Korngold: The String Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Korngold
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Complete String Quartets
PERFORMER: Doric String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10611

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Korngold is popping up on CD wonderfully often. This impressive effort from the Doric Quartet arrives shortly after a terrific double-disc set of the three String Quartets and Piano Quintet from the Aron Quartet.

That sets the bar high, and though the Doric Quartet approaches the music with tremendous commitment and excellent ensemble, their sense of empathy with Korngold’s post-Mahlerian style isn’t always as strong. The group sounds most comfortable in the Third Quartet, featuring material that Korngold also used in his film scores.

But few string quartets could be more Viennese than Korngold’s Second (1934); that special ‘schwung’ is elusive. It needs both rhythmic solidity and flexible breath, great élan and the glitter of the Opernball. While the Aron Quartet capture the mood to perfection, the Dorics sometimes seem to be trying too hard.

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Here and in the String Quartet No. 1 (1924) there’s some beautiful portamento, especially from leader Alex Redington, but there are also times when the rhythms need more lightness, more elastic and much more ping. Sometimes, too, there’s some nearly-forced tone, exacerbated by the plentiful use of non-vibratoed notes – an experiment, perhaps, that doesn’t entirely work in this context. Jessica Duchen