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Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Quintet in C major, Sz23 (1903-4) [38.45]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Piano Quintet in E major, Op.15 (1921) [34:14]
Goldner String Quartet
Piers Lane (piano)
rec. 2018, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
HYPERION CDA68290 [73:00]

You may well be wondering what these two composers have in common, as they both represent very different stylistic traditions of 20th century music. Both composers were in their early 20s when they wrote their works, and each took part in the first performance.

Béla Bartók began his Piano Quintet in 1903 and completed it a year later, when it was premiered in a performance with the composer at the piano. Afterwards, he hinted to his teacher the technical difficulties it posed for the players, stating that it "gravely jeopardized the accomplishment of its first performance.......". Having said that, the reviews were, on the whole, positive, but a negative one from Welt Blatt prompted the composer to make a revision. In four movements, the scoring is lush and awash with sensuous late Romanticism. Richard Strauss and Brahms don’t seem that far away. Although, to a large extent, it's a derivative work, there's much to enjoy in its melodic largesse and soaring lines. Bartók throws in some folk-inspired moments in the second and fourth movements, which add to the allure.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold's precocious musical talent led him to be compared to Mozart and Mendelssohn, and youthful success ensued. In 1920, when he was 23, his masterpiece the opera Die Tote Stadt was premiered in Hamburg and Cologne. The three-movement Piano Quintet was written a year later. A favourable reception greeted its premiere, with the composer himself at the piano. It helped forge his reputation as a skilful craftsman when it came to chamber music. It's virtuosic and highly charged, and an air of optimism infuses the opening movement. The central movement is a set of variations on "Mond, so gehst du wieder auf" (Moon, thus you rise again) from the Vier Abschiedslieder. The finale has a cadenza-like opening which leads into a witty rondo. A coda recalls material from the beginning, and the work closes with a flourish.

These delightful scores could have no more persuasive advocates. The Goldner String Quartet and Piers Lane play with unrestrained emotion, bounding enthusiasm and great gusto and panache. I’m particularly impressed by their effortless negotiating of the rhythmic twists and turns that both composers employ, in an imaginative and resourceful way. You won’t detect any gear changes in the sometimes quirky rhythmic writing. How well they head up the youthful passion of the Bartók, and capture the old-world Viennese decadence of the Korngold. The Hyperion engineers have done a sterling job in achieving top notch recording quality. The superb setting of Potton Hall provides a sound-stage which wonderfully showcases these two captivating scores to full advantage.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jim Westhead

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