On January19th, the Austrian Cultural Forum presented the first concert in a new lieder series led by virtuoso pianist, Thomas Bagwell. The focus of this series is–quite appropriately, given the venue–the founder of the Second Viennese School, Arnold Schoenberg and his composition teacher turned brother-in-law, Alexander Zemlinsky. This first concert was dedicated to Schoenberg and Zemlinsky’s early songs only (all selections on the program were composed between 1889 and 1903). The fact that Zemlinsky’s lieder were not published until 1995 and that they are so infrequently programmed makes their performance an event in itself. Nevertheless, they were not the only novelty offered that evening. In his introduction to the first set of Schoenberg songs, Bagwell dubbed these early works, “some of the best songs that Brahms never wrote.” A joke perhaps, but few could argue with him. Even Schoenberg’s better known opus 2 and opus 3 songs (performed during the second half of the program), were a startling reminder of Schoenberg’s less-than-revolutionary compositional beginnings. It is difficult to imagine that these chromatic, (yet thoroughly tonal) gems of late 19th-Century song literature were penned by the same man famous for Ewartung, Moses und Aron, and Pierrot Lunaire among other atonal masterpieces. Anyone expecting the music to “sound like Schoenberg” was in for quite a surprise.