KORNGOLD Piano Trio. Suite
There remains at least one Korngold masterpiece awaiting definitive, rehabilitative advocacy (the Symphonic Serenade of 1948), despite which the composer has long since come in from the cold. Several accounts of the astonishing pre-pubescent Piano Trio he completed in 1910 have followed in the wake of the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips, 6/94). In the Suite, composed for Paul Wittgenstein in 1930, the bar was set even higher by the stellar gathering of Joseph Silverstein, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma and Leon Fleisher (Sony, 9/98). Recent rivals, more readily accessible in physical format, include a coupling of these works by Trio Parnassus and friends. That said, the present release has rather different aims, launching a groundbreakingly comprehensive survey of the composer’s chamber output.
The musicians involved are a committed multinational group who met at South Africa’s most prominent chamber music festival and have taken these scores around the world before returning to Stellenbosch University to make live recordings. The results are unfailingly musical, more than adequately spacious and even weepy in the heartfelt ‘Lied’, the fourth of the Suite’s five movements. Admittedly Sony’s big names, yet more inclined to stretch the melodic line, offer greater tonal refinement. While Korngold’s ‘rotting flowers nostalgia’ and oddly strenuous developmental workouts will never be to all tastes, the youthful ardour of Daniel Rowland et al matches the precocious idiom of the Piano Trio (not without premonitions of the composer’s tendency to inflation).
The recording per se is a good one but sadly the rhetorical cadenza that opens the Suite is compromised by the tonal shallowness and/or dodgy tuning of Luis Magalhães’s piano. The design concept, redolent of the West Side Story soundtrack album, is classier; the copious, informative annotations likewise. Only the small pale print will not be universally welcomed. Enthusiastic applause is retained after the Piano Trio alone.