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Seen and Heard Recital Review



Kodály, Korngold, Fribbins, Zemlinsky, Beethoven: Raphael Wallfisch (cello), John York (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 05.12.2006 (AO)


“Zemlinsky Lost and Found” was the title of a conference held in London in October 2006.  Zemlinsky’s place in music history was eclipsed by Schoenberg, but in the last 20 years or so, research has led to a more objective evaluation of the composer and of his work.  Any appreciation of his music needs to take into account these new perspectives. These are exciting times indeed, for anyone interested in Zemlinsky.  At the conference, Anthony Beaumont and Raphael Wallfisch spoke about a “new discovery”, a manuscript for the Sonata for cello and piano.  For the small conference audience, Wallfisch and York played the work in public in Britain for the first time.

The story of how the discovery came about is quite remarkable.  A photocopy had been in Peter Wallfisch’s papers for years.  The original manuscript was owned by Zemlinsky’s friend, the cellist Peter Spiegl, who had emigrated during the 1930’s. Wallfisch tracked down Spiegel’s widow, who had kept it in her home in Wales. Beaumont, Wallfisch and York were thus able to edit it and produce a performing version. 

It’s a delightful piece, which I liked even more on second hearing.  It’s divided into three sections.  The first is titled Mit Leidenschaft, “with passion,’ but it’s a vivacious kind of passion that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Perhaps that’s why it’s so appealing.  There are plenty of ideas here, and if they’re perhaps a little roughly sketched, that’s more interesting to me than something with more polish but less wit.  What’s striking is that there’s a real sense of personality in the music. For me that kind of distinctive individuality is the mark of a real artist. The harmonies of ruminative Andante are richly romantic, yet set out with graceful economy of gesture.  Wallfisch stretches the long legatos, bringing out their sensuality. Zemlinsky was only 23 when he wrote this, yet there are glimpses here of a mind that will mature and find emotional depth.  The melodies in the Allegretto are as warm as summer breezes, and played here with a lightness of touch that enhances their freshness.  The final coda is exquisite.

Wallfisch and York added Zemlinsky’s even earlier Three Short Pieces to this concert.  They weren’t on the scheduled programme, but had been played at the October premiere.  It was a good idea, because hearing them together with the Sonata reinforced the overall impression of Zemlinsky’s good natured style.   He’s having fun with this Humoreske and hamming up the Tarantell, but his Lied, ohne Worte, of course, shows that he understands what the genres mean.

It was also apposite to frame the Sonata with Korngold’s Suite from Much Ado about Nothing. Like Zemlinsky, Korngold’s reputation was eclipsed, but is now being re-examined.  This Suite dates from 1919, when the composer, (born 1897), was still regarded as a youthful prodigy, admired by no less than Mahler and Strauss.  Unlike the Zemlinsky pieces, it was re-arranged by the composer in his maturity, and adapted for cello by Wallfisch himself. Nonetheless, it’s a delightfully vivacious piece capturing the wit of the play.  Each section is a whimsical vignette that creates in music the character or situation.  For example, the music for Holzapfel und Schlehwein (Dogberry and Verges) depicts their bumptiousness with a stomping downbeat.   York’s hands lift right off the keyboard in theatrical flourish.  The scene in the garden is enhanced by lyrical chromatic colour. The Mummenschanz (the Hornpipe dance) is very fast, and tightly written, building up to a hilarious ending, which ends abruptly, like a punchline in a joke.  Which in a way, it is. 

In this long programme, Wallfisch and York included Kodály’s Sonata for cello and piano and Beethoven’s Cello Sonata, to frame Zemlinsky, Korngold and Fribbins.  It was an interesting comparison, showing how each composer gets different results from the same instruments.  If I didn’t get the Fribbins Sonata, it’s my own fault for being too fixated on the twentieth century. It had many references, even, I think, to Hava Nagila, and might perhaps be approached from that perspective. 


Anne Ozorio


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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)