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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
String Sextet in D major Op.10 (1914-15) [36:04]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1941)

String Sextet in E flat major (1912) [29:31]
Concertante
rec. Performing Arts Centre, Purchase College, State University of New York, October 2005
KLEOS CLASSICS KL 5142 [66:08]



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.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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