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Eric Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Piano Trio, op.1 (1909-10) [31:31]
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Verklärte Nacht, op.4 (1899/1932) trans. Eduard Steuermann (1892-1964) [29:01]
# Full Performers: Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan (violin), Robin Michael (cello), Mary Dullea (piano))
rec. Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK, 19-20 April 2011
NAXOS 8.572758 [60:32]

Recently I was attending a concert at which a young singer performed who - a friend and I agreed - lacked something we identified as passion. We concluded this was probably due to her lack of life experience. One never gets that impression with the music of Korngold, one of music’s true wunderkind who blazed a trail that began at an early age in Vienna.

This trio in fact was his first published work written while he was still only twelve years old leading one to think as my mother-in-law is fond of saying that “He’s been here before!” However, we must remember that this was a composer who as a boy of nine impressed Mahler and whose ballet-pantomime Der Schneeman received its première at the Vienna Court Opera in 1910 when he was only 13. Despite this being his first published work he had already made an impression such that the première of the trio was given by top class musicians who included Bruno Walter (best known as the legendary conductor) on piano.

The overriding impression one gets here is of a maturity that is simply staggering. I kept having to remind myself that he was just a child when he wrote this. There is a heady whiff of fin de siècle opulence here together with real elegance. He was clearly well aware of the latest developments in harmonic practice as the booklet note points out. How someone of such a young age discovered such things for himself in the early twentieth century one can hardly imagine.

Arnold Schoenberg on the other hand, from the generation before Korngold, was 25 when he composed his Verklärte Nacht in a style that is totally at odds with his later excursions into atonality and the 12-tone system. I always think of this work as being the musical equivalent of Picasso’s pink and blue periods in which his representations of people and objects were in a recognisable form as opposed to his later abstract art. Some people love the music Schoenberg and others wrote in the 12-tone style. Indeed the BBC in the 1950s seemed more interested in those who followed that trend than those who wrote ‘tunes’. I have to say I’m on the side of the tunesmiths which is why I find Verklärte Nacht so attractive.

I thank Richard Whitehouse for his, as usual, informative and insightful booklet notes that have explained to me what Richard Dehmel’s poem is about. I found these really helped towards an even greater appreciation of the music which is sumptuous and radiant. Originally written as a quartet Schoenberg prepared a version for string orchestra and authorised a former pupil, Eduard Steuermann to transcribe it for piano trio. With music as good as this all versions are wonderful in their own right. This young trio of Celts clearly revels in this intoxicatingly romantic music turning in wonderfully atmospheric performances. I read with interest that they are equally known for their contemporary music performances and have played concerts all over the world. While there are many choices available for each work I believe this is the only one to pair these two on a single CD. Together with the excellent playing and the budget price these make three powerful reasons why this issue is hard to resist.

Steve Arloff

Previous review: Lucy Jeffrey





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