Classical "Wiener Blut": recitals of Viennese music St John's Smith Square, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
To write good light music takes genius, but Schoenberg's genius lay elsewhere. His Cabaret Songs are poor stuff - hundreds of composers churned out similar routine numbers - but at least Sarah Walker sang them robustly, without undue archness at St John's Smith Square, last Thursday. The concert opened a series called "Wiener Blut", which continues until April, and Walker shared it with the violinist Marcia Crayford and pianist Paul Turner, who both joined her as the spirited communicator she undoubtedly is in some of Haydn's arrangements of Scottish Airs.

They were the sorbet after the rich pudding of Korngold's Violin Sonata. Written when he was 15, it's already characteristic, with its upward stretching phrases taking the violin to dizzy heights over a torrential piano part. Hopefully, Paul Turner learnt all those notes for more than this performance. Crayford never once looked at him, which seemed a bit mean, but she did have her work cut out, and gave a secure account, if not of the ideally transcendent, schwungvoll quality.

Nor did Sarah Walker command the sheer beauty and fullness of tone you might hope for in Mahler's early "Hans und Grethe" and three songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, though she certainly put across the words. Better than the baritone, Matthias Gorner, native German speaker though he is, in Mahler's Kindertotenlieder at the Wigmore Hall on Saturday. But what Walker lacked in vocal smoothness Gorner certainly supplied. Perhaps he scaled down his rather subdued performance to suit the dimensions of Reinbert de Leeuw's chamber arrangement, though it sounded more crowded than Mahler's delicate orchestral original.

An elegiac mood pervaded much of this final concert in the Nash Ensemble's series called "Vienna and the Romantic Century". Schubert's lovely late Notturno for piano trio, typically contrasting stillness with passionately vigorous sections, was followed by Erwin Stein's arrangement of Busoni's Berceus elegiaque, which effectively enhanced its darkly muted quality. But even in Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio, Ian Brown, Leo Phillips and Christopher van Kampen seemed to be thinking "Am I too loud?" for much of the time. The slow movement is often related to Beethoven's sketches for an opera on Macbeth, but what is more striking, towards its end, is a brooding passage over a murky chromatic bass that presages the closing moments of the Ninth Symphony's first movement.

The Second Viennese School did badly in both these concerts, for the Nash Ensemble's other work was Webern's Piano Quintet, a student piece in a single movement which shows him floundering in a tired post-Brahmsian style and resorting to the expressionistic frisson of nasal tremolos by way of escape.

ADRIAN JACK

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