Korngold: Piano Quintet, Op. 15; Sextet, Op. 10

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Quintet, Op. 15; Sextet, Op. 10
PERFORMER: Jennifer Stumm (viola), Bartholomew LaFollette (cello), Kathryn Stott (piano); Doric String Quartet


Korngold was 17 when he began his String Sextet in 1914: too young to join the army, but not too young to be an experienced composer and former prodigy. Simultaneously he was working on his one-act opera Violanta, a psychological drama set in Venice. The Sextet is filled with similar intensity of atmosphere, offering intricate, imaginative textures and a characteristic generosity of spirit. His almost-post-Mahlerian idiom ideally suits the string sextet’s luscious capabilities – it’s a pity he only wrote one of them.

By the time he turned to the Piano Quintet in 1920, World War I was over; Korngold was composing his most popular opera Die tote Stadt, and was much in love with Luzi von Sonnenthal, whom he later married. The Piano Quintet’s middle movement, based on one of his Abschiedslieder, contains coded musical messages to her; the whole forms a richly coloured canvas, the piano adding glister and bite.

The Doric String Quartet and friends evoke a sepia-toned bygone time in their delicate but enthusiastic interpretations. They are too intelligent to add extra emotion to pieces already bursting with it; instead they faithfully enter the spirit of old Vienna, complete with plentiful portamentos and fine attention to balance in this very busy music. The Sextet shimmers and glows from within; the Piano Quintet’s slow movement is a special highlight – rapt, tender and sincere.


Jessica Duchen