I just heard a Chandos recording of this concerto with the BBC Philharmonic. I really enjoyed it. Does anyone know of any other recordings of this neglected masterpiece? The slow middle section is wonderful. I wonder why this piece has not entered the standard cello repertoire?
Ryan Selberg replies:As the self-appointed champion of the music of Korngold on the board, and as a result of having performed the concerto last February with the Utah Symphony, I fully agree with you that it is indeed a wonderful work and fully deserving of more widespread exposure. I had a wonderful time learning it as well as learning about it.
In brief, the concerto came to life as a major component of a 1946 film, entitledDeception, starring Claude Rains, Bette Davis, and Paul Henreid. It was a melodramatic love triangle between a composer/conductor (Rains), a cellist who had just come to America from a concentration camp in WWII (Henreid), and their common love interest, a pianist/composition student (Davis). Rains invites the cellist to perform his new concerto, and all sorts of intrigue ensues. Lots of time is spent hearing and seeing portions of the concerto on screen, played on the soundtrack by Warner Brothers. principal cellist, Eleanor Aller Slatkin (mother of National Symphony conductor, Leonard Slatkin, and NY cellist, Fred Zlotkin).
There are two other commercial recordings of the concerto, one by Francisco Gabarro, with Charles Gerhardt and the National Symphony (a British studio orchestra) as part of a recording of Korngold's film music, headlined by Elizabeth and Essex, and the other by Julius Berger, with the North German Radio Symphony, in a series of recordings of Korngold's symphonic works. The Gabarro recording is excellent, and the Berger is not, in my opinion. Peter Dixon, on the BBC recording also does a good job. Unfortunately, no major artist has chosen to record it yet.
Two things primarily keep it from a wider exposure. First is its length. It is only about 13 minutes long, and generally a touring soloist is asked to play a longer work so that both he and the audience won't feel shortchanged. Otherwise two concert works have to be paired to make everyone feel that they got their money's worth. Second, there is still a lingering opinion that, because the concerto was originally "film music," it is somehow of lesser quality. As film music and its composers find more and more acceptance into mainstream musical circles that objection and stigma is lessening.
I am delighted you have discovered it and liked it. Korngold wrote lots of great orchestral music, both for the concert stage and film, plus chamber music, opera, song, and piano music. Let us know if you get a chance to explore more of this wonderful composer's music.