James chooses his favourite recordings of the music of Korngold, best known for his Violin Concerto as well as numerous operas and film scores.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold was one of the most astonishing prodigies in the history of western music, admired by Mahler, Strauss, and Puccini. His compositions were regularly performed by renowned musicians from around the world.
Korngold composed his Sextet for Strings between 1914 and 1916, at the same time as his opera Violanta, and for this reason perhaps, it takes on some of the theatrical elements of that work. The first movement presents some highly intricate counterpoint among the different voices. In the Adagio the mood shifts to one of intense sensuousness. The third movement brings relief to the highly charged atmosphere. Here Korngold plays – sometimes with an air of irony, sometimes jokingly, sometimes more straightforwardly – with that most Viennese of genres, the waltz. The finale, in typical Korngold fashion, is high-spirited and good-humoured.
The highly successful premiere of the Quintet for Two Violins, Viola, Cello, and Piano took place in Hamburg in 1923 with the composer at the keyboard. The work is in three elaborate and complex movements, with a piano part of considerable difficulty, and string writing on a virtuosic scale. With good humour and charm aplenty, the quintet displays the composer’s sunny disposition. In the work Korngold incorporated a musical code that he had developed to send secret, loving messages to his fiancée during concert performances.
Described by the magazine Gramophone as ‘one of the finest young string quartets’, whose members are ‘musicians with fascinating things to say’, the Doric String Quartet has received rave responses from audiences and critics across the globe. The Quartet’s recent recording of Korngold’s string quartets was a 2010 Critics’ Choice in Gramophone, and the group’s most recent recording on Chandos (CHAN10692), of Schumann’s three string quartets, was ‘Recording of the Month’ in BBC Music. The Quartet is joined on this recording by Kathryn Stott on piano, Jennifer Stumm on viola, and Bartholomew LaFolette on cello.