On the surface piano quartets by the two Austrian contemporaries,
Marx and Korngold, seem a natural fit. However, neither of these works
is a typical piano quartet and they occupy very different places in
each composer’s respective output.
is scored for the usual ensemble
of violin, viola, cello, and piano, but it is in one thirty-minute
movement. The work dates from 1911 when Marx had established himself
as a song composer and was branching out into larger forms. The work’s
material derives from three very different themes heard at the outset.
These are developed with great passion and sensitivity. The Rhapsodie
truly deserves its name as the music ebbs and flows in both tempo
and mood without fitting into any formal pattern. However, its emotional
intensity makes it into a cohesive work.
was written in 1930, soon after
the tumultuous premiere of his opera Die Wunder der Heliane
It shows the composer continuing the opera’s harmonic experiments,
but also demonstrates a sense of sadness combined with agitation that
is new to him. These elements are heightened by the unusual scoring
of piano (left hand) plus two violins and cello. It’s a combination
used to very different effect in the later operetta Die Stumme
. Another hallmark is the austere, almost abstract, harmony.
There are five movements (Präludium und Fuge
Rondo: Finale (Variations)
[8:56]), but like the Marx, they
do not fall into any of the usual formal patterns. The inward sense
of sadness is evident immediately in the Präeludium und Fuge
and while the succeeding Waltz
is more typical of Korngold
thematically, the harmony remains austere and the movement grows progressively
sadder. The scherzo-like Groteske
is almost violently propulsive
and the most disjointed movement of the piece. The mood changes with
. This is one of Korngold’s most ecstatic movements,
truly joyous, and this mood continues in the final variations.
The recording quality on this disc is a little rough, but this is
more than offset by the intensity and commitment of the performers.
Samuel Magill must be especially commended for his sensitive playing
in both the Marx and the Korngold. There are several other recordings
of the Korngold. Of these I am familiar with those on Sony Classical
and DG [see link
as well as link
]. However, this performance overshadows both of those in assurance
and structural clarity. The performance of the Marx is about equal
with that on CPO 777279, but that disc contains all three of Marx’s
works for piano quartet. Given these factors, listeners will have
to decide for themselves how this disc can fit into their collections,
but it can definitely be recommended for the quality of its playing,
especially that of the Korngold Suite.
See also review by Michael