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Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 1 (1909/10) [32:37]
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 3 (1896) [27:19]
Stefan Zweig Trio
rec. 2018, Kulturzentrum Immanuel, Wuppertal, Germany

It was in Vienna in 2012 that three young musicians, Kei Shirai (violin), Tristan Cornut (cello) and Sibila Konstantinova (piano), all international prize-winners, came together to form the Stefan Zweig Trio, taking their name from the novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer, who was born in the city. Their aim was to express a deep bond between the Viennese musical tradition and the emotional trajectory of Zweig's work. As far as I'm aware this is their debut CD, and it's apposite that they should choose works by two Austrian composers, Alexander Zemlinsky who was born in Vienna and Erich Wolfgang Korngold originating from Brünn, Moravia, Austria-Hungary, now Brno in the Czech Republic. The other strong connection is that both composers were teacher and pupil respectively. The recording aims to "offer both a retrospective and a look towards the future at the turn of the twentieth century".

Let’s turn to the pupil first. Korngold, the child-prodigy par excellence, was 13 when he wrote his Op. 1 Piano Trio. It's an amazing achievement for one so young, and displays considerable compositional flair, a wealth of fecund ideas and bold harmonic expression. It's cast in four movements. The first is soused in suave lyricism and is lushly romantic. The Scherzo, which follows, has a humorous and light-hearted spring in its step. In contrast, the slow movement is sombre and imbued with melancholy and wistful reflection. The sense of loss is assuaged in an animated finale, elegant, good-humoured and optimistic.

Zemlinsky's Trio of 1896 started life as a trio for piano, clarinet & cello, a competition entry which stipulated that the work feature “at least one wind instrument". It won third prize. Brahms, who was on the jury, was mightily impressed and recommended it to his own publisher Simrock, who insisted that a violin part be added to provide an alternative to the clarinet and thus broaden its appeal and help boost sales. The violin part is not just an arrangement, but a self-styled part. Brahms is an enduring influence throughout the work. In three movements, the first is bold and heroic and in the grand manner. The Andante is generously melodic, with the strings weaving a magical spell over a Brahmsian autumnal piano line. A brisk, mercurial finale ends the work.

The Stefan Zweig display a real love of this music, and their superb playing, artful musicianship and technical polish is outstanding. They’ve been warmly recorded, and instrumental balance is perfect. This is a stunning debut disc, and one that I shall be returning to often.
Stephen Greenbank

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