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FANTASY TRIOS
Dimension Trio

 

 

 
1. Bridge, Frank [15:37]
Phantasie in C minor

2. Suk, Josef [06:33]
Elegie Op.23

3. Ireland, John [11:35]
Phantasie in A minor

4. Schoenberg, Arnold [06:33]
Verklarte Nacht Op.4 - i - Sehr langsam

5. Schoenberg, Arnold [06:15]
Verklarte Nacht Op.4 - ii - Breiter

6. Schoenberg, Arnold [02:09]
Verklarte Nacht Op.4 - iii - Schwer betont

7. Schoenberg, Arnold [09:15]
Verklarte Nacht Op.4 - iv - Schwer breit und langsam

8. Schoenberg, Arnold [04:45]
Verklarte Nacht Op.4 - v - Sehr ruhig

Artist(s):
Dimension Trio,


Dimension Trio showcase their prestigious talents in their debut disc of 'Fantasy Trios' with music by Suk, Schoenberg, Bridge and Ireland.

Josef Suk composed 'Elegy' to mark the 1st anniversary of the revered Czech poet, Julius Zeyer, death in 1902, originally scored for larger ensemble including harp and harmonium, but heard here in piano trio form.

Composed in a mere 3 weeks, Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht is a passionate interpretation of Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name, in which a woman confesses a dark secret to her lover.  It is heard here in trio version, arranged by Eduard Steuermann, pupil of Schoenberg, who made the arrangement at the specific request of Alice Moller, a Viennese patroness of the arts which remained unpublished as recently as 1993. 

In 1908, Frank Bridge won first prize in the annual Cobbett Prize Competition for his Phantasie in C minor.  John Ireland gained second prize in the same competition for Phantasie Trio in A minor, dedicated to his teacher Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.  Walter Willson Cobbett, a wealthy businessman and amateur musician, founded the competition to promote single-movement 'Fantasia' form works which seemed to him a distinctively English genre which had been crowded out by the sonata-form works of Mozart and Haydn and Beethoven.

DIMENSION is a violin, cello and piano trio of internationally renowned young musicians Anthony Hewitt, Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne and Thomas Carroll.

Winners of the 2005 Parkhouse International Chamber Music Competition and the 2004 South East Music Schemes.


 

 


The Phantasie Trios of Frank Bridge and John Ireland are just two examples of the many British works that owe their origins to the annual Cobbett Prize Competitions for chamber music. Walter Willson Cobbett (1847-1937), a wealthy businessman, amateur violinist and writer on music, had been deeply impressed by the appearance of the first modern editions of Elizabethan and Jacobean instrumental music; he wished to revive the Fancy or Fantasia or Phantasie as practiced by composers for viols such as Byrd, Gibbons and Lawes. This genre – a single movement marked by several changes of tempo and character, with a generally cumulative effect – seemed to him a distinctively English genre which had been crowded out by the sonata form works of Mozart and Haydn and Beethoven. In pursuit of this aim, from 1905 onwards Cobbett organized an international competition under the aegis of the Worshipful Company of Musicians, for new works of chamber music which he suggested should be in single-movement ‘phantasie’ form. In the event, most composers tended to produce works either in three-part form (related outer sections with a contrasting middle) or a free version of sonata-form (exposition with two contrasted themes; development; recapitulation).

Announced in 1907, the competition of 1908 was for a piano trio, and of the 67 works entered, the first prize (of £50) went to Frank Bridge for his Phantasie in C minor; this was subsequently premiered on 28 April 1909 by the London Piano Trio at a banquet of the Incorporated Society of Musicians. This First Piano Trio (Bridge would write a Second in 1929) is a prime example of the ruggedly mellifluous, chamber style of his early years, which shows a strong influence of Fauré while remaining distinctively British in its expressive aura. W.W. Cobbett, in a lecture given at the Royal Academy of Music, said that Bridge’s Trio ‘is of a remarkable beauty and brilliance’, marking him out as ‘one of our foremost composers for the chamber. With a lavishness to which I can recall few precedents, he has provided thematic material more than sufficient for a lengthy work in sonata form’. In fact, the Phantasie’s single-movement structure does resemble a sonata-form movement, in that it begins with a passionate two- subject exposition (Allegro moderato e con fuoco) and ends with a recapitulation and coda, but instead of a central development section there is an Andante con molto espressione episode, corresponding to a slow movement, which is itself interrupted by a raffish Allegro scherzoso. The climax of the work comes with the return and extension of the andante, before the recapitulation, which is rounded off by an ebullient coda.

