The Sound Of Dreams | V&A, London

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The Independent Culture

The Austrians don't do things by halves. Dreamscapes, the festival mounted by the Austrian Cultural Institute to celebrate 100 years of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, is a substantial undertaking offering many opportunities for discovery. The Sound of Dreams, a clutch of chamber concerts at the V&A, includes UK premieres of early work by Schoenberg, Webern, Zemlinsky and, perhaps most usefully, Franz Schreker, who dominated the Vienna-Munich-Dresden-Berlin musical scene from 1912, but was eventually hounded to death by the Nazis, who fired him as professor at the Berlin Conservatoire.

The Austrians served up a forceful and empathetic pair of brother pianists, the Duo Kutrowatz, to unveil the main Schreker find: his piano duet version, from around 1922, of The Birthday of the Infanta, his successful ballet, surreally staged by Gustav Klimt in 1908, and based on the Oscar Wilde story of a dwarf who falls for a princess but commits suicide in despair after seeing himself in the mirror.

A lot of Schreker's appeal rests on his rich, impressionistic orchestration; a couple of movements therefore felt fractionally dry. But as a piano duet experience it proved surprisingly successful, with the best qualities of Debussy's and Ravel's pianism much in evidence, some magically mysterious moments in the momentarily Tristan-esque finale, and some gloriously gauche Children's Corner-like moments for the poor, doomed dwarf.

The Kutrowatzes also made cheerfully light work of six Schoenberg student pieces, the third of which, in A minor, Brahms would not have disdained, while the last, in C minor, Schumann might have tucked into Carnaval. Six early songs from books 1 and 2 of Zemlinsky's Op 2 (dedicated to Schoenberg), to texts by Storm, Heyse and others, came closer to the tonalism of Zemlinsky's early symphonies than the spiky chromaticism of his subsequent works. The soprano Helen Meyerhoff - albeit attractive sotto voce - tended to shroud what chromaticism there was with a shakily wide vibrato. Most alluring were the trumpeting Mahlerian echoes in "Der Traum", an enchanting Kinderlied dedicated to Mahler's wife (and Zemlinsky's muse) Alma.

The piÿce de résistance was a Mahler favourite, the breathtakingly precocious Piano Trio in D, Op 1 (1910), of the 12-year-old Erich Korngold. One listened in vain for the flaws: there is no empty rhetoric, even in the varied repetitions of the rondo finale - just an extraordinary, presumptuous Mozartian rightness in deploying rich late-Romantic thematic material, inspiring idiomatic, sensitive playing from the capable British ensemble Chamber Domaine, notably in the desolate pasages of the adagio and in the wonderfully quizzical scherzo.

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