String Quartets Nos 2 & 3
Challenge Classics CC 72869 49:35 mins
Hot on the heels of the Eusebius Quartet’s magnificent performance of Korngold’s String Quartet No. 2, here is another, from an excellent and go-ahead Dutch ensemble. The pairing this time is the very different Quartet No. 3.
This is a so-called ‘direct to disc’ recording: the pieces are played straight through in a studio, unedited, to simulate the freshness and adrenaline-rush of a live concert. While there are small technical glitches here and there, it largely succeeds; so, too, does the group’s ‘storytelling’ approach to the works in hand. Their interpretation of No. 2 has a wonderful delicacy and intimacy, with a vivid sense of characterisation that pays dividends in moments like the autumnally Brahmsy intermezzo and the final waltz. Their conversational playing offers a sense of easy, natural ensemble and they meet technical challenges with aplomb.
No. 3 has previously attracted somewhat less attention, being an altogether bleaker and edgier work. This is post-exile, post-Hollywood Korngold, rife with disillusionment and not far removed from his Symphony in F sharp: a genial, romantic soul adrift in an overturned world. As in his Symphony, the slow movement is perhaps the strongest, introverted and aching with loneliness. Shock, horror, it is based on some of his film music – and it sounds fantastic. The Alma Quartet approaches the work’s astringency and brittleness with just as much sympathy and imagination as they bring to No. 2’s Viennese schwung.