Erich 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]
Fidelio Trio (Darragh Morgan (violin); Robin Michael (cello); Mary Dullea (piano))
rec. 19-20 April, 2011, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK
NAXOS 8.572758 [60:32]
Best known for his romantic Violin Concerto, in the hands of the Fidelio Trio Korngold’s Piano Trio Op. 1, flaunts his characteristic swelling sense of cinematic wonderment. Hailed as ‘a new Mozart’ and later best known for providing the swirling music for Errol Flynn’s swashbuckling movies, Korngold combines witty humour with depth of feeling in his intricate compositions.
Born in Brünn, the son of the eminent music critic Julius Korngold, Erich began beating time with a wooden spoon by the age of three. He progressed to melodies - and silver cutlery, I presume - at five and composing at six. Encouraged by none other than Gustav Mahler to pursue his music studies, Korngold can certainly be described as a child prodigy.
It is unsurprising that upon hearing Korngold’s Piano Trio, Op. 1, Strauss commented that it was an astonishingly assured composition for one so young, as Korngold was only 13 years old when it was first published. It is also unsurprising that this composition, which emerges out of the highly expressive language of the Viennese fin de siècle, pleased Strauss. Its lyrical melodious qualities and cyclical form recall Strauss’s own compositions as well as those of Brahms. The elegant ‘swooshes’ that open this piece not only serve to evoke Strauss’s elegant waltzes and Edgar Degas’s effeminate pastille paintings of ballet dancers, but embrace and uplift the listener. Additionally, the soft, mellow outcries from the cello - played majestically by Robin Michael - echoed by the violin (Darragh Morgan) and accompanied by a beatific piano (Mary Dullea) in the Larghetto owe much to the enchanted lyricism of Brahms. The writing also stands apart as something not sinister but certainly mysterious, not melancholy or forlorn; but rather impossibly phantasmagorically pensive. The music lies somewhere between Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola and Piano and Bartók’s Contrasts. There’s the same convulsing dialogue between the instruments. With layered textures and the fervency, Korngold’s ruminative themes, sense of space and expansiveness all unfold in the Finale.
When listening to Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht it seems as though a story is being told rather than a piece being played. In short, this is an astonishingly poetical piece and the Fidelio Trio’s performance touches the listener deeply.
A member of Der Blaue Reiter movement along with celebrated painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, in his painting and especially his music Schoenberg addresses our imagination with an array of colours, textures and angles. The movement’s promotion of modern art moved towards abstraction in their desire to express spiritual truths. Thus Verklärte Nacht, can be thought of as a ‘blue’ piece in Kandinsky’s sense of the word. In On the Spiritual in Art (1911), Kandinsky suggested that blue is the colour of spirituality: the darker the blue, the more it awakens human desire for the eternal. This piece suggests that not only is Schoenberg a composer, but he is also a poet and painter at work. In his essay entitled The Relationship to the Text (which incidentally formed part of Der Blaue Reiter Almanach), Schoenberg suggests that the text is not an external factor, but on the contrary is very important at the conceptual stage of composition, influencing the form, character, and details of the music. This sentiment is most evident in Verklärte Nacht, which was originally a one movement string sextet, composed in a mere three weeks and inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name. Hence, the very being of this composition is due to the prior existence of Dehmel’s poem. The five sections of the piece correspond to the structure of Dehmel’s poem as the musical metaphors form a narrative discourse which chimes with the woman’s plight and her lover’s reaction to her lament. The Fidelio Trio convey a sense of Brahms’s structural logic combined with Wagner’s harmonic language through the rich chromatics and boundlessness of this ‘blue’ piece.
The haunting opening begins with Mary Dullea’s pining piano chords and this tone reverberates throughout the first section. As Dullea is joined by Darragh Morgan (violin) and Robin Michael (cello), the mood shifts to encompass consolation, then swells with passion. It then breaks-off with an unsettling edginess sensed through a tense chord played pizzicato. The whole piece is filled with exquisite emotion and is an intelligent counterpart to Dehmel’s poem. In the poem an unnamed woman and her lover walk through a dark forest on a moonlit night. The agonised woman unveils her dark secret - that she bears the child of another man - to the man she dearly loves. Schoenberg’s composition takes the listener through the woman’s quandary and her lover’s reaction, venturing into the depths of sadness and regret as the couple trespass with trepidation into the hidden depths of the forest as ‘The moon moves along above tall oak trees’. Schoenberg explores the journey of the woman who, ‘despaired of happiness’, dreads the reaction of the man who forgives and enlightens her with his heartening acceptance and understanding: ‘Look how brightly the universe shines! / Splendour falls on everything around’. Ultimately, the ‘glow of an inner warmth’ between the affectionate lovers prevails as ‘Their breath embraces in the air’, just as cello and piano walk hand in hand ‘through the high, bright night’ of the violin. Indeed, the sincerity of this love overwhelms the listener who feels a pang of longing after the sheer refined beauty and reality of this story in music.
The Fidelio Trio truly empathise with these feelings and are almost ‘method’ in their performance of these characters and scenes. Furthermore, the sound of the trioin this recording is exquisitely balanced and gives voice to the crisp pizzicato and soft wails with equal measure. Korngold and Schoenberg’s artistic intention is heard through the undulations of emotion, influences and layers of interpretation.
To describe the poetic charm of theses pieces leads one to underplay their charm and subtle sensation. As Schoenberg has stated: ‘My work should be judged as it enters the ears and heads of listeners, not as it is described to the eyes of readers’. I must now resist superfluous commentary and encourage you to judge for yourself as listener.