Joseph MARX (1882-1964)
Piano Quartet in the form of a Rhapsodie (1911) [30:01]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Suite for 2 Violins, Violoncello and Piano (left hand) Op. 23 (1930) [40:14]
The New York Piano Quartet (Elmira Darvarova (violin); Ronald Carbone (violin/viola); Samuel Magill (cello); Linda Hall (piano))
rec. 7-8 March 2012, Edith Memorial Chapel, Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, New Jersey. DDD
URLICHT UAV5596 [70:18]
On the surface piano quartets by the two Austrian contemporaries, Marx and Korngold, seem a natural fit. However, neither of these works is a typical piano quartet and they occupy very different places in each composer’s respective output.
Marx’s Rhapsodie is scored for the usual ensemble of violin, viola, cello, and piano, but it is in one thirty-minute movement. The work dates from 1911 when Marx had established himself as a song composer and was branching out into larger forms. The work’s material derives from three very different themes heard at the outset. These are developed with great passion and sensitivity. The Rhapsodie truly deserves its name as the music ebbs and flows in both tempo and mood without fitting into any formal pattern. However, its emotional intensity makes it into a cohesive work.
Korngold’s Suite was written in 1930, soon after the tumultuous premiere of his opera Die Wunder der Heliane. It shows the composer continuing the opera’s harmonic experiments, but also demonstrates a sense of sadness combined with agitation that is new to him. These elements are heightened by the unusual scoring of piano (left hand) plus two violins and cello. It’s a combination used to very different effect in the later operetta Die Stumme Serenade. Another hallmark is the austere, almost abstract, harmony. There are five movements (Präludium und Fuge [10:01]; Waltz [6:18]; Groteske [10:16]; Lied [4:31]; Rondo: Finale (Variations) [8:56]), but like the Marx, they do not fall into any of the usual formal patterns. The inward sense of sadness is evident immediately in the Präeludium und Fuge, and while the succeeding Waltz is more typical of Korngold thematically, the harmony remains austere and the movement grows progressively sadder. The scherzo-like Groteske is almost violently propulsive and the most disjointed movement of the piece. The mood changes with the Lied. This is one of Korngold’s most ecstatic movements, truly joyous, and this mood continues in the final variations.
The recording quality on this disc is a little rough, but this is more than offset by the intensity and commitment of the performers. Samuel Magill must be especially commended for his sensitive playing in both the Marx and the Korngold. There are several other recordings of the Korngold. Of these I am familiar with those on Sony Classical and DG [see link as well as link 2]. However, this performance overshadows both of those in assurance and structural clarity. The performance of the Marx is about equal with that on CPO 777279, but that disc contains all three of Marx’s works for piano quartet. Given these factors, listeners will have to decide for themselves how this disc can fit into their collections, but it can definitely be recommended for the quality of its playing, especially that of the Korngold Suite.
William Kreindler 

Committed performances of unusual piano quartets by two Austrian masters. The New York Piano Quartet is an ensemble to watch. 

See also review by Michael Cookson

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