It is an inspired idea to couple these two contrasting works, separated as they were by momentous events. Korngold’s Sextet for strings (1916) was a late flowering of Austrian romanticism from Imperial Vienna, while the Suite for two violins, cello and piano left hand (1929) was written for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the Great War, the conflict that had led to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The Viennese musicians of the Aron Quartet meet the challenge of these complex and highly strung pieces head-on. In the first movement of the Sextet, the abrupt mood-swings and restless tonality, typical of the adolescent Korngold, hold no fears for any of these players as they maintain the continuity of the movement with precision of ensemble through a number of testing passages. These musicians were born to play the Viennese café music reflected throughout the string of waltz tunes in the Intermezzo. In the finale, a rondo with variations, they relish the masterly display of scoring and musical antics of this outdoor music, more akin to Sherwood Forest than the Vienna woods.
In the Suite, the pianist Henri Sigfridsson commands attention from the start, throwing down the gauntlet in an elaborate cadenza that almost defies belief that it could all be coming from the left hand. This Praeludium, with its classical allusions and contrasting moods, gives way to the ‘Walzer’, a haunted ballroom scene, then a ‘Groteske’, a diabolical scherzo. An impassioned ‘Lied’ brings us to a rondo finale where the model of Franck’s Piano Quintet hangs in the air: after an introductory flourish from the pianist, the cello leads off with a simple tune followed by a playful and light-hearted set of variations. The Aron Quartet give a commanding performance, very well balanced between piano and strings.