Once re­viled, the Korn­gold has a new sheen

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - LEONARD TURNEVICIUS

One per­son’s corn is an­other per­son’s gold.

Take, for ex­am­ple, Erich Korn­gold’s “Vi­o­lin Con­certo” op. 35. Com­pleted in 1945 with themes bor­rowed from such late-1930s Korn­gold sound­tracks as “An­other Dawn,” “Juarez,” “An­thony Ad­verse” and “The Prince and the Pauper,” Korn­gold’s lone fid­dle con­certo was sav­aged by the mu­sic crit­ics of the day.

On hear­ing it in Carnegie Hall on March 27, 1947, The New York Times’ Olin Downes wrote, “This is a Hol­ly­wood con­certo, with vi­bra­phone ef­fects and liked de­vices; fully or­ches­trated in the (Richard) Straus­sian man­ner; com­mon­place in its thoughts; liveli­est in the fi­nal move­ment, which Mr. (Jascha) Heifetz played in top vir­tu­oso style. Other pages … are in more lyri­cal vein, but the melodies are or­di­nary and sen­ti­men­tal in char­ac­ter; the fa­cil­ity of the writ­ing is matched by the medi­ocrity of ideas.”

And then there was The New York Sun’s Irv­ing Kolodin, who dipped his pen in acid and surly opined that the Korn­gold was “more corn than gold.”

Ouch. So much for those late-1940s make-believe gate­keep­ers to the mytho­log­i­cal Tem­ple of the Muses on Mt. Par­nas­sus.

“Yeah,” chuck­led Lara St. John over the phone from her New York City digs last week. “Well, it’s come a long way.”

In­deed, Korn­gold’s “Vi­o­lin Con­certo” has come a long way. But just like The Fabs’ fa­bled al­ter egos, Sgt. Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Korn­gold, too, has been go­ing in and out of style, but it’s guar­an­teed to raise a smile.

“When I was a kid it was to­tally not in vogue. No­body was do­ing it,” said the Lon­don (On­tario)-born St. John, 46, about the Korn­gold. “I knew the (1953) Heifetz record­ing when I was a kid. Ba­si­cally, the first time I heard it was up at (vi­o­lin­ist-con­duc­tor) Jaime Laredo’s house in Burling­ton, Ver­mont. He put it on and said, ‘You have to lis­ten to this. Man, this is the most ex­cit­ing vi­o­lin play­ing there ever was.’”

Over the past decade or so, St. John has been in the thick of the Korn­gold re­nais­sance, reck­on­ing that she’s per­formed the con­certo around a dozen times. This Satur­day, May 6, she’ll make it a baker’s dozen when she per­forms the Korn­gold at her Hamil­ton Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra de­but with Gemma New con­duct­ing.

“It seems to be hav­ing quite a resur­gence,” said St. John. “It’s like some­times con­cer­tos just sort of fall out of favour for 20 years and then they come roar­ing back. And that seems to be what’s hap­pen­ing a lit­tle bit with the Korn­gold.

“It’s so much fun. It’s a very highly kind of ro­man­tic and shmaltzy piece. The last move­ment is so joy­ful. It’s like laugh­ter all the way through.”

Shmaltzy, lus­cious and pic­turesque, equally en­joy­able for soloist, or­ches­tra, and lis­tener? Yep, but that doesn’t mean every­thing is hunky-dory un­der the hood.

“It’s quite heav­ily com­posed,” said St. John. “There are a lot of polyrhythms. It re­ally de­pends on the fid­dle player know­ing ex­actly what’s hap­pen­ing in the or­ches­tra. You should al­ways know what’s hap­pen­ing in the or­ches­tra, but this more so than the oth­ers. It has its awk­ward mo­ments. I don’t believe Korn­gold was much of a vi­o­lin­ist, but every­thing (writ­ten in the con­certo) is pos­si­ble. There’s, like, per­mu­ta­tions of fin­gers that you don’t do in any other con­certo, but they all work, and I find it ac­tu­ally an ef­fec­tive piece. It goes so nicely with other 20th cen­tury mu­sic.”

Like Igor Stravin­sky’s 1947 re­vised ver­sion of “Petrushka” and Cana­dian com­poser Glenn Buhr’s 1989 “Akasha” (Sky), which also ap­pear on Satur­day’s Main­stage sea­son fi­nale in FirstOn­tario Con­cert Hall along with Richard Strauss’s 1888 or­ches­tral tone poem “Don Juan.”

Fri­day, May 5, at 7 p.m. in St. John’s Lutheran, 104 Hugh­son St. N., Wil­liam Ren­wick’s 14-voice Hamil­ton Schola Can­to­rum presents “A Lutheran Mass.” This is not Martin Luther’s Ger­man Mass, or one of the other two mass va­ri­eties Luther ad­vo­cated, but a con­cert li­turgy (no ser­mon or com­mu­nion) com­prised of chant, chorale set­tings, con­gre­ga­tional chorales, and post-Luther era or­gan mu­sic with or­gan­ists Still­man Mathe­son and Vicky Chen. Free ad­mis­sion.

Fri­day, May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Lutheran, 1107 Main St. W., Stéphane Potvin’s a cap­pella Vil­lanella presents “Mozart and Robin Hood,” songs of love and long­ing. Tick­ets: $25, un­der 30 $15, fam­ily $50. Call 905-522-6841.

Leonard Turnevicius writes about clas­si­cal mu­sic for The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor. leonard­turnevi­cius@gmail.com

TWAIN NE­WHART

Lara St. John says some con­cer­tos seem to fall out of favour then come roar­ing back. “And that seems to be what’s hap­pen­ing a lit­tle bit with the Korn­gold.”

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