Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Piano Quintet (1921) [31.35]
Suite for two violins, cello and piano (left-hand) (1928) [37.46]
The Schubert Ensemble of London (Simon Blendis (violin); Douglas Patterson (viola); Jane Salmon (cello); William Howard (piano)) Claire McFarlane (violin:
suite); Jan Schmolk (violin: quintet)
rec. Studio 7 Broadcasting House, Manchester, 31 October 1998 (Suite); 13-14 February 1998 (Quintet) ASV PRESTO CD CDDCA1047 [69.16]
During its lifetime the late-lamented ASV label produced, as I recall, six valuable CDs of music by Korngold all of which received enthusiastic reviews
(see below). These drew on Korngold's chamber and orchestral music and one
of the orchestral discs included the Much Ado About Nothing Suite and the orchestral version of the sublime Abschiedslieder.
Another valuable Kornold release was this 1998 album. The impressive Piano Quintet is an epic work with a formidably difficult role for the pianist. The first movement is optimistic and sunny and ultimately triumphant but not without passing through some darker moments. There is a sense of lyrical regret and nostalgia; the music often sighing. The gorgeous Abschiedslieder song Mond so gehst du wieder auf (Moon, thou riseth again), is the subject of the nine variations that form the Adagio second movement. At about five minutes in there begins a heartfelt, evocative nocturne that is especially affecting. The Finale also comprises variations and the mood is predominantly full of sunshine and good humour – in fact this is often boisterous and it reminded me very much of the music Korngold would go on to write for the 1937 Warner Bros film The Prince and the Pauper.
The wealthy one-armed pianist, Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961) commissioned a number of composers, amongst them, Ravel, Prokofiev, Hindemith and Richard Strauss to write left-hand piano concertos. The first among these was Korngold who completed his Concerto in 1923. Wittgenstein was delighted and commissioned a second work for chamber ensemble. This was the Suite for two violins, cello and piano (left-hand). The first movement opens with a dramatic cadenza for the pianist alone. The mood is darkly dramatic and mysterious at first before sweeter more lyrical material prevails. The second movement is a bitter-sweet Viennese waltz with some mysterious and weird dissonances. Unusually, there follows a Scherzo which is the longest movement of all at 9:56. Korngold names it Groteske and grotesque it is – it is reminiscent of the composer’s early piano piece ‘The Goblins’ from the Fairy Tale Pictures. This lengthy section is repeated but not before a more languid Trio section is heard. The fourth movement, a short Lied is based on Korngold’s lovely song Was Du Mir Bist? Here the mood is bitter-sweet again with a rather jarring cello drone. Finally comes the Rondo-Finale (Variationen). Nostalgic in mood, its lovely tune treated to a series of free variations one of these being particularly delightful and mimicking birdsong.
An attractive album with undoubted appeal to Korngold fans.