Vienna Piano Trio
A walk in the moonlight, with a lighter step
April 3, 2012
The lush, perfumed
chromaticism of Arnold Schönberg’s “Verklärte
Nacht” is well known to concert audiences in its original
1902 scoring for string sextet and in the composer’s later
arrangement for string orchestra. This expressionist,
protomodern landmark appeared in a third guise as the
centerpiece of a concert by the excellent Vienna Piano Trio,
April 1 in First Unitarian-Universalist Church. The San
Antonio Chamber Music Society sponsored the local tour stop.
The pianist and Schönberg disciple Eduard Steuermann
arranged "Transfigured Night," as it's called in English,
for piano trio in 1932. That arrangement was not performed
publicly until after its belated publication in 1979, and
the Vienna Piano Trio’s performance was my first hearing.
It proved a very different creature in some ways from the
string-sextet original -- more lithe and energetic, more
transparent. It is as opulent as the original, but less
densely overgrown. With the piano timbre added to the mix,
the harmonies sound fresher. The piano trio version has the
virtue of clarity, but it’s fair to wonder if the sometimes
smothering density of the all-strings versions is essential
to the work’s point.
At any rate, the
performance was terrific. Most notable was cellist Matthias
Gredler, who impressed with both the gorgeous depth and
resonance of his tone and the intensity of his
interpretation -- especially his ferocious pizzicati.
Violinist Wolfgang Redik was only a shade less involving.
Pianist Stefan Mandl evoked some very nice colors.
The program opened with Beethoven’s early Variations in
E-flat for Piano Trio. The three players were astonishingly
unified in their statement of the staccato skeletal theme,
and true to Beethoven’s early style throughout. Mr.
Mendl’s crisp wit and Mr. Gredler’s big dynamic contrasts
were especially welcome.
The finale was a huge, overflowing account of Robert
Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor.