CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Once Every Four Years

On February 29th, the National Gallery of Art hosted a concert (the 2487th in their Sunday series) of a quality that is rarer even than the date on which it took place. In the presence of Her Excellency, Eva Nowotny, Ambassador of Austria, the Vienna Piano Trio gave an evening's worth of Haydn, Schoenberg, and Schubert before a full house in the West Wing's West Garden Court.

The Haydn Piano Trio in A Major from 1794 got right into the Allegro moderato with its warm conversation between strings and piano. Spurts of emotion and back again to the very Haydn-like light-footedness made for a beguiling mix of rhythm and melody. The cello, steered by Mathias Gredler, is for the most part relegated to a supportive role that he mastered with a fine and almost subtle sound. The Andante from Andante-Meister Franz Joseph Haydn (see other reviews) is nicely thrown together for this piano trio as elsewhere. The gentle theme on the piano behind which sat Stefan Mendl is echoed in the strings in ways that suggest a fugue. Soon thereafter it morphs into a more robust, sumptuous sound that lends the pianist some room to shine. A splendidly vivacious Allegro darts off with musical chasing played among the instruments. Haydn's wit, if not as explicit as elsewhere, fills this piece with much joy. The whole trio shows Haydn once again at his best. An unfailing master—for the most part—which makes the quantity of music that he wrote even more astounding. The complete piano trios alone fill nine CDs in the benchmark recording of the Beaux Arts Trio (to buy this from Amazon, see the end of this review). The Vienna Piano Trio's performance, too, was full of Viennese verve and spirit: Haydn as Haydn ought to be.

Then loomed a name on the program that can instill fear in the average music lover's heart: Arnold Schoenberg. Fortunately his "biggest hit," the 1899 work Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured night), was offered in its arrangement for piano trio by Edward Steuerman. Originally written as a string sextet, Verklärte Nacht is best known in its wonderful orchestral version. Terry Teachout, in his latest essay (Kandinsky's Mistake, from March 2004) in Commentary, finds Verklärte Nacht to be "a striking but thick-textured exercise in applied Wagnerism that suffers from a near-complete lack of true melodic invention. The effect is that of a Hollywood film score, supplying throbbingly emotional background music for foreground events that never take place." Perhaps it is—the early work of a 25-year-old Schoenberg that it is—shy of genius, but it isn't difficult being more generous to it than Terry Teachout in his fine article (comments on this article to be posted on Ionarts later).

This is, indeed, Schoenberg at his "most harmless," still some measure away from his developments with pantonal music. It is a late Romantic piece that squeezes a few more drops out of the music that Wagner had left the world after the Liebestod in Tristan und Isolde. The "Schoenberg for the people" that it is, it should find open ears with most music lovers that appreciate Mahler, Wagner, or Zemlinsky. Chromaticism gets a good working over, but the work remains (as does, technically, all of Schoenberg's work) essentially conservative.

==>> Continue reading this review.

No comments: