String Quartets Nos 1-3
Naxos 8.574428 77:29 mins
Korngold, at long last, is everywhere, and not before time. Here the Tippett Quartet have thrown everything they have – which is plenty – at his three string quartets. These works are excellent markers in the composer’s rollercoaster career. The first was from his mid twenties, premiered in 1923; the second arrived ten years later, while the Nazis were rising to power in Germany and completed just before he left Vienna for Hollywood; and the third, from 1945, was the first piece he composed after World War II, while winding down his film music commitments in Hollywood, where he and his family were in exile.
The fervid, unpredictable whirl of Quartet No. 1 is overtaken by a hint of operetta in the vividly Viennese Quartet No. 2 with its tuneful, upbeat Intermezzo and a rollicking waltz finale. The succinct, clear-toned Quartet No. 3 is more conventional, yet perhaps the most successful. The Tippetts have got the measure not only of the music, but of its style, even developing vibrato true to the ‘golden age’: fast, intense and continuous. This results in a pleasingly luscious yet muscular tone, which makes the most of their tightly unified ensemble. While there are not many swoops and slides, those there are are beautifully placed; and the tempos, often brisker than some other recordings, are guided by Korngold’s instructions, despite their hefty challenges.
With this exemplary ideal, the defined character of each work shines out, without anything exaggerated or forced. The recorded sound is extremely fine – very detailed, warm and flattering to the music. As a Korngold nut, I couldn’t ask for anything more.