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January 5, 2014 9:04 pm
Since interest in the composers uprooted by the Nazis began to grow in the late 1970s, Korngold’s music has risen in critical esteem. No longer is he remembered solely as the purveyor of glamorous Hollywood film scores – The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood, two Errol Flynn romps, are the most celebrated of them – but even so his music does not turn up that often in the recital hall.
For the centrepiece of its Wigmore Hall programme the Phoenix Piano Trio chose Korngold’s Piano Trio in D. It was the composer’s Opus 1, written in 1910, when he was 13. In the roll-call of musical infant prodigies Korngold claims a place alongside Mozart and Mendelssohn, and his youthfully heady Piano Trio provided a strong contrast here to works by Haydn and Brahms on either side.
It is not surprising that the Piano Trio has its admirers, with an impressive number of recordings to its name. Even in his early teens Korngold had found an individual voice and there are not so many other piano trios to represent this ever-fascinating period of fervent musical activity in Vienna.
Everything here is in flux, especially in the emotionally heated opening movement. The more sustained, elegiac Andante treads along the borders of harmonic breakdown and at last gives the cellist some real opportunities, gratefully taken by John Myerscough (not the group’s usual cellist; Marie Macleod was indisposed). In the finale, Korngold ends by taking a sentimental theme from the opening movement and whipping it up into a waltz, the opposite of what Strauss was about to do in his opera Der Rosenkavalier – the end coming with a sense of elation, to which the Phoenix Piano Trio responded with unbuttoned exuberance.
The other two works bolstered the Korngold with their strong roots in the classical tradition. Haydn’s Piano Trio in E Flat was performed with plenty of energy, though it might have had a lighter touch and sharper rhythmic cut. Brahms’s often-played Piano Trio, Op.8, itself an early work but substantially revised in the composer’s later years, offered well-balanced playing, together with a good range of darker, autumnal, Brahmsian colours.
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