WORKS: String Quartet in E minor; String Quintet in E flat, Op. 32
PERFORMER: Vienna String Quartet; Martin Albrecht Rohde (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 608-2
As an ardent Wagnerian, it’s hardly surprising that Max von Schillings (1868-1933) was only marginally preoccupied with chamber music. This controversial composer, whose reputation was later tarnished through his support for Hitler, aspired above all to gaining recognition on the operatic stage – a position he eventually achieved through the blustering verismo of Mona Lisa in 1916. Yet the two string works on this fascinating and superbly performed disc suggest that Schillings was perfectly adept at marshalling abstract musical ideas that carried no ideological or overtly programmatic message.
Indeed, the String Quartet – an early composition that was extensively revised in 1906 – manifests an impressive mastery of Tristan-esque chromaticism particularly in the extended and emotionally intense slow movement, delivered here with total conviction by the Vienna String Quartet. The idiom is close to that of the Schoenberg of the First String Quartet, though in terms of structural control Schillings is far less subtle, especially in the discursive finale.
The String Quintet, completed one year after Mona Lisa, reveals much greater sophistication in terms of texture, harmony and structure. Once again the influence of Wagner looms large, but there are also clear allusions to Korngold in the outer movements – an unexpected connection given Schillings’s avowedly anti-Semitic stance. Erik Levi