Korngold Violin Concerto Is an iPod Favorite for the Ages

12.12.09
Caroline Goulding
Strings Magazine

By Caroline Goulding

For Caroline Goulding, sharing a birthday with the dedicatee of this violin work is just one source of its appeal

Composition: Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1945)
Edition: Schott Urtext, Kalmus/Alfred Publications, 1950

Considered by: Violinist Caroline Goulding, 17, winner of the First Prize of the Aspen Music Festival’s Concerto Competition (at age 13). She has been featured on NPR’s From the Top as well as PBS-TV’s From the Top: Live at Carnegie. Her new debut CD, with pianist Christopher O’Riley on the Telarc label, features works by Corigliano, Vieuxtemps, Kreisler, Schoenfield, and Gershwin    

The Korngold Violin Concerto in D major is one of my favorite concertos in the entire violin concerti repertoire. My first encounter with the piece was a delightful surprise that came shortly after listening to a recording of Gil Shaham and the London Symphony performing the Barber Violin Concerto. In a complete state of awe after hearing their scintillating rendition of the third movement, I forgot to turn off my iPod. After a brief pause, a new work began that was entirely unfamiliar to my ear. As I was swept away by the first soaring lines of the exposition, I became compelled to listen to the entire piece. I remember scrambling over to the nearest computer as soon as the third movement had finished to learn more about the historical elements of the piece. After reading that the piece was premiered by Jascha Heifetz and dedicated to Alma Mahler, with whom I share my birthday, I ordered the music this past summer and became eager to learn the piece.

When I first listened to the concerto, I remember thinking that it sounded like a combination of excerpts from a movie. After discovering that Erich Korngold was a prominent Hollywood film composer throughout the 1930s and early ’40s, the correlation between his film scoring and violin concerto became clear to me. I instantly fell in love with the story that Korngold weaves through the concerto’s singing lines and sparkling expressions. Korngold’s Violin Concerto is a true gem among violin concerti.

Playing this piece is one of the most rewarding and exciting performing experiences. The lyrical phrases throughout the first and second movements compel me to become absorbed in the very core of my sound and the tone of the instrument itself. The fiery energy and jig-like opening of the last movement, coupled with the infamous “end-of-a-concerto adrenaline rush,” creates a perfect ambiance for the ultimate finish.

A bit of advice: the second page of the first movement, Moderato nobile, is perhaps the most technically awkward passage in the entire concerto. The wide intervals of the brilliant eighth-note passage require a few sporadic left-hand leaps. The second movement can also pose difficulties for different reasons. Because of the concerto’s rhythmical complexity, collaboration between the soloist and orchestra can be challenging at first. Known to be the most demanding of the three movements, the Allegro assai vivace becomes more accessible after the player spends time exploring solutions for the technical elements of the movement.

Rehearsing the concerto with a pianist enhanced my understanding of the necessary relationship with the orchestra and granted me a complete understanding of the piece.

Korngold on Disc

Korngold Violin Concerto & Brahms Violin Concerto (RCA Red Seal), 2009. (Nikolaj Znaider, violin; Wiener Philharmoniker, Valery Gergiev, cond.

Korngold Violin Concerto & Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (Deutsche Grammophon), 2004. Anne Sophie-Mutter, violin; Wiener Philharmoniker and London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn, cond.

Korngold Violin Concerto & Barber Violin Concerto; Much Ado About Nothing (Deutsche Grammophon), 1994. Gil Shaham, violin; London Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn, cond.

Korngold Violin Concerto & Goldmark Violin Concerto (Angel), 1990. Itzhak Perlman violin; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn, cond.