Composers: Bartók, Korngold
Compositions: Piano quintets
Performers: Piers Lane p, Goldner String Quartet
Catalogue Number: Hyperion CDA68290
Fresh out of Budapest’s Liszt Academy, Béla Bartók completed his Piano Quintet in 1903, a number of years before he set out with Zoltán Kodály to collect the Hungarian folk music that would flavour his later work. As a result, this music hews more closely to the legacy of Liszt and Brahms than the crunching dissonances and bold rhythms we tend to associate with the composer.
It is engaging music, however, and we are certainly the better for Bartók scholar Denijs Dille having rediscovered the score (thought destroyed by the composer) in 1963.
This release is the ninth album by Australia’s Goldner String Quartet with British pianist Piers Lane on the Hyperion label, following the success of the fivesome’s Bruch in 2016. As might be expected, given the Goldners celebrate 25 years as a quartet this year, the rapport between the musicians is effortlessly rock-solid and Lane brings his brilliant pianism to the Goldners’ trademark refined sound and sparkling precision.
This team offers a more integrated, burnished sound than Vilde Frang and co’s recent – but nonetheless excitingly performed – recording of this work from the Lockenhaus International Chamber Music Festival on Alpha. The lyricism and drama of the opening is beautifully judged, the frisky Vivace delightful – Lane’s piano twinkling – while the Adagio foreshadows the darker hues of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (though with a very 19th-century late-Romantic flavour to it) before the boisterous csárdás-inspired finale brings it home.
The Bartók is paired with the Piano Quintet of another young composer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who completed his own contribution to the genre in 1923 – like Bartók, in his early 20s – in the years following his wildly successful opera Die Tote Stadt, but before his famous film scores.
Here the Goldners and Lane give an account of restrained, understated refinement – at least when compared with pianist Kathryn Stott’s more extrovert 2012 reading with the Doric Quartet on Chandos – and as in the Bartók there’s a polished sheen to their performance.
The cascading descents and shimmering trills of the first movement glisten marvellously, while the violin traces luminous, singing lines in the high register. The players keep the Adagio exquisitely hushed, allowing the passages when the music does suddenly blossom to hit all the more powerfully. The biting attacks that open the finale – and deftly dispatched cadenza from violinist Dene Olding – give way to a cheery (for the most part) movement and an elegant finish to this fine recording.