Prom Chamber Music (6): A Rainy Bank Holiday Monday Brightened by Proms Chamber Music  

 Proms Chamber Music 6: Mozart, Mahler, Strauss,Louis Schwizgebel (piano), Katarzyna Budnik-Gałązka (viola), Marcin Zdunik (cello), Tomasz Januchta (double bass), Royal String Quartet, Cadogan Hall, London, 25.8.14. (JPr)

Mozart – Piano Sonata in D major, K311
Mahler – Piano Quartet in A minor
Richard StraussMetamorphosen (1994 arrangement for string septet by Rudolf Leopold)

A capacity audience was attracted to the Cadogan Hall for this lunchtime chamber music Prom. It was a Bank Holiday Monday which was described quite rightly by BBC Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny as ‘appalling’ and it was no comfort to hear that the continuity announcer he was waiting to follow was in Scotland where the weather was much better. Trelawny introduced a recital from seven Polish musicians plus the young Swiss-Chinese pianist Louis Schwizgebel. The Royal String Quartet who were playing are previous BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists whilst Schwizgebel is currently part of the scheme that allows some of the brightest talents in classical music important opportunities over a two-year period. It would be unfair to say Petroc Trelawny has ‘a face for radio’ but what he certainly does have is the smooth, slightly supercilious, voice favoured by classical music presenters; whilst it must be admitted he pronounced all the difficult names sublimely well and with great confidence.

Louis Schwizgebel has a fine technique and clearly a serious and deeply thoughtful regard for the music he is performing. To my ears his tone seemed to have mostly one colour but his nuanced articulation and sensitive voicing made the composer’s musical thoughts very clear especially during his solo moment, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D major (K311). Petroc Trelawny said that this 1777 Mannheim Sonata was probably when Mozart ‘truly found his own musical voice’ and indeed it allowed for some exquisitely idiomatic Mozartian phrasing in the swift, cheery Allegro; then Schwizgebel bought fluid grace to the more melodic and relaxed Andante and the Rondeau (Allegro) was suitably spirited and swift.

Mahler’s 1876 single-movement Piano Quartet in A minor was written while he was still a student at the Vienna Conservatory and owes a debt to those composers he most admired at the time: Brahms, Schubert and Schumann -though Petroc Trelawny named Dvořák and Chopin along with Brahms. In fact it is an unfinished work as there are sketches for a Scherzo, but Mahler completed only about 11 minutes’ worth of music were found in Alma’s possessions after her death in 1964. It is passionate stuff – not unlike the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, though indeed with a somewhat Brahmsian accent – and really doesn’t sound anything like later Mahler, who himself considered it was ‘lacking all originality’. Louis Schwizgebel and three members of the Royal String Quartet gave it a richly detailed and fervent performance with the Slavic accents violinist Izabella Szalaj-Zimak gave to some of her music probably explaining Trelawny’s mention of Dvořák.

 The concert ended with Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, his familiar 1945 E flat Study, usually for 23 solo string players. However here it was played – as apparently originally conceived – by a septet. It was the composer’s elegy to the Allied bombing of Munich and Dresden and I have written about this before and remind readers – without further comment – about the words of musicologist Rose Rosengard Subotnik: ‘Recalling how it was the bombing of an opera house (in the Third Reich) rather than the murder of fellow human beings that drew this expression of grief from Strauss, I remain troubled (by the piece).’ It seems that Strauss conceived Metamorphosen for string septet (two each of violins, violas and cellos plus a double bass), before working on the definitive version for those ‘23 solo strings’. Petroc Trelawny failed to say that the septet version did not come to light until the 1990s when Rudolf Leopold edited it. The ‘full version’ allows for the overlapping string parts to give the overall impression that all the players are oblivious to each other and busy with their own lines of counterpoint thus allowing a controlled passion that can make Metamorphosen sound intensely serene and wistfully moving. Here I missed that web of sound in the most intense passages despite the well-paced and sensitive account it got from seven very accomplished musicians.

BBC Radio 3 will repeat this concert on 31 August and it is well worth hearing.

Jim Pritchard

For further details about the 2014 BBC Proms visit