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Bartók • Korngold: Piano Quintets

Piers Lane (piano); Goldner String Quartet (Hyperion)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Bartók  Korngold
Bartók: Piano Quintet in C; Korngold: Piano Quintet in E, Op. 15
Piers Lane (piano); Goldner String Quartet
Hyperion CDA68290   73:00 mins

Early Bartók can be quite a revelation to those more accustomed to his mature works. His Piano Quintet dates from 1903 and springs from a Hungary that Brahms, Liszt and Joachim just missed. While it draws on Hungarian dance forms and their distinctive rhythms, tension and high energy, the effect appears a strange though fascinating hybrid of worlds.

Korngold’s Quintet, premiered in 1923, is a rich-scored, confidant work from a composer still in his 20s yet fully at ease with his own voice, bearing all the density, élan and great-heartedness of his opera Die tote Stadt, written shortly before. The slow movement is its gem: variations on ‘Mond, so gehst du wieder auf’ from his Abschiedlieder – farewell songs for the love of his life, Luzi von Sonnenthal, from whom his parents were trying to separate him (spoiler alert: they married in 1924).

Piers Lane and the Goldner Quartet offer fabulously ‘golden age’-style performances, in keeping with the aesthetics of both works. The musicians are long-established colleagues and this pays dividends in music with such intricate textures and treacherous switches of gear, to say nothing of occasional idiosyncrasies (notably in the Bartók). They prove ideal guides, captivating the ear with their sense of rhythm and awareness of lurking shadows in the Bartók, wholehearted joy in the Korngold opening and that slow movement’s sensual gorgeousness. The recorded sound could perhaps have been a little sharper to be ideal.

Jessica Duchen