Emil Nikolaus von REZNIčEK (1860-1945)
String Quartet No.1 in C sharp minor (1921) [29:10]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
String Quartet No.1 in A major Op.16 (1922-23) [33:33]
Franz Schubert Quartet of Vienna
rec. January 1996, Concert Hall, Nimbus Foundation
NIMBUS NI 5506 [62:58]

The Franz Schubert Quartet of Vienna was active in the Nimbus studios in the 1990s recording music from its home town. This coupling of Rezniček and Korngold was unique; indeed still is. Not only is the programming exploratory, it also presents two quartets written almost contemporaneously, but by two very different composers of differing generations.

Korngoldís First Quartet in A major, which he began to sketch at Christmas 1920, very soon after having completed Die tote Stadt, wasnít finished however until early 1923. Itís a remarkable work in many ways, the longest of the three that he was to write, and notable for its unsettled chromaticism and refulgent lyric impulse. Korngoldís acute ear for tension and contrast ensures that the slow movementís generosity of feeling is not wholly untroubled but this Adagio, quasi Fantasia is a hothouse of beauty nonetheless. The Intermezzo is a panache-filled affair but also marked mit Grazie. For the finale he employs his own motto theme (ĎThe Motif of the cheerful heartí) and seemingly effortlessly vocalised phrases that are profuse in their attractiveness.

The Franz Schubert is consistently slower than the recent recording made by the Doric, on Chandos. They also prefer a more heated tonal response, and a deeper and more consistently expressive vibrato. Their unisons are strong and powerful as a result, though it means that the playing can sound a touch generically expressive from time to time. The Doric play with great refinement and energy, and are lighter tonally and more incisive rhythmically. The best performance of the quartet Iíve heard, however, more incisive than either, comes from the Aron Quartet on CPO 777436-2 [a 2 CD set of all three quartets which also includes the Piano Quintet].

The Korngold was premiered by Viennaís leading quartet, the Rosť. Rezničekís was dedicated to, and probably premiered by, the Klingler, another elite group of its time. The ethos here is late nineteenth century, strong, modal, confidently written. Like Korngold, Rezniček was a highly gifted lyricist as the slow movement demonstrates, though his work, though often urgent, lacks the younger manís sense of quicksilver, often elusive, centre of gravity. The charming, gracious scherzo Ė itís not called a scherzo, but is one, in effect Ė pays court subtly to the Viennese waltz whilst the finale, which opens intensely, offers a highly satisfactory end to a well constructed work.

It too is played with rich, burnished tone and a rhythmic relaxation which strikes me as a touch more appropriate than in the Korngold.

Jonathan Woolf

More heated tonal response, deeper and more consistently expressive vibrato. Strong and powerful unisons.