Kirill Petrenko: Korngold’s symphony is very important

Kirill Petrenko: Korngold’s symphony is very important


norman lebrecht

April 20, 2020

Rolling out the next Berlin Philharmonic season,the incoming chief conductor has placed particular emphasis in under-performed orchestral works from the past century. Of the greatest personal importance, he says, is the Symphony in F-sharp by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, the composer’s only symphonic work, premiered in Vienna in 1954 to universal deprecation.

The symphony is built around themes from the 1939 Hollywood theme The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, with Bette Davis and Errol Flynn.

Watch Petrenko here.


  • Alviano says:

    Everyone says he is so shy, but I think he did a good job.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      He is doing an exceptionally good job on the podium, and just rolled out an interesting program for next season. Who cares if he is not extroverted and loquacious?

  • MacroV says:

    Good for him! I hope they’ll take it on tour to the U.S., too, but that’s probably too much to hope.

    In a future season maybe he’ll shame his U.S. counterparts and take on Harold Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra? Would seem to be in character.

    • Orin says:

      I would love to play the Shapiro Symphony…Bernstein conducted the slow movement with us once, I think . And would like to hear Petrenko conduct the Kurt Weill Symphony #2 as well.

  • mary says:

    can’t say it’s an auspicious beginning

    • HugoPreuss says:

      I’m curious: why? I’m rather tired of listening to the same 150 or so works all the time. There are so many worthwhile works that are almost never performed. So, this strikes me as an extremely auspicious beginning. Why not??

  • Rob says:

    Well we already knew it was important, but it does not have the white heat inspiration of the op5 Sinfonietta.

  • Olassus says:

    Well, the film is brilliant.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Here is the thing:

    Brilliantly done.

    But it also sounds like R Strauss who went to the movies too much and writing a symphony under the instruction of Pauline; you can hear the grumbling protests popping-up in the music.

  • Simon says:

    Doesn’t the violin concerto count as a symphonic work?

    • The View from America says:

      … or the Sinfonietta … or the Cello and Piano Left-Hand Concerti … or the Overture ‘Sursum Corda’ … usw.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Bravo Petrenko! Berlin has a music director who’s willing to explore the fringes of the repertoire. A fantastic Schmidt 4th, now Korngold. Wish more conductors – everywhere – would take up some obscure repertoire and give us all a break from the constant rehashing of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Mahler….(what I would really like is to hear Berlin to the Raff 5th!)

    • John Borstlap says:

      The music of Raff is an ideal place to give both ears a well-deserved rest from Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler, Strauss (the R variety), Ravel, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky etc. etc. who intrude into the listener’s quiet interior and stirr all kinds of emotional experiences which have not been asked for. The bland, ephemeral soundscapes of this much maligned composer, who (NB!) taught Franz Liszt orchestration, combines best with contemporary tortured nerves, desperately longing for liberation from the pressures of the modern world, especially in these days. Also much recommended for insomniacs.

      • Kevin Scott says:

        To all the naysayers out there regarding Raff: If it wasn’t for Bernard Herrmann (yes, the same man that gave us great film scores for Hitchcock, Welles and Truffaut) and his championship of this composer by way of his recording of Raff’s “Lenore” Symphony, he would still be a footnote in the annals of music history.

        And speaking of Herrmann, when will conductors stop programming the umpteenth performance of “Psycho” and start looking at his only symphony, which is rarely heard?

  • John Kelly says:

    Recorded recently and superbly by John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London. The slow movement in particular is absolutely heavenly.

    • Bone says:

      Literally was about to post the same comment. Previn and Welser-Most versions aren’t good, but John Wilson really knocks the symphony out of the park.

      • Kempe, Welser-Möst says:

        Welser-Most is the best and most serious recording EVER – a part from Kempe, of course.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Wilson and his orchestra do wonderful things and the standard of playing is just superb. Thank you, John Wilson, for keeping alive a wonderful musical heritage!!

    • Smiling Larry says:

      Their second movement is way too frantic for me. I prefer the recording by Marc Albrecht and the Strasbourg Philharmonic They’ve got a nice third movement too! But I’m just glad we all love this work.

    • Garry Humphreys says:

      I’m very fond of Rudolf Kempe’s 1972 recording with the Munich Philharmonic. So, I see, is Alex Ross – see his comments here:

  • Ricardo says:

    Dora Pejacevic also has an only symphony in F sharp recorded by Rasilainen some years ago. Excellent piece and definitely worth playing.

  • JohnG says:

    Good too to hear that they’ve programmed Suk’s A Summer’s Tale… very fine piece!

  • Chris says:

    Is this the first Berlin Phil season ever to not have a single Beethoven symphony in it? I scrolled through the new season a couple of times and didn’t see one.

    • The View from America says:

      The Beethoven 24/7/365 backlash begins …

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      His 250th anniversary and no Beethoven. Ah well; we can put on our own CDs. On 16th December!!

      • Charlotte says:

        It’s only no Beethoven symphonies. They have Prometheus with Minkowski and the violin sonatas (complete cycle) with FP Zimmermann and Helmchen.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The symphonies are hidden between the lines to prevent audiences from first listening to their own recordings before the concerts.

  • Ross Amico says:

    Well, one theme from “Elizabeth and Essex,” in the slow movement. There’s some “Captain Blood” and “Kings Row” in there, too, but the symphony is far from a simple potpourri of recycled film scores.

  • RW2013 says:

    There was a Berlin performance scheduled for next week by the DSO…:(

  • sabrinensis says:

    The Symphony is not “built around” themes from Elizabeth and Essex; the two “themes” from that film are integrated into a greater whole, subjecting them to development much as any material would be that is fit to be included in a work titled “symphony”. This work also employs a notable theme from the film Kings Row in the Finale. It’s the motive used for the Grandmother and Korngold alters it in the symphony with the utmost imagination.

    It’s a truly great work.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Great to hear Korngold is getting more exposure.

  • Kyle A Wiedmeyer says:

    Misleading, the Symphony is not his only symphonic work, just his only symphony. Calling it the former implies that it’s the only piece he wrote for a symphony orchestra.

  • fflambeau says:

    In fairness to the maestro, he starts off by saying the German classical repertoire will be the heart of his music making in Berlin. He also pays huge tribute to Tchaikovsky (“The Queen of Spades”) and to Mozart, whom Tchaikovsky idolized. Thus, Mozart’s “Requiem” will be performed.

    To me, this sounds like a good mix; perhaps unusual for the BSO but not in Boston, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

  • C Porumbescu says:

    The Sinfonietta is certainly a symphonic work, so too is the piano concerto, and of course (the clue’s in the name) the superb Symphonic Serenade for strings…

  • quasifaust says:

    The Korngold symphony is on the Cleveland Orchestra’s schedule for next season as well.

  • NYMike says:

    A favorite of mine, Korngold’s “Much Ado About Nothing” Suite.

  • NYMike says:

    My apologies – here’s the complete suite: