I'm coming to this disc, fresh from being bowled completely over by Renaud Capucon with Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic. I still hold that release in five star esteem, and this one, too, as it turns out.
Once upon a past time, Naxos was interesting as an innovative label, but wildly variable in quality. You could find reams of unheard and less often heard music, but the performers might be anything from inspired to dutiful. So Naxos was a pick and choose affair for canny customers in the know. Now, however, the label has released so many clearly outstanding discs that its catalog must be tipping towards high excellence, period. Add this release to the winners; it easily stands out as a Naxos high mark. News arrives just now that this disc is nominated for a 2009 Grammy.
Quint plays a 1723 Strad (Kiesewetter), on loan from Clement and Karen Arrison through the Stradivari Society. The loan of this stunning instrument says a lot in itself. Quint was born in Russia but trained in the west, including his being in passing a Juilliard School student of the famous Dorothy Delay. He is brimming with musicianship and star quality. Oodles.
In the first opening notes of the Korngold concerto, Quint and the band demonstrate alert engagement with the color and gestural sweep of this music. The reading is more expansive than not, risking rubato and swagger more than the utterly deft balancing act that Capucon and Nezet-Seguin pull off for EMI Virgin disc. All to the good. Nobody actually falls off the musical fences into the stock silent film score character mugging that has dogged this music as a persistent shadow reputation. The busy, modernist chromatics are transmitted as sparkling lights, not extra handful of glitter hastily pasted on. Tempos are set, then paced beautifully. The Mexico City band rises to the Korngold occasion, confident, persuasive. The players are not just accompanying Quint, but rather are musically integrated with him into the eloquent concerto whole. The slow middle movement is precisely the high moment it was meant to be, then the finale last movement takes off with robust theatrics, again ever so finely judged.
The band gets to show off in the Schauspiel Overture. It was written when the composer was only fourteen years old, so of course it fails to demonstrate the savvy maturity of the later violin concerto. Yet, yet, yet. Carlos Miguel Prieto and the band serve it all up, handsomely. Their art is partly the art of not trying to take this youthful work more seriously than it can be heard to be; if Hollywood film composers later exploited similar colors and gestures, we must strictly recall that they are indebted to Korngold (including the fourteen year old who wrote this overture), not the other way round.
After thirteen minutes or so of German prodigy promise, a listener is happy to return to the Suite the composer worked out of his music, incidental to a performance of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing as given at Vienna's Schonbrunn Castle in 1920. We are yet again, off and running full tilt into the more mature composer's magical realms. A five minute overture with some dazzling woodwind writing is followed by four additional character pieces. Listeners new to this suite may hear it as a rehearsal of familiar film score attitudes; but real history again reverses the order of our musical influences. This Much Ado music was 1920, years before the Korngold scores for Captain Blood, Robin Hood, King's Row. Before - Korngold came to America or Hollywood.
Bravo, all concerned, Bravo Naxos. Five stars.