Wendy Chen / Andrés Díaz / Mark Fewer / Jonathan Swartz


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Groteske hardly describes this album as a whole, but it is the name of the scherzo, the middle and longest movement in Korngold's Suite, Op. 23, for two violins, cello, and piano (left hand), that is the strangest and most musically fascinating track on the CD. Korngold wrote the quartet for Paul Wittgenstein, the pianist who lost his right arm in the First World War and was responsible for commissioning a raft of exceptional compositions for the left hand. The scherzo recalls the fast movement of the Debussy String Quartet in its obsessive, manic gyrations, and its slow middle section is also pretty creepy; it's a real tour de force. The remaining movements of the Korngold may not be grotesque, but they are highly attractive examples of the composer's best work: forward-looking but sumptuously lyrical, full of saturated harmonies, and frequently rhapsodic. The fourth movement, "Lied," based on one of the composer's early songs, is especially gorgeous. Canadian composer Kieren MacMillan (born 1969) wrote his Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Charpentier for the performers who play it here, violinists Jonathan Swartz and Mark Fewer, Andrés Díaz, and pianist Wendy Chen. It's an appealing, mostly gentle work based on a very lovely Ritornello by the Baroque French composer. MacMillan's inventive variations are largely tonal, and some of them can be stylistically linked to the works of other composers. The performers play both works with polish, spirit, and obvious affection. There are some chair creaks, but otherwise the sound is clear, present, and well-balanced.

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