PCM6: Mozart, Mahler and Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen – Louis Schwizgebel & Royal String Quartet

Piano Sonata No.9 in D, K311
Piano Quartet in A minor
Metamorphosen [arr. Rudolf Leopold for string septet]

Louis Schwizgebel (piano)
Royal String Quartet [Izabella Szałaj-Zimak & Elwira Przybyłowska (violins), Marek Czech (viola) & Michał Pepol (cello)]
Katarzyna Budnik-Gałązka (viola), Marcin Zdunik (cello) & Tomasz Januchta (double bass)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 25 August, 2014
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Louis Schwizgebel. Photograph: otop.net-edkinAn oddly assorted Proms Chamber Music recital, beginning with Mozart in limpidly unaffected mood. His D major Piano Sonata (1777) may not be among the most probing or prescient of his works from the period, but it is assuredly one of the best proportioned – something that Louis Schwizgebel underlined in a reading which brought out the thoughtfulness behind the vigour of the opening Allegro, the very Classical poise of the central Andante, and deft animation of the finale. This was a performance – and a pianist! – with which to reckon.

Schwizgebel duly returned with members of the Royal String Quartet for the solitary Piano Quartet movement (circa 1876) that is almost the only surviving piece of Mahler’s adolescence. Easy to damn with faint praise on account of its indebtedness to Schumann, Brahms, Dvořák, et al, it yet pursues a purposeful trajectory such as makes the most of its dark-hued themes as well as ensuring a notably high degree of motivic elaboration – qualities that were well to the fore in a cumulatively intense account which brought out the music’s essential fatalism.

Royal String Quartet. Photograph: BlowUpAn augmented Royal String Quartet for Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen (a study for 23 solo strings, 1945) in the string septet version prepared in 1994 by Rudolf Leopold from the short score that had only surfaced four years previously. Whether the composer had ever envisaged a hearing of what is essentially a preliminary version seems doubtful, but the music transfers convincingly to this reduced medium and also makes available a work in the chamber genre that Strauss had all but abandoned since his Violin Sonata of almost six decades previously.

An incidental advantage of this incarnation is that, without the need for a conductor, the musicians were able to control the music’s rubato instinctively – the present performance building gradually yet inexorably throughout its complex central stages towards a passionate climax which yet brought the piece back unequivocally to its sombre beginnings. Perhaps the closing pages could have had greater inwardness (the ‘Eroica’ allusion does work best on three double basses), but the desolation of this memorial to Germanic culture was never in doubt.

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