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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Max Von SCHILLINGS (1868-1933)
String Quartet in E minor (1887)
String Quintet Op. 32 in E flat major (1917)

Wiener String Quartet
with Martin Albrecht Rohde (vla) (Quintet)
rec Vienna, 2001?
CPO 999 608-2 [73.14] Midprice

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The String Quartet in E minor is the work of a brilliant 19-year-old from a well-off and cultured family who had swallowed Wagner whole after a youthful exposure to Parsifal at Bayreuth. Though recorded here in the revision of 1906, it reveals that already the composer was a talented composer in the mainstream of German music. The coupling, the Quintet in E flat major, is his last extended work and was written thirty years later after the success of von Schillings’ celebrated opera Mona Lisa during the First World War. In his extensive and valuable booklet notes Eckhardt van den Hoogen (elegantly and amusingly written though occasionally stilted in translation) points out parallels here with the music of Korngold, underlining it to be music of its time and closely identifying with the Austro-German tradition.

Both scores are engaging from beginning to end, though I preferred the earlier work. The young von Schillings is wonderfully fluent and the soaring first movement of the Quartet is driven by an invigorating youthful ardour which is immediately compelling, a most enjoyable discovery. Von Schillings became known as an opera composer and conductor, as well as for a variety of orchestral works, several of which have re-surfaced on CD, notably from CPO. Notable among these are the Glockenlieder, the Violin Concerto and the melodrama Das Hexenlied.

Von Schillings died in July 1933 although as a composer he ran out of steam by the end of the First World War. In the days of acoustic 78s he recorded orchestral interludes from his operas and the melodrama Das Hexenlied and in his last years later repeated the exercise using the electrical process (von Schillings’s electrical 78s are reissued on Preiser MONO 90294, fascinating for the voice of Ludwig Wüllner, the tenor soloist in Elgar’s Gerontius at Düsseldorf in 1901 and 1902 and London in 1903).

The notes remind us that the composer had a somewhat combative temperament, constantly finding musical quarrels and imagined plots to become involved in. He soon developed anti-semitic sentiments and we do need to remind ourselves that at the very end of his life he became President of the Prussian Academy of the Arts after the Nazi assumption of power, in which capacity in the last month of his life he signed the authorities dismissing various leading Jewish musicians from their posts, including Schönberg and Schreker.

These are gorgeous performances finely caught - if only all recordings of unknown chamber music could be so well done. If you want to explore von Schillings or the German music of his period you should not hesitate.

Lewis Foreman

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