How well do you know Korngold? His swashbuckling film scores are old favorites, but not many listeners dig far enough into his ouvre to know his flashing Violin Concerto, his heroic Symphony in F, or his ardent Piano Trio, Op. 1. By including all those works plus a couple of arias from his opera Die tote Stadt, his Suite from Much Ado About Nothing, and his Theme and Variations, this two-disc set on EMI goes about as low as you can in the Korngold repertoire limbo.
The selection of performances goes even deeper into obscurity, though not in terms of quality. Franz Welser-Möst and the Philadelphia Orchestra's 1995 recording of the symphony was well regarded when it was originally released, and it sounds as uncompromisingly tough and superbly played here in re-release. The 1994 recording of the Piano Trio by pianist Israela Margalit, violinist Glenn Dicterow, and cellist Alan Stepansky received much less attention at the time, but, as this reissue shows, it was a powerfully expressive performance that concedes nothing to the 13-year-old composer's youth. Least known to international audiences will likely be the 1973 recording of the Violin Concerto, Theme and Variations, and Much Ado About Nothing Suite with violinist Ulf Hoelscher and Willy Mattes leading the Radio-Sinfonieorchester. Though the sound here is a bit on the rough and ready side, the performances are amazingly committed and persuasive. Though best known for his recordings of German operettas, Mattes proves himself a compelling Korngold conductor and these performances can stand among the best ever recorded. As an introduction to Korngold's concert music, this two-disc set can't be beat.