprano Alison Kelly was bright in the Song of Happiness from “The Silent Serenade” and nearly brought tears to your eyes with the touching “Tomorrow” from “The Constant Nymph”.

The highlight of Korngold Rediscovered must surely be this week’s upcoming performances of Korngold’s final opera, “Die Kathrin”, described in the festival’s program as “a stylistic bridge between Old Vienna and the rich sound of the classic Hollywood soundtrack. It tells a story of perseverance and the unending power of love.”

This North American premiere takes place right here in Hyde Park in the Logan Performance Hall on April 7 and 9. The cast is large and the orchestra is huge, so one can expect that the impact will be considerable. For more information, visit korngoldfestival.org.

The University of Chicago was also the site of the most recent Chicago Ensemble performance in Hyde Park. International House heard music of Beethoven, Bruch, Hindemith and Husa as the Chicago Ensemble’s 45th season continues.

The most interesting work was Beethoven’s own arrangement of his Op. 20 Septet into the Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 28. Artistic director Gerald Rizzer at the piano, along with clarinetist Elizandro Garcia-Montoya and cellist Melissa Bach, served up surprising detail in a perky and cheery performance.

Hindemith’s Duet for viola and cello had vigor from Sixto Franco’s viola and good energy from Bach’s cello. There were fascinating melodies for the clarinet in Karel Husa’s “Évocations de Slovaquie” and interesting, long lines from the viola.

The final work was Max Bruch’s Selected Pieces, Op. 83, written for the composer’s son, who was a clarinet player. We heard noble suffering from the viola with coffee-colored sound. A clarinet lament was alluring and beautiful. The piano was vital in keeping a sense of urgency. All in all, it was most enjoyable.

The Chicago Ensemble returns to Hyde Park on May 22 with a program featuring the work of Mozart, John Allemeier, and Joaquin Turina. Visit thechicagoensemble.org.

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