Byron Wallis- violin
David Yang- viola
Kenneth Woods- cello
Sunday, 17 May, 2009
Christchurch House, Rode
PROGRAMME Hans Krasa (1899 –1944) Tanec (Dance) for String Trio (1944)
String Trio op 201
Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998)
String Trio (1985)
Gideon Klein (1919-1945)
Variations on a Moravian Theme (From String Trio, 1944)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
String Trio no. 4 in C minor, op 9 no 3-
I. Allegro con spirito Movement
II. Adagio con espressione
III. Scherzo Allegro molto e vivace
IV. Finale. Presto
This evening’s programme brings together a diverse set of works which vividly demonstrate deep and powerful connections between concert and vernacular music. Written in the Terezin ghetto, Krasa’s “Tanec,” one of his last completed works, is a study of the emotional complexities of the dance worthy of Ravel’s La Valse. Alternately sarcastic, sensual, sinister, fragile and ultimately terrifying, it is a piece that resonates on many levels in a remarkably short time span of only five minutes. Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhanness was always fascinated with the folk music and mythology of his ancestral homeland, and goes to great lengths in his String Trio to recreate the twang of the oud and the plaintive cry of the duduk (a cousin of the Western oboe noted for its ability to seamlessly bend pitches) with the three classical string instruments. The evocative first and second movements feature stunning lyrical writing for the solo violin and viola, while supporting parts create a sense of natural atmosphere and place through a vivid collection of subtle sound effects.
If Krasa’s “Tanec” is a vivid demonstration of what can be done with dance music on a small scale, Alfred Schnittke’s epic String Trio of 1985 shows what can be done with dance material on a huge canvass. Written in memory of Alban Berg, Schnittke begins the piece with an innocent sounding baroque dance melody, reminiscent perhaps of Couperin. From this simple two-measure theme he is able to extract all of the thematic and motivic material for the entire work. The String Trio was written in 1985, the year of the first of the horrifying strokes which he suffered in his last years, and it is hard not to see a certain parallel between his health crisis and the violent and terrifying outbursts throughout the first movement, which alternate with periods of other-worldly stillness. Throughout it all, the dance theme remains the wellspring of all the musical material. The final Adagio is reflective and meditative, where the Moderato was dramatic. It begins with a transmutation of the dance theme into a funereal march, but it is reflective, not combative. It is surely some of the most heartrending music written in the last 30 years.
Also heartrending is Gideon Klein’s “Variations on a Moravian Theme” from his final work, the String Trio, completed only 9 days before his murder in Auschwitz. Klein was the youngest of the Terezin composers, and the extraordinary power of his surviving music is, among other things, a bleak reminder of what society lost when he was killed. Like the Krasa, this is a very short movement, a set of very classically proportioned variations on a Moravian folk-melody (one which Klein was very faithful to). Within this compact framework, Klein raises tensions to almost unbearable extremes while maintaining a high degree of lyricism, and the coda is truly unforgettable.
Finally, we end with another “last” work, the final String Trio of Beethoven. Beethoven was 28 years old when this trio was published in 1798, while Gideon Klein was only 26 when he was killed. Still ahead for Beethoven were all the nine symphonies, the 15 string quartets and 29 of the 32 piano sonatas. What would Klein have achieved had he lived? In the early years of his career, the String Trio was Beethoven’s favorite genre, but after the completion of this C minor trio, he never returned to the genre again. Fortunately, this ending was a beginning, as after this wonderful summation of his development of the trio, he turned his attentions to the quartet and never looked back. It is striking how completely developed Beethoven’s artistic personality already appears in this work- his strong identification with the symbolic power of keys is very much on show, with the brooding and dramatic C minor of this work very close in spirit to the Fifth Symphony and the final Piano Sonata. The stunning slow movement also shows an uncanny resemblance to the deeply spiritual slow movements of his late works. Like the “Heiliger Dankesang” from his A minor String Quartet op 132, and the slow movement of the 9th Symphony, this remarkable movement is in double variation form, a structure that seemed to allow Beethoven to express some of his most personal thoughts. After a sardonic Scherzo, the work concludes with a Presto finale, notable for its intensity and it’s rather ambivalent ending.