Vienna was the center for chamber music in the 19th century, where many of the great composers lived and worked. In was in this European capital that notable works were created for solo, orchestral, and chamber music works that helped define the Romantic movement of the 19th century. One hundred years of chamber music from Vienna was the underlying theme presented in concert by the Gould Piano Trio with clarinetist Robert Plane in San Jose on April 2, presented by the San Jose Chamber Music Society at the Trianon Theater.
Beethoven and Brahms are the pillars at each end of the 19th century that framed the program, opening with Beethoven’s Trio Opus 11 for clarinet, cello and piano. The Goulds played this early work with enthusiasm and vitality, enjoying the abundance of melodic writing that avoids the more dramatic statements of the of Opus 1 trios of the same period. The same performers followed with the Trio in a minor by Alexander von Zemlinsky, a renowned Viennese composer, conductor and teacher. The 1896 Clarinet Trio so impressed Brahms that he urged his publisher to print it, not a bad recommendation at all. With the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, Zemlinsky, an Austrian Jew, immigrated to the United States in 1938, settling in New York. After a successful career in Vienna, he was unable to secure a position and was neglected. He soon fell ill and died in Larchmont, New York.
The Trio clearly shows influences of Brahms in the sweeping melodic lines and harmonic progressions, but the similarities stop there. The performance explored the dark sonorities of clarinet and cello, but the heavy piano sound occasionally cancelled the clarity of those instruments. The high point of the piece was in the slow movement, where the expressive drama of the music came through with delicate contrasts in the quieter moments.
After two trios for piano, clarinet and cello, pianist Benjamin Frith joined violinist Lucy Gould for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s four movements from the Suite from Much Ado About Nothing, written as incidental music for the Shakespeare play. Originally for orchestra, the music was arranged for violin and piano when a run of the play was extended and the orchestra musicians were unavailable to play all the performances. The show went on without the orchestra, but the music was still there. The opening Dreaming movement was played with colorful contrasts. March of the Watch depicts in sound two tipsy night watchmen, and violinist Gould enjoyed the characterization. The Garden Scene and Hornpipe are expressive pieces with harmonies and textures that remind the listener that Korngold was a great Hollywood composer who produced the music for swashbuckling films starring Errol Flynn.
The Trianon Theater is arguably the best concert hall for chamber music in the south Bay Area, and was an ideal setting for the concluding Trio No. 2 by Brahms. Gould, Frith, and cellist Alice Neary made good use of the warm acoustics of the room to deliver a glowing and rich sound. Eastern European speech inflections are a feature of the rhythm in the Andante movement, played with incisive bow strokes. The fast Scherzo never touched ground in its gossamer forward thrust.
It was a full meal of a program, but the audience was treated to an encore, an arrangement that included all four performers in the third movement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. It is an excellent arrangement, transferring all the familiar tunes to solo instruments, but at about ten minutes duration it adds another course to the meal. Ideally, an encore should be just a taste treat at the end. So after hearing the glorious melodies of the Brahms Trio, the only melodic memory of the listeners leaving the hall was Rimsky’s tunes.