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An Austrian pianist pays tribute to two of Vienna's musical giants in this impressive and often delightful programme that interweaves piano pieces by Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schubert.Reviewing the concert premiere of this cycle in Munich, Reinhhard Schulz wrote, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, of a "new, self-contained large-form work that spans musical eras," as if "the sensitive Schubert and the more austere Schoenberg, both round the thirty mark, are sitting in an inn and talking about music. The question of who is the more 'advanced' does not arise, for each respects the language and the expressive means of the other".

At the time of writing his Piano Pieces op. 11 (published in 1909), Schoenberg was still more than a decade away from his first fully serial 12-tone piece and his formal declaration of intent with the "Method of Composing with 12 Tones". Even so, few of his contemporaries were able to see, as we can with hindsight, the accuracy of Schoenberg's view of himself as the natural heir to the dynastic tradition of German music that ran from Haydn through Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Mahler. In the early 20th century, the Klavierstücke produced shockwaves; it seemed to early listeners to strike at the very foundations of Western music. Since then the work has been constantly evaluated and re-evaluated, "Not simply because of the historically revolutionary aspect of atonality that is laid bare here so coherently [as Hans-Christian von Dadelsen points out] but much more because of one direct consequence of atonality - the way in which it opens up an infinitely large imaginative space of analytic, constructive and speculative ideas ... Every note, sound or impulse rests solely on the foundation of its own existence, standing in a constantly fluctuating relation to all other notes, groupings and shapes. Less stable codes, each of which oscillates in its own autonomous energy field, also produce more sensitive interactions of gravity, individual presence, hierarchy, directional energy and latent electrical charge of tonality."

In other words, there's a great deal going on. But should an interpreter emphasise the work's complexity' Schoenberg's friend, student and musical ally, pianist/composer Eduard Steuermann didn't think so, but said that an interpreter should play the op. 11 "as if it were a Schubert impromptu". This was the remark that fired Thomas Larcher's imagination. If Schoenberg should be played "like Schubert" could the reverse also apply' Could one attempt to play Schubert "like Schoenberg" and what would this mean' (Interestingly, Schoenberg occupied himself with this very question in 1912, when he orchestrated four Schubert songs for the Dutch mezzo-soprano Julia Culp. His manuscripts and arrangements have, however, been lost.)

In his dovetailing of Schubert's tripartite op. posth. DV 946 with the three piano pieces that make up Schoenberg's op. 11, Larcher lets the light from each composer's work irradiate the other's. His Schubert is also a structuralist as well as a nonpareil melodist, his Schoenberg not only an inventor of genius but also a lyricist, in a flinty kind of way. (In preparing his cycle, Larcher also kept in mind Schoenberg's remark that dissonance is really a higher order of consonance and that the quality that differentiated the former from the latter was not its lack of "beauty", whatever that might mean, but rather its relative ungraspability...)

Larcher concludes his recital with Schoenberg's Six Brief Piano Pieces op. 19, followed by Schubert's C minor Allegretto (D 915). Dadelsen on the questions raised by the programme as a whole: "The dramaturgy that Thomas Larcher gives to these compositions may contribute to a self-evident and natural approach to hearing the works... What is this undercurrent along which culture seems to travel through landscapes and the hours of the day' What is time and what evolution, what is beginning and what farewell' Even the small C minor Allegretto which Schubert wrote on 26th April 1827 for his friend Walcher's departure for Venice, poses these same questions."

For Thomas Larcher, the approach followed in the present recording is very much analogous to the path he follows as artistic director of the adventurous Klangspuren festival in Schwaz/Tirol, which specialises in combining, contrasting and finding points of congruence between music of different eras. Born in Innsbruck in 1963, Larcher studied piano and composition in Vienna with Heinz Medjimorec, Elisabeth Leonskaja and Erich Urbanner. Musicians with whom he has collaborated extensively include Heinz Holliger, Thomas Demenga, Thomas Zehetmair, and Michelle Makarski. He has played with the Artis and Carmina Quartets and with orchestras including the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, RSO Wien, and the Orchester des Saarländisches Rundfunk, and under conductors including Dennis Russell Davies, Claudio Abbado and Michael Gielen. He has appeared at many leading festivals including Salzburger Festspiele, Bregenzer Festspiele, Wiener Festwochen, Styriarte Graz, Berliner Festwochen, Kammermusikfest Lockenhaus, Schwetzinger Festspiele, and Internationale Musikfestwochen Luzern.

Larcher previously appeared, with Thomas Zehetmair and Ursula Holliger, on "Lieder ohne Worte" (ECM New Series 1618), playing the music of Heinz Holliger, prompting the British magazine Tempo to praise the pianist's "poetic" touch. In 2000, ECM will issue a new recording on which Larcher partners Michelle Makarski in performances of Dallapiccola and Berio.

Thomas Larcher's concert schedule in autumn 1999 includes an appearance at "Selected Signs", ECM's month-long 30th anniversary festival at the University of Brighton in November.

CD package includes 36-page German/English booklet with liner notes by Gert Jonke and Hans-Christian von Dadelsen

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