Korngold: String Quartet No. 1 in A, Op. 16; String Quartet No. 2 in E flat, Op. 26

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WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in A, Op. 16; String Quartet No. 2 in E flat, Op. 26
PERFORMER: Flesch Quartet
The Flesch Quartet, a young British ensemble, is apparently responsible for giving the UK premiere of Korngold’s Second Quartet last year. Korngold’s first two quartets contrast superbly: the first, part of the composer’s youthful flowering of adventurous harmony (it was written soon after his powerful opera Die tote Stadt), surprises with its astringency to which its beautiful final movement provides a smiling resolution – while the second, written in a period of tranquil maturity some 13 years later, offers Korngold’s apotheosis of his home city, Vienna. Its last movement is a compulsively rhythmic waltz, almost a tribute to Johann Strauss, whose operettas Korngold was then arranging and conducting regularly. Despite its sense of nostalgia, there is no shadow of suspicion in the music of the fate that was about to befall Austria and the exile into which Korngold would soon be cast. The Flesch Quartet gives spirited performances, although at times the tone is not quite rich enough and here and there they could afford to ‘let go’ a little more and luxuriate in Korngold’s expansiveness. Still, a sense of enthusiasm is always present. The group is currently working on a further Korngold disc, to contain the Third Quartet and String Sextet. Jessica Duchen