Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ervin Schulhoff and Arnold Schoenberg - Chamber Works - Chandos 2009

This Chandos disc from 2009 (the pieces were initially recorded in 1982 <Schoenberg>, and also 1992 <Schulhoff>, and presented here remastered, very nicely indeed as it is Chandos) brings together three distinctive expressions of 1920s modernism. 

Ervin Schulhoff's Flute Sonata is a fine example of urbane, witty and eloquent writing, closer in style to the Gallic neoclassicism of Poulenc and Milhaud, or of his Czech near-contemporary Martinu than to German models. The unusually brief Scherzo and jaunty finale are especially enjoyable and the work as a whole is a polished and warmly expressive delight.

The slightly earlier "Concertino for flute, viola and double bass" is more of an oddball piece, with a mysterious slithering melody that presents the material and keeps the tranquil river of sound flowing (it makes me picture rivers in an Asian scroll painting) throughout the majority of the first movement.  Schulhoff wrote the Concertino in a mere four days, between May 28 and June 1, 1925. The first movement begins with bass and violin playing an eastern-sounding theme with the flute offering an improvisatory theme as counterpoint. Schulhoff introduces brief contrasting episodes but always returns to the opening motto. The second movement derives from a Czech folk dance, the furiant, with a rhythm combining characteristics of 2/4 and 3/4. A folk song from the Carpathian Mountains in what is now the western Ukraine provides the basis of the Andante, its melody given to the flute. In the finale, the flutist doubles on piccolo and the bass provides the rhythm for another lively folk dance. Back to the first movement, it makes me think of Lou Harrison, who was inspired by the East for the entirety of his composing life, and indeed there are sections of a couple Harrison works that sound extremely close to the Andante here. Lou Harrison was only seven years old when Schulhoff wrote the Concertino. I'm not making the argument that Schulhoff was in any way an influence on Harrison, only that it's striking to me how much the Concertino opening sounds like Harrison several decades later. A fascinating piece.

There’s genuine historical interest in this transformation of Schoenberg’s Wind Quintet into a Flute Sonata, made two years after the quintet’s completion by one of the composer’s favoured pupils and sons-in-law, Felix Greissle. The Quintet was Schoenberg’s first large-scale 12- note piece, a virtuoso exercise in the meaningful marriage of harmony and counterpoint, the five instruments each contributing an equal share of material to the intricately woven textures.

The composer approved of the transcription in principle but seemed unsure about its performability. Following it with the score of the Quintet underlines how resourceful Greissle was at drawing the flute line from leading melodic strands in all five instruments, adjusting the registers accordingly. Despite occasional rough edges to the sound, this is a well characterised performance, true to the remarkable expressive range of the work while not making a conclusive case for its use as a regular alternative to the original.





Unknown said...

Great work on your part.

How about the works of Irving Fine?

Ray Pratt
Bozeman, MT

Tzadik said...

Hi there Ray, thank you, happy you are enjoying the blog. I do have Fine's music, however I likely have any recordings in boxes/storage, so for now I shall keep it in mind for you. TZ