John Ireland gained second prize (of £10) in that same 1908 Cobbett Competition with his Phantasie Trio in A minor for violin, cello and piano, the first of three works he was to write for this combination. (The following year he would win the first prize in Cobbett’s competition for a violin sonata.) Dedicated to his teacher Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, this work was also premiered by the London Piano Trio, in advance of Bridge’s trio, at London’s Aeolian Hall on 26 January 1909. His Phantasie Trio is in fact in an approximation of sonata form. Its first subject is an ascending theme with a prominent dotted rhythm, and the potential for a balancing, lyrical dying fall. The more reflective second subject, announced by the piano in the distant key of A flat, is a mellifluous and lyrical tune, mainly descending in motion, with a hint of folksong to it. The development of these materials is on the whole gentle, almost pastoral in character, weaving a filigree of counterpoint around reminiscences of the principal phrases of the exposition. This mood continues into the start of the recapitulation, where the first subject returns serenely in A major before gathering energy and moving into a quicker, dance-like coda that ends the work in high spirits.

Josef Suk was born at Krevovice, Bohemia and first became known as a violinist: he was in fact the grandfather of the famous Czech violinist of the same name. In 1892 he formed the Bohemian String Quartet with three friends (one of them was Oscar Nedbal, who later became famous as a composer of waltzes and operetta) and remained a member of it for almost the whole of his life. Suk studied composition in Prague, where his principal teacher, whom he venerated, was Dvorák; and in 1898 he married Dvorák’s daughter, Otylka. Richly gifted, his early works – such as the Serenade for Strings and the Fantastic Scherzo – show a fluent and fairly direct continuation of the ‘Czech national’ style of Smetana and Dvorák, with a taste for fairy-tale or legendary subjects. His music also has a tendency to autobiography, and this early period was a generally happy one for him. The double blow of the deaths of Dvorák and Otylka, in 1904 and 1905 respectively, led to the composition of Suk’s tragic Asrael Symphony, dedicated to their memories, and afterwards his music – though it gained in stature – seldom recaptured the innocence of his earlier works.

The Elegie, though written slightly earlier than Asrael, is also a memorial work. The revered Czech poet and playwright Julius Zeyer died aged 60 in 1901. Suk had already (in 1898) written the incidental music for Zeyer’s play Radúz and Mahulena, and on this, in 1899-1900, he had based one of his best-known works, the orchestral suite Pohádka (Fairy Tale). In April 1902 Suk composed the Elegy as part of a ceremony held in Prague to mark the anniversary of the poet’s death. In this original form, it was scored for violin, cello, string quartet, harp and harmonium; for its publication, Suk re-worked it for piano trio, and added the subtitle ‘Under the Impression of Zeyer’s Vyšehrad’ – a reference to Zeyer’s 1880 epic poem of that title, which refers to the name of a rocky bluff standing high above the Vltava River, traditionally considered the birthplace of the city of Prague, as it was the site of the castle where in the 8th century the Bohemian royal court was established in the reign of the prophetic Queen Libuše, whom Smetana had celebrated in an opera and in the symphonic poem Vyšehrad.

The Elegy begins with a music of restrained lament, the melody shared between violin and piano over the piano’s slowly marching chords. A more dramatic and anguished episode intervenes, and then the opening subject returns. But instead of simply rounding out the ternary form, the music takes an unexpected plunge into new regions, and in the coda the initial material is transfigured, rising high in the strings against pearly tremolos in the piano.

