The Marina Korendfeld Concert Series was founded 25 years ago on independent initiative in Baden, Switzerland, a city some 20 minutes from Zurich, to offer gifted young musicians a platform for performance in front of a small audience. Over the past two and a half decades, however, more widely-established soloists and chamber music formations have also regularly performed in the series, encouraged by its ever-growing reputation.

Oliver Schnyder Trio
© Marco Borggreve

The Oliver Schnyder Trio’s performance was one of three such offers this May. Schnyder, a celebrated pianist with local roots, was joined by other highly-accomplished musicians: Andreas Janke, violinist and first concertmaster of the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich, and Benjamin Nyffenegger, its solo cellist. The programme featured works both by Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák, making the concert something of a Bohemian Rhapsody for a socially-distanced audience of fifty. Given the Covid restrictions, the concert was staged in a local parish church in the town of Wettingen, which, while larger than the series’ usual venue, had unusually good acoustics. 

Oliver Schnyder is a polished poet at the piano; he explores the full dimension of emotive content in any score, yet never goes for anything showy at the expense of precision and clarity. That said, the piano demonstrably tugs at the heart strings in the Piano Trio in G minor, which Smetana wrote shortly after having lost a darling and musically-gifted daughter in 1855 to scarlet fever when she was only 4 years old – and that just a year after the death of her younger sister. So while the work was to be highly dramatic, even abrasive, inasmuch as it reflects the tragedy of a child’s death, it is, in a sense, a true Klagelied and demonstrably calls up childlike innocence in a way that is compelling. For all three players, the work is intensely muscular, but it is also graced with beautifully lyrical and playful moments, which, ultimately, make the story of loss that much more poignant. In the second movement, for example, cellist Benjamin Nyffenegger’s line was often close to heartbreaking; in modern terms, both as lyrical and plaintive as a tragic film.

The Smetana was followed by another gem: Dvořák’s Piano Trio no. 4 in G-minor, Op.90 “Dumky”, which the composer completed and premiered in Prague in 1891. Here in Wettingen, 130 years later, all three polished musicians wove their parts in harmonies that demonstrated the work’s extraordinary balance in sound and texture. Schnyder’s piano was a kind of starlight throughout, even if it included the tolling bell of death in the bass, while the cello enjoyed moments that called up an endearing, if not sentimental, lullaby. In all six movements, however, the trio showed itself entirely comfortable with the demands of Dvořák’s Bohemian lament, and the visual exchange among the players was a treat in itself. Indeed, while brooding and heavy in places, the trio showed itself as close to lighthearted, even bright, at the end of the piece. This superb trio configuration gave us, a highly appreciative audience, nothing short of that that same sentiment.