Schoenberg’s Catalan Connection
Xavier Montsalvatge: Trio
Roberto Gerhard: Trio
Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht op.4 (arranged for piano trio by Eduard Steuermann)
Trio Kandinsky: Corrado Bolsi (violin), Amparo Lacruz (violoncello), Emili Brugalla (piano)
Trio Kandinsky (© Jordi Oliver)
The Schoenberg Center in Vienna is a real insider tip for those looking for music events off the beaten track. Established in 1998, it is a unique repository of Arnold Schoenberg’s archival legacy. The cultural center also hosts exquisite chamber concerts every month showcasing Schoenberg’s music and his influence on generations to come. It is remarkable what the center, with its limited budget, under its most competent Director Christian Meyer, offers to the public.
This event was dedicated to the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912 – 2002) marking the centennial of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death. Montsalvatge was one of the most prominent members of Spain’s ‘Lost Generation’ – the generation that spent its formative years under the Franco regime. Later Montsalvatge became a sought-after composition teacher at the Barcelona Conservatory and was a well-respected music critic before passing away at the age of 90. He was heavily influenced by the Avant-Garde in his later works and is best known for his Cinco Canciones Negras.
The Barcelona based Trio Kandinsky opened the concert with Xavier Montsalvatges’ Trio, written in 1986. Originally this Trio had only 2 movements: The “Balada de Dulcinea” and the “Ritornelo”. Only later did Montsalvatges insert “Dialogues” between the two movements. “Dialogues” is based on a piano piece with the same name by prominent Catalan composer Frederic Mompou. The “Balada” is probably the least accessible movement although one was immediately drawn in by the engaging performance of the Trio Kandinsky. The second movement evoked an actual dialogue with the piano conversing with the strings, beautifully performed by Corrado Bolsi (violin) and Amparo Lacruz (cello). The dance-like “Ritornelo” displayed a lot of Afro-Cuban elements.
After the Berlin “Akademie der Kuenste” suspended Schoenberg from his teaching position with the onset of the Nazi era, his student and then assistant, Roberto Gerhard, invited him to Barcelona. What was originally planned to be only a couple of weeks turned into more than a year. Here Schoenberg was able to write the biggest part of Moses and Aaron. He gave his daughter, born during his time in Barcelona, the Catalan name Nuria.
The second part of the evening was dedicated to the Schoenberg student Roberto Gerhard. His Trio was written in 1918 when Gerhard was barely 22 years old and had yet to meet Schoenberg. Unlike other Spanish composers of his generation he had remained in Barcelona for his studies. Apparently he hadn’t even been to Paris, the musical hotspot at the time. However, the resemblance of his Trio with Ravel’s Piano Trio, written only 4 years earlier, was startling. Here, Trio Kandinsky was best able to showcase its well-seasoned, homogenous sound. Corrado Bolsi, on his 1650 Guarneri violin, played with a resonantly beautiful and warm sound. His partners, the impeccable Amparo Lacruz on the cello and the technically brilliant Emili Brugalla on the piano, made for a great ensemble.
By far the greatest challenge for pianist Brugalla, however, was the piano trio version of Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. Originally written for string sextet, later also for string orchestra, Schoenberg student Eduard Steuermann transcribed the programmatic piece 1932 for piano trio. As Christian Meyer explained in his brief concert introduction, Steuermann was one of the most brilliant pianists of his time. In his transcription he basically didn’t change the violin and cello parts, assigning all remaining 4 voices to the piano. You needed a pianist of Steuermann’s caliber for this challenging part. Brugalla was totally up to it and performed with the greatest ease and virtuosity. As much as Bolsi and Lacruz were able to let their instruments sing, the piano trio version could not evoke the haunting beauty of the original version for string sextet.
Trio Kandinsky thanked the small but enthusiastic audience with Arvo Pärt’s melancholic Mozart Adagio.