Like Suk’s Elegy, the most substantial work on this programme was not originally conceived for piano trio at all. Composed in a mere three weeks in the summer of 1899, it is the one which posterity has come to regard as Arnold Schoenberg’s first masterpiece. So far the 24-year-old had been an ardent Brahmsian, but his friend Alexander Zemlinsky – himself a protégé of Brahms – had been opening Schoenberg’s ears to Wagner and the contrary claims of programme-music and literary romanticism. The result was a powerful synthesis: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) after a poem by Richard Dehmel – a work in the form of classical chamber music (a string sextet) that is in effect a symphonic poem infused with the new idiom of post-Wagnerian chromaticism.

Schoenberg chose a poem from Dehmel’s collection Weib und Welt (Woman and the World). Two lovers wander among the trees on a cold moonlit night. She confesses she is pregnant: not by him, but by an earlier lover whom she took because until now she had believed that having a child would bring meaning, if not happiness, to her life. He, inspired to calm confidence by the beauty of the moonlit world, assures her that the love they have now found together will unite them and make the child their own; they embrace, and walk on ‘through the high, bright night’. Never before had Schoenberg written anything so passionate.

The Vienna Tonkünstlerverein refused to promote a public performance, officially because the score contained one chord that nobody could find in the harmony textbooks. ‘It sounds as if someone had smeared the score of Tristan while it was still wet!’ commented the operetta composer Richard Heuberger in disgust. The premiere was eventually given in Vienna in March 1902 by the famous string quartet led by Mahler’s brother-in-law Arnold Rosé, augmented by two additional players (one of them the composer and cellist Franz Schmidt).

The layout of Dehmel’s poem – in five sections, the woman’s outburst and the man’s reply framed by passages illustrating their walk in the moonlight – gives the basic form of Schoenberg’s sextet, and every phrase is most sensitively illustrated in the music, from the dragging steps at the opening to the wonderfully radiant evocation of the ‘transfigured night’ at the close. Yet on another level the music makes so much sense in its own terms that one hardly feels the programme to be a vital element in its structural logic, however it may have affected the initial inspiration. Schoenberg’s success in fulfilling his large design indicates how rapid was his progress towards musical mastery. Several outside influences are still prominent – Wagner, Brahms, Hugo Wolf probably, Richard Strauss perhaps – but the work is thoroughly Schoenbergian. The counterpoint has his characteristic boldness and clarity however great its elaboration, and the melodies have his distinctive plasticity. The work’s key- centre is D, minor in the first half, major in the second. But it is often quitted for remote areas; and decisive returns to D, often suggested, are almost as often suspensefully delayed.

This makes the almost sententiously firm D major of the opening of the fourth section (the Man’s reply) especially striking, and creates the work’s main structural division, initiating a ‘second movement’ complementary to the first. The nocturnal loveliness of the D major ending, too, is all the more satisfying for being so long and so artfully postponed.

There are certainly places, however, where Verklärte Nacht seems almost to burst the bounds of Schoenberg’s chosen string-sextet medium. In fact he twice arranged it for string orchestra, in 1916 and 1943, and in these versions the greater richness of tone is certainly an advantage, though not necessarily a decisive one, over the sextet original. The version for piano trio which we hear on this disc was in fact written by Eduard Steuermann, piano pupil of Busoni, composition pupil of Schoenberg, and one of the most distinguished interpreters of the piano music of both composers. His remarkably effective Verklärte Nacht arrangement was made in 1932 at the request of Alice Moller, a Viennese patroness of the arts, for performance in her home. She retained the manuscript for many years, returning it to Steuermann after World War II; it was only published in 1993, and has proved extremely effective in transfiguring the substance and the passion of Schoenberg’s youthful romantic masterpiece to a new and perhaps rather unlikely medium.

Malcolm MacDonald


"This is a remarkable disc. Without a doubt one of my discs of the year."
"Some of the most perfect chamber music playing I have ever heard”
Nick Barnard, MusicWeb International

"Music-making of the highest quality"
Ian Lace, MusicWeb International

"This release is exceptional. The playing is tasteful yet powerful, and it is perfectly recorded."
American Record Guide

“a recording full of rewarding surprises.”
Stephen Prichard, The Guardian

"As ensemble playing, this really is as good as it gets."
"... an IRR Outstanding nomination for this magnificent disc."
William Hendley, International Record Review


   
   

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