During his lifetime, Artur Schnabel was generally recognized as an important pianist. He was not entirely unknown as a composer, and now and then, probably because of Schnabel’s rank as a pianist, performances of his works were heard.
Now, 37 years after his death, his compositions are scarcely remembered at all and to most of the Almont Ensemble’s audience at the Schoenberg Institute, USC, on Tuesday night, they could only have been a total novelty.
It may be assumed that the program was representative. It could hardly have been anything else for it all sounded alike--sort of coffee-grinder music. Now and then there would be a kind of green island that momentarily held the attention with a wisp of melody, some striking harmony or a sudden burst of rhythmic energy.
But otherwise it was a wasteland. Everything was excessively and drearily long. Schnabel seemed to have had no conception of a listener’s endurance.
Of course, other composers have encountered the same problem but even the most long-winded have usually discovered some device or other to break the monotony. Not Schnabel; his prolixity is matched only by the meagerness of his invention.
On the other hand, it must have been a labor of love for the performers, for what else could have moved capable musicians to such a show of devotion and to devote so much industry to mastering a formidable and unrewarding task?
That kind of credit can be extended unstintingly to the members of the Almont Ensemble: Barry Socher, violin; Cynthia Fogg, viola; Tom Flaherty, cello, and Charlotte Zelka, pianist.
In addition, Michael Ingham, baritone, sang “Notturno” (1945), a setting of a poem by Richard Damo, with impressive fervor. Zelka, a piano pupil of Schnabel, contributed the Piano Piece in Seven Movements written in 1936. Also heard were a String Trio, 1925, and a Trio for Piano and Strings from 1946.
All the performances appeared to be exemplary, but who really can say?