String Quartet No. 1 in A major, Op. 16
Piano Quintet in E major, Op. 15
Severin von Eckardstein (piano)
Alma Quartet Amsterdam
Recorded in the MCO Studios, Hilversum, during October 2022
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: November 2023
CD No: Challenge Classics: CD & PCM downloads: CC72932
While there has been a revival of interest in the music of Erich Korngold, for many his chamber music remains an unknown quantity. The young Dutch Alma Quartet, who have already recorded the Second and Third Quartets, here essay the superb A major and Piano Quintet dating from 1923 and ’22.
The Quartet’s highly chromatic first movement might be described as a fight between its jagged first subject and lyrical second, which the Alma’s relish. They take their time in the lyrical Adagio and sing the sublime opening theme. The Intermezzo is delightful, with intricate melodic lines dancing over extended pizzicato passages. Here the Alma’s lightness of touch makes the Doric Quartet (Chandos) sound earthbound and they expertly delineate line and rhythm in the charming Allegretto finale.
The Piano Quintet opens with a bouncy first subject, a beautiful second and a complex, extended development, which Eckardstein – whose pedal use and sense of balance are exemplary – and the Alma’s imbue with more romantic fervour, tempo variation and smoother lines than Kathryn Stott and the Doric Quartet. Korngold used his own song, Mond, so gehst du wieder auf, as the theme for the Adagio’s eleven variations and here it is a pleasure to hear modern performers taking a very slow tempo and observing the Mit größte Ruhe marking. They also enjoy themselves in the playful rondo finale and, as throughout the album, they seem to talk to one another – their intonation and ensemble are immaculate.
Before looking at the sound, a word about the programme notes. As now seems de rigueur, the performers tell us about how much they love the music, their personal journey towards it and the like. But there is virtually nothing about the music, which isn’t acceptable on a full-price album featuring rare works.
However the sound on the 24/96 download is excellent. The venue’s acoustic is audible and the balance is nicely middle-distance. Eckardstein never overwhelms his partners, whose instrumental timbres are reasonably full, the dynamic range, clarity and detail and are also pretty good.