Good programming. The
Bridge and Korngold sextets were written
almost contemporaneously, on the cusp
of the First World War. The Korngold
is a remarkable statement from a teenager,
even a teenager as brilliant as Korngold,
and fortunately it can sustain a number
of different approaches. That’s fortunate
because if you have the Raphael Ensemble’s
reading on Hyperion (CDA 66425, coupled
with Schoenberg’s Verklärte
Nacht) you will find a fundamentally
different line of attack from the newcomers.
Concertante play as
their name suggests. There’s a real
virtuoso cut to their performance. They’re
also recorded in a rather stark and
close-up, shallow set-up, which emphasises
their high-powered, extrovert credentials
in this music. They tend more obviously
to sculpt phrases and highlight lyric
points – try 6:28 in the first movement
to see if you enjoy what they do with
it. It’s rather more "of the moment"
playing than the Raphael, who are quicker,
more homogenous in tonal blend and who
turn corners quicker. The Hyperion recording
is also set at a lower level and warmer.
Both approaches may convince dependent
on one’s view but one thing that counts
against the Concertante ensemble is
the militantly high recording level
in the slow movement which means that
dynamics never really register – soft,
quiet playing is difficult to achieve,
much less find. And the newcomer is
really quite tiring on the ear. Maybe
a compromise version could be the Flesch
on ASV 1062 who are faster than the
Raphael and whilst not replicating Concertante’s
"in your face" objectivity
do tend to stress the perceptive modernity
of the work.
The Bridge had a longer
gestation than the Korngold. It was
begun in 1906 and only finished in 1912.
Fans of such detail might like to note
that it was premiered in 1913 by the
English String Quartet with Ernest Tomlinson
and Felix Salmond as the extra players.
In many ways it still cleaves to the
Cobbett principles of old, though it’s
cast in three quite imposing movements.
The competition here is in the shape
of the ASMIF chamber Ensemble on Chandos
CHAN 9472. Again we find a more intense
level of commitment and extroversion
in the Concertante performance. As with
the Korngold this does sometimes entail
a certain lack of subtlety in ensemble
and phrasing. Forceful though their
playing is dynamics are once again smoothed
over – though I was taken by the overt
reminiscence of the "early Bridge"
– the Bridge of, say, the violin and
quartet morceaux in the lovely episode
from about 7:50 in the first movement.
This is one for those
who prefer some pepper with their Bridge
and Korngold sextets.