Mark Fewer; Jonathan Swartz; Andrés Díaz; Wendy Chen

Soundset SR 1033 (www.soundset.com)

Erich von Korngold’s Suite, Op. 23 (1928) is a remarkable though lesser-known work, commissioned by one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein and ably performed here by Jonathan Swartz and Mark Fewer, violins, Andrés Díaz, cello, and Wendy Chen, piano. The viola’s absence de-clutters the middle register, letting Korngold’s left-hand piano writing shine. At the Prelude and Fugue’s opening flourish the piano announces its full and equal participation, delivered here with superb virtuosity by Wendy Chen. Violinists Fewer and Swartz capture the disoriented giddiness of the Waltz while cellist Díaz leads similarly into the almost hallucinatory Groteske, which carries us through turbulent mood contrasts. The intense, post-Mahler Lied followed by the ingenious, energetic variations of the Rondo-Finale complete this exciting performance.

In Toronto-based Kieran MacMillan’s Fantasy Variations on a Theme by Charpentier, commissioned by Swartz for the same instruments, fantasy is the key element. The work weaves in and out stylistically from its theme, taken from a Marc-Antoine Charpentier cantata. I enjoyed the atonal flights in the evanescent Variation 3 and Messiaen-like piano flourishes in Variation 6. The tonal variations are evocative too, some tending to magic realism in suggesting glimpses of the past or the beyond. Mixing styles has been accepted since the 1960s when Foss, Rochberg, Colgrass, Kagel and others started quoting, re-working, or re-creating in the styles of earlier composers. And through being tasteful, aptly conceived for the instrumentation, and welcoming to the listener, these fantasy-variations are worth hearing too.

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