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
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
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
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.
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