Vienna-born composer deserves closer attention

Tom McGrath recital 
Marama Hall
Friday, December 1

Pianist Tom McGrath with Goknil Meryem Biner, and Ayla Biner-McGrath, Robert Tucker, James Adams, Judy Bellingham, Terence Dennis and a gramophone showcased works by Vienna-born composer Paul Schramm to a good-sized audience at Marama Hall on Friday evening.

McGrath’s research focuses on Schramm’s songs and his last opera, Die Grosse Nummer, composed in 1932 with librettist Poul Knudsen.

The works take their inspiration from Vienna and possibly travelled with Schramm via Indonesia in 1933 to Wellington in 1938 before being lodged in the Alexander Turnbull Archives.

After initial musical successes in New Zealand, Schramm’s wartime career suffered from the sad fact that the enemy of our enemy is not, and arguably should not, be trusted.

Schramm’s style encompasses westernised jazz inflections found in Krenek’s Jonny Spielt Auf and Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale.

Like Schulhoff, Schramm snipes at well-worn tropes of Viennese popular and classical romanticism while avoiding the dysfunctional structures of Schonberg’s modernism.

Schramm leads the listener into a deeply cynical Kafkaesque realm highlighted by McGrath’s deft interpretation.

The disintegration of fragments of Strauss and Wagner into dissonance and non-sequitur are beautifully timed. Der Tanz, sung by Biner, features the 4/4 pig and the anacrusic-owl — a bit of nonsense akin to Searle’s setting of The Owl and the Pussy Cat.

Die Fledermaus Kurhausconcertbierterassenereignis (and yes, that is just one word!) was also delightfully performed.

Tucker made excellent work of the jaded Litanel Im Wind from Four Songs for Baritone. Biner, Adams, Tucker and Biner-McGrath and Stephen Stedman’s backstage sound effects dramatised excerpts from act 3 of Die Grosse Nummer to great effect with simple props.

The performance closing works required four hands, Dennis supplying the extra two.

McGrath has uncovered an interesting composer who deserves closer attention.

By Marian Poole