Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957) Sextet in D, Op. 10 (1916) [32:51]
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959) Sextet (1932) [15:43]
Arnold SCHÖNBERG (1874-1951) Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (1899) [27:12]
Czech Philharmonic Sextet
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, October 1999
ARCO DIVA UP 0019-2 131 [76:06]
This disc unites sextets from three roughly contemporaneous composers who straddled the Romantic and Modern areas and all stretched the boundaries of their form. Korngold’s music has become much more widely known in recent years and that can only be a good thing. His hyper-Romantic melodies and his gift for lush instrumentation stand for good comparison with his contemporaries, especially Richard Strauss. The first movement of his Sextet is innovative and exploratory, pushing at the very boundaries of what we accept as a melody, even threatening to break down entirely towards the end. The second movement, on the other hand, revels in lush Romantic textures, slow and dream-like in places, while the third movement Intermezzo bears traces of lightness and the air of the Viennese waltz. The finale swings from spidery edginess and quirky good humour to graceful lyricism.
Martinu’s much briefer Sextet works through great contrasts, passages of strident defiance set against blocks of lyricism. His writing is searching and intense with a lovely texture for the viola lines in particular. There is a sense of restless searching to the slow movement while the finale’s jaunty good humour doesn’t quite manage to lay to rest the disquiet of the earlier movements.
Verklärte Nacht will be much more familiar to most and its performance here is good if not remarkable. The playing here, as throughout the disc, is secure and technically assured, but it lacks the final degree of warmth so important in any reading of this work, though the consolatory second section is more successful than the more anguished first.
Perhaps because it was more familiar to me, the performance of Verklärte Nacht brought into focus a wider problem in that the quality of the recording accentuates the outer instrumental lines but makes it harder to hear what is going on in the middle. Too often the violas were smothered into the wider texture between their counterparts. This wasn’t helped by the way that the Czech Philharmonic Sextet tend to homogenise the dynamic markings so that pianissimo and fortissimo aren’t as different as they ought to be.
Nevertheless, playing is never more than satisfactory and if you want to explore this coupling then I’m sure this is a recording you will enjoy.
Simon Thompson
If you want to explore this coupling then I’m sure this is a recording you will enjoy.