Josef Labor Chamber Works for Wittgenstein — and others

This release features two works commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein was a piano student of Josef Labor.  Wittgenstein lost his right arm in the First World War. After the war, he continued his career by building a body of work for the piano left hand.

His former teacher received his first commissions. Labor was a well-respected pianist and composer. He associated with luminaries such as Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss. And his style aligned with their late-Romantic aesthetics.

The 1917 Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano Left Hand in E minor is an interesting work. The pianist’s left hand often plays two or more notes. Labor can’t make the piano sound as full as it would with two hands playing.

Instead, he treats the piano almost like a single-line instrument. This puts the piano on par with the clarinet and cello. Cello double stops and piano chords thicken sound in places. But generally, it’s three instruments in real conversation.

Labor exploits the cello’s ability to play chords in his 1918 sonata. For this work, both performers must be at the top of their game. The pianist has some wide-ranging chords. Quick jumps between octaves give the illusion of two hands. The cellist must also cover a lot of ground, with arpeggiated chords and double stops.

Pianist Holger Busch delivers exceptional performances. His left hand plays in a smooth, supple manner. And he can bring the power when required.

Cellist Gehard Waiz shines in the sonata. Yes, this was composed primarily for the pianist, but this is a great work for cello. Waiz digs right in, giving us one beautifully expressive phrase after another.

And I shouldn’t slight Jörg Wachsenegger, the third member of the Ensemble Tris. He plays with a rich, fluid tone that exudes warmth.

These works were written for a very specific purpose. But there’s more here than giving a one-handed pianist something to play. Labor crafted music of genuine quality. You can enjoy these works just on their own musical merit. Which is exactly what I did.

Josef Labor: Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano Left Hand in E minor
Sonata for Cello and Piano Left Hand in C major
Ensemble Tris Capriccio C5446

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