Bruckner, Schoenberg, Wagner
I followed the Festival and members of the Vienna Philharmonic over the Salzach River to the Mozarteum for a chamber concert. Co-principal violin, viola, and cello of the Philharmonic were joined by three younger orchestra members for music by Bruckner, Schoenberg, and Wagner.
The Bruckner String Quintet is a monumental work despite its limited instrumentation. Written when Bruckner held the chair of composition at the Vienna Conservatory, on request of the Conservatory’s Director (and the Philharmonic’s principal violin), Bruckner gave the instruments full music and lush colors fit for a whole orchestra. The musicians got off to a rough start as something appears to have happened to the second violin’s instrument (there was a loud crack, and she kept inspecting the backside of it, but continued anyway). The audience also seemed incapable of sitting still, and many audience members coughed up various lungs (the weather this summer has indeed been surprisingly wet and cool – to the point that some friends are even using heat in their apartments – but if people are that ill then they should go directly to the morgue). The unfit audience noticeably distracted the musicians – and while their playing was sublime, they did not always capture the mood. Only during the third movement – the Adagio, crowing achievement of Brucknerian musical architecture – did the hall fall quiet and the angels from Heaven descended to heal the wounded and cure the sick, at least briefly.
After the intermission came Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (in the original version for string sextet). This built easily on Bruckner’s lushness, but with more complicated and diverging lines, which the musicians developed while producing the same full sound fit for an even larger ensemble. The transfiguring tones naturally led to a much-desired encore, for which they provided a version of the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in a reduced version for sextet. Indeed, Schoenberg was known for making such reductions, and maybe they even used his version. Whether or not they did, the sextet revealed Wagner’s revolutionary harmonics, exposing them as the forerunner for Schoenberg’s own later experiments. These were kindred works.