Korngold: Piano Quintet, Op. 15; Suite for Two Violins, Cello & Piano Left Hand, Op. 23

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COMPOSERS: Korngold
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Piano Quintet, Op. 15; Suite for Two Violins, Cello & Piano Left Hand, Op. 23
PERFORMER: Schubert Ensemble of London
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 1047
It’s amazing how the fortunes of a work can change within a matter of months. A year ago, Korngold’s Suite, composed for the famous Austrian one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein in 1928, was almost completely unknown. But now listeners have the unusual luxury of being able to hear the work in three different recordings.

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This latest version from the Schubert Ensemble of London has many virtues, not least the powerful declamatory piano playing of William Howard in the imposing ‘Präludium und Fuge’ and some wonderfully sensuous string sounds in the nostalgic ‘Walzer’. However, the group fails to muster the same level of rhythmic frenzy in the ‘Groteske’ movement as Sony’s all-star American line-up featuring Silverstein, Laredo, Ma and Fleisher, and although the latter group is perhaps too indulgent in the ‘Lied’, its virtuosity carries one more convincingly through passages where the composer seems to be working on automatic pilot.

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The opening movement of the earlier Piano Quintet has a wonderful sweep with delightfully unexpected changes of key. Korngold follows this with an exquisite Adagio that avoids any hint of sentimentality, though he seems to lose his way in the empty jollifications of the finale. Here the Schubert Ensemble seems too earnest, eschewing the more flighty articulation adopted by the rival Danubius Quartet on Nimbus. But in the slow movement the British ensemble easily outclasses its Hungarian colleagues, producing a rapt intensity and a beautiful sense of line. Erik Levi