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Britten War Requiem Penderecki Threnos Berg Violin Concerto

Kari Lovaas (soprano), Anthony Roden (tenor), Theo Adam (bass-baritone), Manfred Scherzer (violin), Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Dresden Philharmonic/ Herbert Kegel (recorded 1978-1989)

Berlin Classics / Complete Record Co 0210 012, two discs

A deathly triple-bill conducted by an unsung maestro who kept modern music alive in Communist East Germany. Herbert Kegel was merely months away from killing himself when he took Britten's War Requiem into the Studio Lukaskirche, Dresden. His performance is dark, muted and moving; he makes sombre music of the echoing reveilles in the "Dies Irae", draws miracles of rapt singing in the "Pie Jesu" and etches a sickly thunder for the "Libera me". Anthony Roden has a Pears-like clarity of diction and Kari Lovaas suggests boundless compassion; but the real star of the show is Theo Adam, a great bass-baritone who transcends vocal shortcomings (he was in his early sixties at the time) for a performance of such eloquence and sincerity that you can forgive his faltering English and wobbly tone. To hear him personify the "felled enemy" of the "Libera me" is to pierce to the very heart of Wilfred Owen's poetry.

Thereafter, beyond a comforted Amen, Penderecki pushes the button for his chilling Threnos "dedicated to the Victims of Hiroshima" - an aural re-enactment of blinding light, mutation, disintegration - and Manfred Scherzer gives one of the most heartfelt accounts of Berg's Violin Concerto that I have ever heard. Kegel's humanising influence illuminates all three works without compromising on impact, and the warm-textured recordings have plenty of weight.

Robert Cowan

The Korngold renaissance continues. And, on balance, I'd say it's yielding more "gold" than "korn" (old joke, new angle). A little bit of both in the case of Between Two Worlds, a movie from 1944 (director Edward A Blatt) whose plot hovers somewhere between... well, two worlds: "the world at war" and "the next world". Only in Hollywood. But this was one of the last films that Korngold scored and the wonder is that 14 "cold cuts" (presented here in a sequence that John Mauceri has entitled "Judgement Day") can meld so effectively into a coherent (well, reasonably coherent) whole. It's like a part of the film is still on the screen. Some cuts are prime: a main title theme portending love and angst in war-torn London, but definitely more Burbank than Bermondsey; a plangent rhapsody for an emigre pianist (echoes of the Warsaw - or is it the Waterloo? - Concerto). It isn't The Sea Hawk or Robin Hood, but in movie terms it's still haute couture, expertly scored with a generous beading of tuned percussion and celestial Moog.

The rest of the disc is post-war - in every sense. Symphonic Serenade for strings is the best of Korngold: the rigour of his argumentative youth, the bitter-sweetness of experience, and a wonderfully uninhibited delight in stringy texturing - duly reciprocated in Mauceri's excellent performance. "Symphonic" is the operative word here. There is composerly magic in the wistful recall of the first movement's second subject (a hackneyed device given fresh purpose), while the lento religioso is a deep-set Mahlerian adagio of long reach and, yes, religious intensity with violins pitched in extremis. Theme and Variations takes an inviting, fireside tune (echoes of "Goin' Home" from the largo from Dvorak's "New World" Symphony) and spirits it smartly through a series of frisky and reflective variants. It was written for students, hence the "Academic Festival" ending. Could it be the graduation day that Korngold never had?

Edward Seckerson

Korngold Between Two Worlds; Symphonic Serenade; Theme & Variations

Deutsches Symphony-Orchester, Berlin, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, Berlin / John Mauceri

Decca 444 170-2